From the Blog

Coin & Relic Finds – Historical Links


Last Fall I wrote an article entitled The Story A Coin Could Tell . Although fictitious, the four coins could tell real stories. The 1861 Indian Head Cent found under the tree where two Confederate escapees from Fort Brook in Tampa were hung, is at least a 99% accurate happening. I am not sure who lost the penny but it had to be one of those soldiers. There is a vital historic link between the hanging and that coin.

How did a 1926 Macy's Department Store one-cent weighing scale end up in the "maze" of Tarpon Springs, FL. The "maze" was a 20-30 acre wilderness area where many dirt bikers and other off-the-road enthusiasts would venture. No homes or buildings were ever on this property. I would metal detect that area looking for arrow heads and Indian relics, and one day had the surprise of finding that scale. For several years I tried to find an answer to how and why it was buried / dumped in this maze. Maybe, just maybe, if Al Capone was here he could answer my inquiry. The nearest building of significance was the Anclote Psychiatric Hospital. In the Roaring Twenties, that hospital was a resort hotel where Al was a frequent visitor and believed by locals to be the owner. Research could not prove Capone's ownership or that the scale was a part of the hotel, but speaking to a 94 year old veteran employee, I found that the hotel had a large scale in the lobby that guests would drop a penny in and weigh themselves. That could be a historic link.

I found an Orage Belt Railroad lock and every time I look at it, I am drawn to the suicide death of pioneer builder and developer Hamilton Disston. It has a real historic link for me with the history of Tarpon Springs, FL. The event that hastened the development of Tarpon Springs, as well as the southern half of Florida, was the Disston land purchase of 1881. Hamilton, a wealthy saw manufacturer from Philadelphia, shrewdly obtained 4,000,000 acres of state land at $ .25 per acre from the Florida Internal Improvement Fund. The fund had been set up in 1855 to administrator state lands that were available for public purchase. The fund became mired in debt after the Civil War and by state statement, no land could be sold until the debt was cleared. Mr. Disston became the largest land owner in America and according to all known records the largest land purchase ever made by an individual. He began to develop Tarpon Springs and tried to use his persuasion and financial clout to bring the Orange Belt Railroad headquarters to his newly establihed Disston City. The Russian engineer and developer of the Orange Belt railroad, decided to take the rail center to St. Petersburg. Petersburg, a city named after his homeland city.

Disston was devastated as he needed that link for the growth of his city and other local area investments.The panic of 1893, two separate freezes and the passage of the Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act set him back financially. Hamilton returned to Philadelphia after mortaging his Forida assets for $ 2 million. On May 1, 1896 he was found dead in his bathtub with a self-inflated gunshot to the head. That Orange Belt lock and other relics from the railway station in Tarpon Springs remind me of the historic link to the death of a man with the potential to shape the destination of Tarpon Springs and all of southern Florida too. I am writing this article at my desk on 207 S. Disston Avenue. Historians say that Disston could easily have saved his financial empire and taken a place with the great leaders who developed the Sunshine State but his ability to acquire headquarters for the Orange Belt Line contributed to his death at young age of 51 and Disston City became a small suburb (Gulf Port) of St. Petersburg.

Source by Larry E. Smith