Six years after moving from the Washington, D.C., area, attorney Warren Firschein likes his new home so much that he is writing a history book about it.
Nestled on the northwest corner of Old Tampa Bay in Pinellas County, Safety Harbor is a bedroom community of some 16,000 residents, many attracted to it for its location, which is convenient to both St. Petersburg to the south and Tampa across the bay to the east.
That was one of the main reasons the Firscheins chose it. They had to relocate to the Tampa Bay area so his wife, Dawn Goldsmith, could attend University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus where she had been accepted into its Ph.D. program in microbiology. Her husband didn't know where his job would be — as it turns out, he works from home a lot —so this central location seemed perfect.
Their daughters, Sophie and Elena, were 5 and 2 years old when they moved here in 2007 so they enrolled them in the Safety Harbor Montessori School, which they liked so much that the girls stayed there even after they were old enough to enter public school.
Firschein got interested in writing the history of the Safety Harbor area — which was first inhabited by the Timucuan Indians — after joining the Safety Harbor Writers and Poets group, started by a fellow writer, Laura Kepner. About a year ago, he tossed an idea around with her about writing a book comparing old postcards of Safety Harbor to the way it looks now. Kepner urged him to look deeper, to write a history book. The idea lost momentum until History Press pitched writing such a book to Kepner. She asked Firschein if he wanted to help, and so, the writing team was formed.
A major undertaking of all writers of history is separating truth from myth. Firschein said he is especially interested in finding out who really discovered the Espiritu Santo Springs (over which the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa was built) and whether or not its mineral springs really do have healing powers. The resort, located on 22 acres of the city's downtown waterfront, is one of Florida's largest and oldest, and is listed on the state's register of historic places.
Until any debunking takes place —if it does — the belief (as found on the city's website) is that Spanish explorers landed on Safety Harbor shores in 1528 and the springs were discovered and named by Hernando de Soto in 1529 when he was looking for the legendary Fountain of Youth.
The springs are privately owned, but there is another waterfront gem available to residents: the 122-acre Pinellas County Philippe Park, named after Count Odet Philippe, a French surgeon in Napoleon's navy, who homesteaded the property in 1823 and is credited with introducing citrus growing to Florida.
It's not just another small town with a big past. This one has a history of residents caring for each other. That's what the Safety Harbor history writers found in the early research for their book.
Patti Ewald can be reached at [email protected]bay.com or (727) 893-8746.