Commissioner-Charles-Justice-web
Charles Justice
Pinellas County Commission Chairman

Even though we live in a densely-developed and growing community, you can find many reminders of our historic past throughout Pinellas County. Florida’s Historical Marker Program is one important way our county preserves this history. The program, administered by the Florida Department of State’s Division of Historical Resources, highlights important places, people and events that are significant to the history of Florida and Pinellas County. You can already find several of these markers at historic buildings, streets and parks from Tierra Verde to Tarpon Springs.

This spring, I had the honor of unveiling the county’s latest marker alongside members of the Pinellas County Historic Preservation Board. We gathered at the Rheba Sutton White Chapel on Georgia Avenue in Palm Harbor, which has been holding church services, community meetings, weddings and other events for more than 90 years. Constructed of bricks and an old bell salvaged from a previous building that was destroyed by fire, congregants first gathered in 1925 at the single-story church.

The chapel site dates back to the early days of the Palm Harbor community, once the home of Florida Methodist College. A pair of failed resort hotels were repurposed for dorms and classrooms, and the local congregation met in the college auditorium until the campus was destroyed by a catastrophic fire in 1921. Parts and pieces of the ruins became Palm Harbor Methodist Church, which held services from 1925 to 1971. Pinellas County purchased the property in 1999 and later built a separate reception and event facility on site. The old church has since been restored with a state grant provided by the Florida Division of Historical Resources. The chapel now bears the name of local preservationist Rheba Sutton.

Whatever part of the county you call home, you don’t have to travel far to come across other reminders of our local history. Many of us travel over the Gandy Bridge, which has linked Pinellas and Hillsborough counties since 1924. The original three-mile structure, constructed by development pioneer George S. Gandy, was one of the world’s longest bridges at the time. The the world’s first regularly scheduled commercial airline also originated here in Pinellas. Taking off from the area of today’s Albert Whitted Airport, aviator Tony Jannus brought city mayor A.C. Pheil across Tampa Bay in a biplane on New Year’s Day, 1914. In downtown Clearwater, our Board of County Commissioners still meets next door to our original County Courthouse, which was completed more than 100 years ago in 1918.

You can find a list of many of our local historical markers at this website created by the Florida Division of Historical Resources, http://apps.flheritage.com/markers – just click on Pinellas County. The White Chapel in Palm Harbor is the latest in a series of markers being installed across the county by the Pinellas County Historic Preservation Board in partnership with local municipalities and historical organizations. Increasing the number of these markers across our community and awareness about them is a top priority for our Preservation Board, where I serve as the chairman. You can learn more about our important work here: www.pinellascounty.org/historic.

I hope this column will inspire you learn a little more about our rich history in Pinellas County. If you have any questions about this program or other sites being considered for a historical marker, please call my office at (727) 464-3363 or email me at cjustice@pinellascounty.org.