NewsPinellas County


Gulf Beaches Historical Museum takes you through St. Pete Beach history

Gulf Beaches Historical Museum
Posted at 12:20 PM, Nov 11, 2021

ST. PETE BEACH, Fla. — Unlike many portions of Tampa Bay, the St. Pete Beach area didn't really start to boom until the 1920s.

Fun fact: St. Pete Beach was originally called Long Key.

Living in the area was difficult — storms, mosquitoes and a lack of air conditions made conditions rough.

The Gulf Beaches Historical Museum is located right on St. Pete Beach and they'll take you back in time throughout history, including introducing you to the man who first homesteaded here, Zephaniah Phillips.

The area's major tie to American History is actually World War II. The war led to a major shift on St. Pete Beach.

"During World War II, a lot of the luxury hotels in the area, including the Don Cesar were converted to barracks for soldiers," Catherine Wilkins with the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum said. "The Don then became a military hospital for veterans who were coming back from World War II once the United States got involved. Because so many veterans were coming to this area for training or for rehabilitation during the war, they got to see all the natural beauty of Florida."

The land was also cheap.

"In the 1950s, the population of St. Pete Beach increased by 600% in just a decade. So prior to that there were fewer than 1,000 people living on St. Pete Beach, and by 1960, there were over 6,000," Wilkins said.

"That's when my family moved to St. Pete Beach, my grandparents on both sides moved here in the 1950s. Both of my grandfathers were veterans of the second World War, and were interested in coming here after the war was over," explained Wilkins."But it also became really a residential hub for folks who were living in this area, some of whom were working in Tampa and St. Pete and just wanted to get away to the beaches when they came home from work at night. But for our entire history, tourism and fishing have been kind of the pillars of our community for both visitors and residents alike."

The museum also takes you through the unique history of Pass-a-Grille.

Wilkins said "I would say Pass-a-Grille is unique to other communities along the Gulf beaches because of its long history because it was established in 1886. We have a lot of historical architecture, in this part of the St. Pete Beach community. And even just walking around in Pass-a-Grille, you get a sense that you are connected to history because it's very visible around you. And you can tell the structures look different from the other ones that you might encounter on beach communities."

The Gulf Beaches Historical Museum is open Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. -2 p.m. Admission is free.