Discovering Anclote’s Hidden Treasure
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.