Clearwater, Florida, situated on the Gulf of Mexico in West Central Florida, is the County seat of Pinellas County. The region surrounding Clearwater and Pinellas County is known as the Tampa Bay Area. Clearwater is the third largest City in the region; the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg are the two largest.
Prior to the early-1800’s, the area surrounding present-day Clearwater was occupied by native Americans known as the Tocobaga people. In 1835, the United States Army began construction of an army fort which was named Fort Harrison after the army General and later U.S. President William Henry Harrison. The population of Clearwater was sparse throughout the 18th Century – just a few hundred inhabitants until the early 1900’s. In 1897, the railroad tycoon and early-Florida developer, Henry B. Plant, built a resort hotel, the Bellview Biltmore, just to the south of the city.
The early 1900’s saw an influx of winter visitors to the area (the first snowbirds) who came down to escape the harsh winters in the Northeast. Around 1900, the permanent population of Clearwater was around 400 – during the winter months, that figure more than doubled. That trend continues through to today – in 2010, the population of the city stood at 107,685 according to that year’s Census. Today, the winter population of the region continues to nearly double every year as people from the North and Canada head south for the winter.
Clearwater was first incorporated as a town in 1891 when the area was part of Hillsborough County (present-day Tampa is the County Seat of Hillsborough County). Pinellas County was founded in May, 1911, and formally established as the state’s 48th County on January 1, 1912, after the passage of a referendum that called for its separation from Hillsborough County. The Town of Clearwater was reincorporated as the City of Clearwater in 1915.
The history of Clearwater and its surrounding environs is one story. A more contemporary story is to be told of the Clearwater of today. In 1957, Clearwater was the fastest-growing municipality in the United States. Today, the growth still abounds in and around Clearwater (subject to the restrictions of geography and a finite amount of space). Clearwater is known for its beaches, weather, activities, and attractions.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is “a non-profit working marine animal hospital dedicated to the rescue, rehab and release of marine life.” According to the Aquarium’s website (www.seewinter.com) , the aquarium “… is not your typical aquarium… Visitors come to the aquarium to be inspired and educated by the ongoing work of rescue, rehabilitation, and release.”dolphin, star and inspiration of the hit movies Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2, both filmed on location. Come be inspired and educated by our ongoing work of rescue, rehabilitation and release
The aquarium, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, was founded in 1972, and is located in the Clearwater Beach section of Clearwater. The site of the facility is located in a former water treatment plant whose large treatment pools proved to be ideal for an aquarium dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of marine mammals.
The aquarium’s best-known “resident” is Winter, a bottlenose dolphin that was rescued in 2005 with a missing tail; fitted with a prosthetic tail, Winter is the star and inspiration of the hit movies Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2, both filmed on location in Clearwater.
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is located at 249 Windward Passage, Clearwater, FL 33767, (727) 441-1790. The aquarium is open every day of the year except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day (there are both “extended” and “off-peak” hours – check the aquarium’s website or call ahead for actual hours during the year).
Clearwater Beach is a resort and residential area within the City of Clearwater, FL. Located on the Gulf Coast Barrier Islands just west of the intercoastal waterway, the area is accessible to the mainland via the Clearwater Memorial Causeway.
This section of the larger city is characterized by 2.5 miles of white sand beaches, world-class restaurants, a marina on the intercoastal waterway, and resort hotels. Clearwater Beach is linked by a bridge to Sand Key to the south and other beach/resort communities stretching further southward to Treasure Island and Passé a Grille Beach along the Gulf Coast Barrier Islands chain.
Clearwater Beach is a year-round destination area that offers shopping, dining, and a multitude of activities such as jet ski rentals, parasailing, local boat tours, miniature golf, fishing charters, and Pirate Ship cruises. Dolphin tours in the waters adjacent to Clearwater Beach promise frequent sightings of native Bottlenose Dolphins and other marine mammals.
Clearwater Beach is frequently ranked among the “best beaches in the United States” – recent awards include:
- 2011 – Travel Advisor: Sandpearl Resort – #14 America’s Best Beach Hotel list
- 2013 – USA Today: (reader poll) “Florida’s Best Beach Town” award
- 2018 – TripAdvisor: “Best Beach in the U.S. & 7th Best Beach in the World”
A visit to Clearwater and Pinellas County must include a trip across the Clearwater Memorial Causeway to Clearwater Beach.
Downtown Clearwater is the vibrant and bustling core of the City. The seat of county government is located at the intersection of Court Street and Fort Harrison Street. This area serves as the northern “gateway” to Clearwater Beach and the Gulf Coast Barrier islands.
The old Pinellas County Courthouse is a historic structure that was designed by noted architect Francis J. Kennard and constructed in 1918. The old building was constructed to replace an earlier courthouse that was hastily built in 1912 when Pinellas County was first established.
The old courthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in June, 1992. The present seat of county government is housed in the County Administration building adjacent to the old courthouse on Court Street.
Also located in downtown Clearwater is the worldwide headquarters of the Church of Scientology. The Church owns several large parcels of land in the area, including the historic Fort Harrison Hotel. The present structure was opened in 1926 as the New Fort Harrison Hotel, replacing the original structure of the same name. The Church also owns another building that encompasses an entire city block in the downtown core. This building – some 127,000 square feet in size – is known as the Flag Building and serves a wide-variety of uses for the Church and its various programs.
In closing, let us say this: come visit sunny, beautiful and historic Clearwater, Florida!
Whether you come for the weather, the activities, and attractions, or merely to stroll around the historic downtown area, a trip to this part of Florida will certainly be worth your while.
Image credit: Wikipedia