Jim's first cousin, Joy, invited us to visit her at her snowbird home near Tampa, Florida. As first time visitors to the area, Joy took us to the most unique local attraction, the sponge boats of Tarpon Springs.

Tarpon Springs Sponge Boats

Tarpon Springs is called the sponge capital of the world. Wealthy northerners discovered Tarpon Springs about 100 years ago and began constructing stately Victorian homes along this inlet. Sponge beds were discovered off the coast of Tarpon Springs about this same time. Young Greek divers were brought to the area to harvest the sponges. Sponge harvesting was accomplished by divers beneath diving bells. Tarpon Springs continues to be a center for sponge harvesting and sales.

We are now 'sponge experts." This title is awarded after viewing a video on the entire sponge harvesting process.

String of Drying Sponges

The image above shows a string of drying sponges. We watched a man scrape off the material which holds sponges to the sea floor, wash their inside, trim them with clippers, then hang them up to dry. Shops in Tarpon Springs sell all types of sponges. The harvest is sold and distributed worldwide.

The street scene leads to the sponge and restaurant district. An inlet lined with sponge boats lies on the right of these buildings. Various sightseeing boat tours of the area depart regularly from here.

Greek immigrants, brought here to dive for sponges, left their mark in culture and food that can be discovered in local restaurants. There are several Greek restaurants on the far end of this street where we had lunch.

In addition to the historic sponge district, Tarpon Springs also has a Victorian historic district and several museums.

Sputnik Sea Urchin Christmas Ornament

While at John C. Campbell Folk School we learned about using Sputnik sea urchin shells to make Christmas ornaments. At left are examples of Christmas ornaments made by students in a woodturning class. A hook is affixed to one end of the shell and a delicate finial is turned on a wood lathe and glued to the bottom.

There are places we found on the eastern shores of Florida where it is impossible to step without crushing a seashell. However, there were no Sputniks where we searched. Noting several seashell shops in Tarpon Springs, we were pleased to discover two shops had just what we were looking for and purchased enough shells to decorate an entire tree.

Links: http://www.tarponarts.org/

Posted 28 Feb 2009