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Anclote River History

This article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on Nov. 7, 1932.

The Anclote river, a favorite haunt of pirates hundreds of years ago, today is as some jungle stream of darkest Africa or South America. It cannot be equaled, because prettier scenes than these found along the river, so wild and bewitching, are not to be found in any other state. A national attraction, this romantic, tropical river is visited daily by those who have heard of its charm and beauty. A fleet of excursion boats, made especially for that purpose, make trips daily, winding along the river under overhanging palms and vine-covered trees.

The Anclote river, on maps as far back as 1545, flows along the northern limits of Tarpon Springs, forming boundary line, and into the Gulf of Mexico. It wends its deep way from inaccessible sources between miles of high banks rampant with luxurious tropical foliage. An endless array of beauty is revealed as the boats pass up the river, so richly endowed by Mother Nature. Spanish moss, yellow jasmin, and air plants decorate the intermingling branches of oak, magnolia, bay, palm, palmetto, and other trees. Mirrored stretches along little branches of the river reflect a two-fold beauty of nature’s art.

Here one feels the thrill of penetrating foreign regions apart from civilization. Immobile forms of mammoth alligators resume life-like motion when they quickly slide off a log or the shore into the concealing water as the boat passes. There a large turtle basks in the sunshine. Farther up are more turtles and alligators on rocks and fallen trees. Large fish can be seen swimming in the crystal waters. Above birds, from the smaller varied colored ones to the herons and cranes, sing and move fearlessly in this undisturbed sanctuary.

George Inness Sr., the American landscape artist, and his son, George Inness Jr., a national artist, maintained a cottage, Camp Comfort, on the shores of the upper Anclote and both put the charms of the river on canvas. Much of the subject matter for many of their landscape masterpieces were found along the shores of that jungled stream.

Unlike the upper part of the Anclote, so richly endowed by nature, the lower part, from the sponge exchange to the mouth of the river, a distance of three miles, does not have that tropical atmosphere, but is rich with romance. Pirates, Indians and soldiers have all figured in its history.

Just above the mouth of the Anclote is the old Spanish well, which, according to legend, was visited regularly by the buccaneers who roamed the high seas at the height of the glory that was Spain. They captured and pillaged gold-laden vessels from England and Spain.

The little village of Anclote 25 years ago was a thriving little community, but is now a little fishing hamlet. Just above the mouth of the river, it is located on the north side of the stream. On ancient maps, it dates back to 1545, and since that time it has been a settlement of some kind. There the Indians had a large camp and burial grounds. Pirates, after looting ships, frequently buried their treasure on the islands and the mainland. Today the only landmark of those dashing days of Gasperilla, Captain Kidd, and others, is the old well, now in a state of decay. Legends go that the pirates found the well, which evidently the Indians had used, and water was obtained for their ships. The legend is probably true, for when the sponge industry was in its infancy, the sailors from the sponge vessels used water from the well, declaring it kept fresh and sweeter longer than any other water obtainable.

Legend also has it that along the river and coast in that section, treasures from the looted ships is buried. Attempts have been made in years gone by to recover pirate gold.

At one time there was much excitement when it was learned that the cover of a treasure chest had been unearthed. Jacob S. Disston, millionaire saw manufacturer from Philadelphia, and his brother, Hamilton Disston, who were in charge of the expedition, and many of their friends were present to witness the opening of the supposed chest. It however proved to be nothing but a lid resting on a large flat rock.

About a one and one-half mile from the river’s mouth is probably one of the highest points in Pinellas county. This is Deserters’s hill, and its name dates back to the war between the states. Here deserters from the Confederate ranks attempted to reach the federal gunboats anchored several miles out in the gulf. They were captured, however, and suffered the fate of deserters, and today that point retains its name from that incident.

The present village of Anclote was founded in 1867 by members of the Meyer and Harrison families who came from Marion county. Thirteen years later several English and French families connected with a British company arrived and built their manor houses along the river. Count Tessuere (sic), a French nobleman, erected a large saw mill on the east side of the river opposite Deserters’ hill. The mill was completed and work begun, but disaster came, and it was destroyed by fire. The large boilers fell from their bases and are still on the “mill point,” lying at the water’s edge. Associated with Count Tessiere (sic) in his venture was the titled Englishman, Fauquhar.

About the same time, a British concern attempted to drain Lake Conley, near Anclote, for a rice plantation. Sir Mortimer Murphy, an Irish peer, and another English nobleman from the House of Morrish, spent a fortune in this project before they discovered the lake level was lower than the gulf.

Blue-blooded romance centered in the noble house of Sutherland, one of the wealthiest family of England. In the summer of 1887, the ocean-going yacht, San Souci, owned by the Duke of Sutherland, dropped anchor at the mouth of the river with the duke aboard. With this famous Englishman was a Mrs. Blair and her little daughter. After dropping anchor they were conveyed to shore in a tender from the San Souci. In fashion becoming to such illustrious guests, they were received at the Tarpon Springs hotel by Gov A. P. K. Safford, first territorial governor of Florida, who was in charge of the 4,000,000-acre tract of land owned by the Disston brothers.

The nobleman was so impressed with the beauty of Florida’s west coast that he bought several large tracts of land. He stayed for only a short time, but returned the next spring and erected a country home on Lake Butler, where he lived a simple country life. After the death of the Duchess of Sutherland in England, the duke and his consort, Mrs. Blair, were quietly married in the little Episcopal church in Dunedin. The Duke of Sutherland’s mansion, as it is known today, still stands on the high hill overlooking the lake.

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