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This week I’m continuing my series on what to do with pesky relatives and friends who come to visit because you live in Florida. There is only so long you can talk to them, so I’m posting a list of things you can take or send them to. This week, Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks.
I like Tarpon Springs so much and I can’t believe I’ve never written about it before on this blog. I always take my visitors there, plus it’s a regular stop for me and my friends for some good Greek food and homemade soap. It’s the closest thing to a European village in these parts.
I knew that Tarpon Springs used to be the center of a thriving sponge industry. What I didn’t know before researching this article was that the town was a high-end resort for movie stars and the wealthy before it was a sponge center. That’s why there are so many beautiful, historic Victorian homes there. You can even stay in a couple of them that are now BnBs.
Around 1900, some capitalist came and, seeing a thriving sponge industry in Key West, decided to create some competition, seeing as how Tarpon Springs had large, prolific sponge beds in its waters. Up til then, sponging consisted of raking the sponges into a boat with a claw on a long pole. A Greek sponge buyer told this capitalist that the Greeks had better tech (i.e., rubberized sponge-diving suits with those big bronze helmets) and helped him bring a bunch of Greek divers and their families to Tarpon Springs to live and work. The town boomed!
Soon the docks were built up and the Sponge Exchange was built as a center for buying and selling. Today, the Sponge Exchange has lots of shops where you can find beach clothes, shells, jewelry, souvenirs and, yes, lots of sponges. There’s even a giant plastic great white shark suitable for photographing your crazy friends in front of.
In the 1940s a blight wiped out most of the sponges and the industry dried up (really, no pun intended!). Now it’s mostly a tourist area, but I’ve read that the sponge population has recovered enough that the industry is once again thriving. You can find a much more detailed history on the Authentic Florida website than I’m giving you here.
It’s truly a seaside neighborhood and you can see evidence of the spongers and shrimpers and recreational boaters floating nearby:
But what I like most about Tarpon Springs are its nautical and highly photographable details:
Ok, that last one isn’t nautical, but it’s cool!
My favorite shop there is Getaguru handmade olive-oil soaps:
Next favorite are the restaurants. Costas Greek restaurant just off the main drag is my most frequented one. I can also recommend Hellas, near the middle of Dodecanese, and Rusty Bellies at the far end:
They have the best hush puppies!
You can buy fresh catch from the fishmonger next door (they have crabs):
The Sponge Docks are located on Dodecanese Boulevard just off Alternate 19. The Greek influence is immediately apparent when you turn onto the street, even if you don’t see the giant St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Alternate 19 as you drive in. I haven’t been to Greece yet, but those in the know have told me that the Sponge Docks look just like it. The sky and water always seem to be that deep Aegean blue and the stark white buildings stand in beautiful contrast. It’s truly lovely. I even like shopping there; there are many bins of cheap souvenirs, yes, but they also have tons of beautiful, comfy cotton clothing from Greece as well.
Photo for No Apparent Reason: