I have been avoiding touristy, crowded places (for obvious reasons) but last week I finally succumbed to my unceasing curiosity and checked out the sponge docks at Tarpon Springs. Thankfully, it was a wet visit which played in my favor as there were very few other people wandering around. Thank you, rain!
This small town along the Anclote River was founded in the 1870s as a fishing village but the discovery of sponge beds put the town on the map. Before the proliferation of synthetic sponges, natural ones were used for cleaning, art, and even contraceptives.
Surprisingly, in the early 1900s, sponges were Florida’s leading industry and the majority of those sponges were harvested and processed in Tarpon Springs. Though the sponge market has diminished over the years it left an indelible mark on the town in the form of Greek heritage.
One of the first investors, John K. Cheyney, was an immigrant from Greece and he brought over divers from the Dodecanese Islands to work in the industry. Their descendants remained in the area and it now has the highest percentage of Greek Americans in the country.
Walking along the waterfront I overheard folks speaking their cultural tongue, but of course, it was all “Greek” to me! In the future, I’d like to dine at one of the many Greek restaurants in town or perhaps I’ll return for one of the festivals.