Re-Discovery of Indian Rocks-America's Venice
Putting The Rocks on the Map in the Early 80's

A Human Interest Story of Struggle Like Colonel Roosevelt's to Correct Geography

In the spring of ‘83, a party consisting of Jesse D. Green, L. W. Hamlin, J. H. Hendrick and Judge Bell, left Cedar Keys in a small sail boat on an exploring expedition. They passed through the narrows at Indian Rocks. The cruise ended at the old Murphy place, south of Long Bayou, now called The Jungle, and the present terminus of the trolley line from St. Petersburg. These bold Argonauts decided to turn back for the excellent reason they had found and passed the prettiest and altogether most desirable spot on the Gulf Coast of Florida-Indian Rocks. Some land was purchased on the shore of Ciega Bay, opposite John’s Pass and that still remains in the Hamlin family, but the party turned their boat north with the determination to capture Indian Rocks.

On the beautiful rocky point at that time lived two brothers named Cochran. The explorers landed where the new rock road now starts and began their investigations. They inquired of the Cochran’s whether the place could be purchased and learned that it was unsurveyed government land and that the Cochran’s were merely “squatters,” but would sell their “squatters claim.”

Upon their return to Cedar Keys, then the metropolis of the Gulf Coast, inquiry was made about The Rocks of the land office at Gainesville. The reply was, in the language of the day, “There ‘aint no such place.” Indian Rocks did not appear on the government land maps, or on the maps of the state. The shoreline was shown as practically straight from the southern end of Clearwater Harbor to Boca Ciega Bay. Indian Rocks was simply not in it. One of the old settlers, Jim Thompson, claimed the land and had kept other people from settling on it. The land office people at Gainesville still insisted that Indian Rocks did not exist. It was term incognito to all except a few old settlers around Lowes Landing and the few hardy voyagers who had explored this coast in sail boats.

Captivated by the natural beauties of Indian Rocks, Messers, Hamlin and Hendrick determined to acquire the point and nearby island property if it lay in their power. The only thing to do seemed to be to appeal to the general land office at Washington. The national land office notified Mr. Hamlin that it would be necessary to furnish affidavits from old settlers of the neighborhoods that Indian Rocks was a reality, not a dream! Such papers were secured testifying to the fact that there was a tract consisting of over a hundred acres on the point that is now the popular resort of Indian Rocks. Further correspondence resulted in the appointing of a deputy United States surveyor, who ran off the lines and verified the suspicions of the old timers, that Indian Rocks was really there. Thus was the map of old Hillsborough County changed to include the place that is now the logical point for Tampa’s seashore resort and which is fast becoming the Mecca of both Hillsborough and Pinellas autoists.

As the land was not subject to entry, it had to be secured by preemption or homesteading. J. H. Hendrick at once filed a claim as preemptor and after due time, proved his claim. A half interest was sold to L. W. Hamlin, who had been responsible for the placing of Indian Rocks on the map by pestering the land offices of the state and nation.

Impressed by the fact that the island lying in front of the picturesque point was the key to the whole situation, covetous glances were cast in that direction. In fact, Sand Key at that point is in the foreground and has been used as a bathing beach, since the memory of man runneth not back, as Indian Rocks Beach has always been the most accessible as well as the safest surf bathing beach in Peerless Pinellas.

Harvey K. Hendrick, son of J. H. Hendrick, and the present ferryman, filed a claim at the land office in Gainesville, for one and a half miles of the island lying in front of Indian Rocks. He lived on the key for five years, marrying there and pioneering on the pearl-strewn beach and the hammock of the mainland. He has been at Indian Rocks for thirty-one years and promises to remain for many more, as healthful conditions conduce to extreme longevity. Hendrick sold one half of his island property to I. W. Hamlin.

Fish are plentiful in the bay and gulf, the rich hammocks yield oranges and grapefruit, sweet and irish potatoes, sugar cane and all sorts of vegetables. Bees gather great quantities of honey from the saw and cabbage palmetto, as well as the black mangrove on the islands. Hogs and cattle roam the woods. Wild hogs were plentiful on the island and could be shot at any time, providing good meat. Deer were also often seen. Duck and wild fowl are to be had in abundance. Sand Key is a fine place for poultry raising. All in all, the pioneers had a pretty good time. It was and is, a land flowing with milk and honey.

The first real house on Indian Rocks was the Hamlin home. Built on Indian Rocks point in ’86. This was burned about two years ago. Then Harvey Hendrick built his home on the island. After that, J. H. Hendrick erected the cottage now occupied by Mrs .H. H. Ingersoll. Harvey Hendrick afterwards moved from the island to his present residence on the rock road. The next building was Indian Rocks Lodge, erected several years ago. Then cottages began to be built on the beach. Good pavilions were placed on the main island and island at the ferry crossing. A warehouse appeared on the mainland shore. Cottages and fine stone bungalows were built on Indian Rocks Beach, the new subdivision. A good store and dancing pavilion has lately been erected on the mainland point, with a nice summer cottage behind it.

There seems to be considerable ignorance among people who should know, concerning the location of Indian Rocks. It is not, as the Tampa newspaper seems to think, at the southern end of Sand Key, nor is it opposite Indian Pass, as the alleged cartographer who drew the map for the latest Favorite Line folder depicted it. A glance at any govern chart, specifically Coast Chart No. 1771, or any real map of Pinellas County or the state of Florida, will show that Indian rocks is situated on the narrows at the southern end of Clearwater Harbor, about seven miles from the county seat and two and one half miles north of Indian Pass. It is less than forty miles by road from Tampa. Indian Rocks is the rocky point that approaches nearly to the emptying key. In front of it is the narrowest bay along the entire coast, only one hundred miles across. The island is the same width as the bay, so automobilists may park there cars within 600 feet of the surf of the Gulf of Mexico. That is one of the reasons for the popularity of Indian Rocks Beach. Sand Key, the outlying island, is nearly as long as “Old Manhattan Isle,” but as yet it has not been built up to the extent that New York Has. However, the name  Indian Rocks is claimed for development schemes located a mile or more away in both directions. All this is flattering to Indian Rocks, and does it no harm, but those who have “fit, bled and died” for The Rocks would like to have it understood that this gem of Peerless Pinellas is really to be found. It is not portable so beware of substitutes.

That portion of the intracoastal waterway from Tampa to Clearwater Harbor passes this point, giving a depth of water through safe inside channels of six to ten feet at high tide. Freight boats from Tampa make several trips a week delivering building materials and other supplies right from the docks in Tampa to wharves there, at a large savings over the cost of railroad transportation and hauling. This of itself is an immense advantage.

The new rock road, beginning at The Rocks and constructed of rocks quarried there, should be completed to the county seat in ninety days.

The Tampa and Gulf Coast Railroad, now completed to within several miles of Indian Rocks Beach, has surveyed its line to the bay and the rails are ready for the track. The promise is that the railroad will be on the island by September. Thus with a fine automobile road, railroad and water transportation, Indian Rocks will be on the map for sure.

It is difficult to even briefly outline here the especially attractive features of this resort. It would take a real word painter to write the description and a brush to hold it.

Indian Rocks is believed by many who have traveled to be the finest location for a big hotel in Florida. The Washington Beach hotel just north of The Rocks is nearly completed and will probably open in mid-summer. A large hosiery on the mainland is being talked of.

Nature has probably done more for Indian Rocks to make it a delightful resort and place of resilience then any place on the West Coast …The only thing that has kept it back all these years is the fact that man has done nothing and the place has been left inaccessible. Now that these difficulties have been removed by the waterway improvement, the splendid rock road and the railroad, the place will develop. The bay shore has a frontage of a mile or more along a deep natural channel with high banks, covered with semi-tropical foliage. The beach on the outside island shore runs nearly straight for miles. The sloping sands are wide and hard, going to deep water gradually and even when the surf is the heaviest there is an entire absence of undertow. Visitors familiar with other resorts invariably comment on the beautiful beach. The universal verdict is; “Indian Rocks Beach is the finest anywhere.”

As a place to enjoy the gentle breezes from the Gulf of Mexico, laden with ozone and to escape from insect pests of all kinds, this beach is unrivaled. There are no ponds to breed mosquitoes and they and their allies, the sand flies and gnats, do not like the never failing breeze. A vacation on the beach, summer or winter, is a constant delight.

The drinking water from driven wells is pure… tasteless, odorless and colorless. Fine springs from the mainland provide clear water for those who prefer that kind. It is said that one, at least, of these springs discharges mineralized water which has medicinal value. Anyway, the ordinary pump water on the island, filtered naturally by the sand, comes very nearly being H2O.

Indian Rocks is actually cooler in the summer than many resorts in the North. In the winter the weather is delightfully mild and the surf bathing is indulged in the year round. The prevailing balmy breezes is from the Gulf, but when the wind is off shore, the wind is laden with the perfume of the orange and the grapefruit groves of the mainland and the fragrance of cape jasmine, magnolia and oleander that are massed along the bay shore.

Oh yes! Don’t forget the fishing! Indian Rocks is undeniably the most famous fishing place on the coast. The largest catches of mullet ever made in Florida have been gilled here. The finny (?) tribe is represented by represented by Spanish mackerel, sea trout, king fish, red snapper, red snappers, flounders, sheephead, mullet and many other kinds less common.  During June, the tarpon, silver king of them all, jumps and frolics in the channel. Stone crabs, blue crabs, oysters scallops and coquinas from the outer beach, adds to the gastronomy list of the lucky residents.

Streets are being and have been laid out and sidewalks are to be put down on the island. Dredging and seawalls are unnecessary at this resort, as Nature attended to all that, making deep channels and high banks on both bay and gulf.

Naturally, Indian Rocks has a phone line, which is soon to be extended down the keys to less fortunate resorts like Pass-a-Grille.

Belleview Hotel, with the largest golf grounds in the south and Clearwater, the county seat of Peerless Pinellas, are plainly visible from Indian Rocks, so it is certainly not out of the world, and should be on the map-as it is!

Source: Clearwater News: 6-23-1914

Transcribed , Formatted and Submitted by Linda Flowers

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