Tarpon Springs

tarpon1In the later part of the 19th Century, Tarpon Springs was a small resort village named for the leaping fish splashing in Spring Bayou. Never mind that those fish were mullet and not tarpons because the town was shortly to become world famous for another sea creature – the sponge.

The discovery of a plentiful supply just in the surrounding Gulf waters soon brought islander Greeks from the Mediterranean to harvest sponges, a trade that turned out to be very profitable. In the 1930s the sponge industry was Florida’s largest, outstripping even tourism.

Tarpon Springs still benefits from that boom. First of all, the Greek heritage in the town gives it a unique Eastern Mediterranean ambiance that has a wonderful transporting power. Secondly, the sponge docks are thriving still with the sponge industry having experienced a revival starting in the late 20th Century. The sponge docks are a great getaway where you can eat a great meal on the water, shop at souvenir shops, take a cruise up the Anclote River, or simply stroll and gawk.

The town’s 23,484 citizens (according to the 2010 U.S. Census) own homes that span the gamut from mobile home to mansion. Many residents work in nearby Clearwater, St. Petersburg or Tampa.

Theoretically, a youngster could go from pre-school through college without leaving the city limits. In respect of  local heritage, Tarpon Springs High School offers courses in the Greek language. Additionally, St. Petersburg College maintains a campus in Tarpon Springs.

Recreation
The city supports several parks, as well as the downtown Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center and the Cultural Center. On January 6 of each year, the Greek Orthodox community presents the Epiphany Celebration in which selected young men dive for the cross in Spring Bayou. The event is the largest of its kind in the U.S. and draws thousands of spectators and certainly lots of media attention. Later in the spring the Fine Arts Festival, a juried arts show, comes to town and is one of Florida’s largest.

“I was born and raised here. Then I moved away for 25 years. When I came back, I discovered how much I love the place. The quaintness, the peacefulness is just like it was 50 years ago. I could hit the lottery tomorrow, but I would still live in Tarpon Springs. The history, the Greek celebrations, the beautiful places – we know what nice living is. You’ll never get me out of here.” Michael Houllis, born and raised in Tarpon Springs, and returning resident.

Factoids:

Population: 23,484
Land Area: 9.14 Sq. Miles
 

Statistics are an estimation only

Points of Interest: Unique Eastern Mediterranean Ambiance, The Sponge Docks, Great Greek Meals on the water, Take a cruise up the Anclote River, City Parks, The Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center and the Cultural Center, The Epiphany Celebration, In the spring – the Fine Arts Festival.

Epiphany Day Celebration

epiphany1A year of good luck and blessings. That’s what’s at stake for the over 50 Greek Orthodox teens who dive into the chilly waters of Spring Bayou in Tarpon Springs on January 6 every year.  Each young man hopes to be the one who retrieves the cross tossed into the water by the Bishop, thus securing a blessing for himself and his church. The crowds – numbering in the tens of thousands – cheer as one youth surfaces triumphantly, cross in hand.  And the celebration begins!

The celebration engages the entire community. Local schools and businesses close so that families can join in this annual festival, beginning with a prayer for calm seas, a blessing of the waters, followed by singing, dancing and very fine Greek food. All are welcome, and celebrants come from all over the country and beyond.

For more than 100 years, Epiphany Day has been the most important celebration day in the town of  Tarpon Springs. It is a holiday rich in symbolism and beauty, steeped in the traditions of the church as well as the original Greek divers who brought their strong island and maritime heritage to Tarpon Springs.

Tarpon Springs’ Epiphany Day celebration is the largest in the Western hemisphere. And, it’s only in Pinellas.