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anclote lighthouse

Discovering Anclote’s Hidden Treasure

By Paul Presson Posted on October 29, 2020

As I stand on the shoreline, making ready for another day of wade fishing, I immerse myself in the beauty of this vista. It is easy to imagine the rich history of bygone days. Located in West Central Florida, these fertile waters have been the sustenance for indigenous Indians, explorers, pirates, pioneers, and some will even say ghosts. This is the story about the rise and fall of this area called Anclote.

The Timucuan Indians thrived on the shores of what is now Pasco County. Their chiefdoms (tribes) were located in Southern Georgia, Northern Florida, and Central Florida. Their appearance was unique. They were very tall, and the men had bodies adorned by many tattoos.

In the summer, these tribes would migrate to the coast where fish and shellfish were plentiful. They were even known to have hunted manatee as a food source. In the winter, they would move inland, where it was warmer, and hunt deer, alligator, bear, and other wild game.

The Timucuan Indians built huge mounds out of earth and shells. These mounds were religious in nature. They were built to bury and pay tribute to their ancestors. Their homes had wooden frames, the roof and sides were made of branches from palm trees. The typical Timucuan clothing was made from Spanish moss and animal hides.

A typical Timucuan midden, built of earth and shells is shown here, built to bury and t=pay tribute to their ancestors. Image by Paul Presson.

Spanish Explorers Named Anclote

In the 1500’s, the great Spanish explorers, Vasco Da Gama and Alonso Alvarez de Pineda, with their conquistadors, began to survey the Anclote area.

They used a kedge anchoring system to navigate the shallow, winding, channels in order to make land. This anchoring system uses two anchors: one in front and one in back. The forward anchor would be pulled for momentum to reach their destination.

In Spanish, these anchors translate to the word “Anclote”, hence the name Anclote River, Anclote Key, and the Anclote community.

Spanish explorers used a special “kedge” anchoring system to navigate the shallow channels of the Anclote area. These anchors were called “Anclotes,” hence the name.

Spanish galleons roamed the waters off of Anclote and the nearby spoil islands. These ships were loaded full of treasures and supplies. It wasn’t long before buccaneers would lie in wait to loot these vessels. Pirates are said to have hidden their “booty” throughout this area.

Spanish explorers located a fresh water source just a few yards from the river. The Indians initially discovered this “sweet water” and it was later called the “Spanish Well”. Hostilities arose between the explorers and the Timucuans. Many individuals were killed from both sides. The tribes were later wiped out by diseases that the Europeans had brought to these new lands.

Map of the Anclote area by Paul Presson.

Creek and Seminole Peoples Came to Anclote

In the 1700’s the Creek (later to become Seminole) Indians migrated to Florida, from what is now, Georgia and Alabama. Led by Andrew Jackson, from 1816 to 1858 the Seminole Wars took place. These were costly wars; many soldiers and Indians were lost. At the conclusion of these conflicts, the “Trail of Tears” occurred, and many Seminole Indians were relocated to Oklahoma. The few remaining migrated to the swamps of Southern Florida.

Creek and Seminole peoples came to Anclote, but were relocated to Oklahoma, or moved to South Florida after the Second Seminole War.

Deserter’s Hill and the Ghosts

During the Civil War, Florida was instrumental in providing cattle to the confederate army. Anclote Key was actually used as a staging area for an attempted attack on the city of Brooksville that provided these cattle to the rebels.

Just south of the Anclote River is an area known as Deserter’s Hill. Legend has it that confederate deserters reached this hill on the coast and tried to swim out to federal gunships. They were caught en route and put to death. To this day, it is said that a ghost named “Jacks” of the Civil War era, haunts the women of the Anclote community.

The Tarpon Boat club apparently wasn’t afraid of the “Jacks” the Civil War deserter ghost, as this is the photo of their picnic atop Deserter’s Hill in 1890. Image courtesy of Florida State Archives.

Anclote’s Prosperous Sponge Industry

Florida’s sponge industry started in the Keys, but just before the Civil War sponges were found in the Anclote area.  When the war was over, many individuals in sponge business made their way to Anclote, and its sponge industry was spawned. Cubans, Bahamians, runaway slaves, and white settlers that harvested the sponges from small boats were called “hookers”.

The Sponge market at Bailey’s Bluff, where divine services were held on Sunday.

These men would use a tool with a long handle and 4-5 prongs to pluck sponges from the sea beds.  The sponging boats were kept at Bailey’s Bluff, safe from bad weather.  There was also a large sponge market at that location. It was only later that the Greeks moved to Tarpon Springs, located adjacent to Anclote, and used diving gear to harvest sponges. 

The Village of Anclote is Established

In 1867 the village of Anclote was established.  The Meyer and Harrison families moved from Marion County to Anclote.  On their way, they purchased oranges, when they arrived the families planted the seeds that would blossom and provide fresh fruit.

The Meyer family house in 1890. Image courtesy of Florida State Archives.

Samuel E. Hope was a Confederate Florida Infantry volunteer in the Civil War.  Years before the war he purchased most of the land on the Anclote River.  He later came to settle in the Anclote area. 

About a decade later, English and French settlers who were part of a British company settled along the Anclote river.  Some of these individuals were of noble decent and they built beautiful three-story manor homes.

The nearest store to buy provisions was in what is now Clearwater.  As more people settled in the Anclote area, a general store was built, a sawmill was erected, and a rice plantation was in the planning stages.  A number of mishaps were to follow. 

The Green Meyer General Store in Anclote (and Post Office) circa 1898. Image courtesy of Florida State Archives.

The sawmill burned to the ground and the area where the rice was to be planted was below sea level, preventing its cultivation. 

The Anclote Lighthouse is Built

In 1887, the Anclote Lighthouse was built on Anclote key.  It went up in a very short period of time, with most of the structure having been prefabricated at another location. 

anclote lighthouse
The Anclote Lighthouse. Image by Paul Presson.

This was also the year the Orange Belt Railway decided to forego the village of Anclote and run through Tarpon Springs.  This was the major reason Anclote would never grow into a thriving city.

Finding the Anclote Cemetery

The Anclote cemetery is tucked away in between neighborhoods.  It is the resting grounds for many of the original settlers.  This acreage is considered haunted by many. A number of paranormal “ghost buster” groups have visited this sparse cemetery to try to make contact with these apparitions. 

Benjamin Meyer, certainly part of the founding Meyer family, was laid to rest in the Anclote Cemetery. Image courtesy of Paul Presson.

Deserter’s Hill is now the home of an extravagant waterfront home.

Remnants of Anclote’s Treasures Exist

Remnants of old Anclote still exist. The Anclote River Park with a beach and boat ramp. The Anclote Gulf Park with a fishing pier. Key Vista Park is perfect for nature lovers. The three parks encompass Anclote’s coastline.

There are markers displayed for the historic “Spanish Well” and a Timucuan Indian mound. 

All that remains of Bailey’s Bluff is a street name and a subdivision sits where the old sponge market once was.

Anclote Key is now a state park and only accessible by boat. The lighthouse is still in working order.

Anclote’s crystal clear water. Image by Paul Presson.

As I fish this area, the crystal-clear water allows me to see the ocean floor.  I glance to the bottom, maybe, just maybe, I will find gold coins or other submerged treasures. 

I pack up my fishing gear and I marvel over all of the amazing history of this coastline hamlet.  I think about the Timucuan tribe and how they fared disease and wars to protect their lands, the explorers that set out from Spain to find new worlds, the pirates burying treasure that may still be out there for the finding, and the settlers building and supporting new industries. 

The village of Anclote may have never become an affluent city, but it is certainly rich in history. 

Comments

Lynn Byrne says

The shell pyramid you pictured was not built by the Timucuan but by people who had left before the Spanish arrived to Florida. There is no written record so we do not know what they called themselves. Although there are burial mounds on the site, the pyramid you show was for ceremonial use and probably was a look-out.
Florida’s PreColumbian history is uniquely fascinating and not known by many.

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Florida's Original NatureCoaster™ says

Thank you for your information, Lynn. We went back and got a photo of the actual Timucuan mound in the Anclote area and replaced it. Please feel free to send us information on Florida's PreColumbian history or a story about it to help us all understand the specifics!

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Briggs2942* says

After reading this article, I visited Anclote Cemetery which was very Intersting! Enjoyed the history lesson, thanks.

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