Florida Stories: A Walking Tour of Tarpon Springs

    Tom Scherberger

    Want to explore the cultural, historical, and architectural treasures of Tarpon Springs, Fla.? There’s an app for that.

    Just go to Florida Stories Walking Tours, and download the app created by the Florida Humanities Council.

    With this app you can learn, at your own pace and on your own schedule, what some of Florida’s most unique towns and cities have to offer.

    Here’s an overview of what you can experience via the Tarpon Springs app:

    Where: Tarpon Springs
    Number of stops: 10
    Total time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
    Author: Tina Bucuvalas, City of Tarpon Springs curator of arts and historical resources
    Start: Sponge Docks

    Overview

    Sponge diving defines Tarpon Springs. Begun in the 1880s, the industry peaked in the first half of the 20th Century.

    But as this tour shows, the Greek culture it birthed lives on in the food, architecture, music and, of course, the people.

    There are American cities with larger Greek populations, but none with a greater percentage of residents with Greek heritage.

    Thousands of people gather around Spring Bayou every Jan. 6 to watch teen boys dive for a cross in a celebration of Epiphany that has been going on for more than a century.

    Highlights

    The story of the Sponge Docks is the story of Tarpon Springs, the focus of the town’s two most important industries: sponges and tourism.

    It’s both a working dock and a tourist attraction, and has a fascinating history. St. Nicholas Boat Line is one of Florida’s oldest tourist attractions, taking visitors out on the Anclote River for a demonstration of hardhat sponge diving.

    Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral is the heart of the Greek spiritual community, a Byzantine wonder with 23 stained glass windows and the same marble used in the Acropolis.

    Constructed around 1905, the wood frame Tsourakis/Meres Sponge Packing House is the oldest sponge packing plant recently in operation.

    Spring Bayou, a serene spot for strolling (look for manatees!) and the site of the annual Epiphany celebration, the largest and most widely known in the United States in which young men brave the chilly January waters to retrieve a cross and the year of blessings that is said to come to the winner.

    Fun Fact

    Two films popularized romantic ideas about the sponge industry and Tarpon Springs: “16 Fathoms Deep” (1948), with Lloyd Bridges and Lon Chaney, Jr., and “Beneath the 12-Mile Reef” (1953), with Gilbert Roland and Robert Wagner.

    Things to Do

    Don’t leave without a true taste of Tarpon Springs culture at one of the many locally owned and operated restaurants.

    Try grilled octopus at Mykonos, lamb at Hellas, spanakopita at Costas. Be sure to seek out some baklava at one of several bakeries.

    But not everything in town is Greek. St. Somewhere Brasserie is a renowned brewery in a warm and inviting pub atmosphere specializing in Belgian farmhouse ales.

    Of course, as the tour explains, Tarpon Springs would not be what it is without sponges so if you have the time, consider a boat tour from one of several sponge dock operators offering myriad options: sponge diving exhibitions, nature and sightseeing tours, dolphin cruises and deep sea fishing.

    Lots of sponge-related souvenirs can be had at one of the many shops that hug the streets leading away from the docks. And be sure to wander the winding streets around the docks for sponge-related souvenirs.

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