Every week, thousands of bikers, joggers and inline skaters zoom by on the 47-mile-long Pinellas Trail, many unaware that their wheels and running shoes are treading on history.
The much-used trail dates to the early 1990s, but the old 34-mile railroad track it covers goes back to 1888, when the Orange Belt Railroad came through the area.
Two depot museums alongside the trail bear witness to the railroad's past — the Dunedin Historical Society Museum, which opened its doors in 1972, and the Tarpon Springs Historical Society Museum, which opened in 1977. Each provides a colorful look at the railroads that chugged through the county, along with a glimpse of the unique features of each city.
The railroad memorabilia offers much to make visitors linger. The century rolls by in photos and artifacts, including luggage, clothing, ticket machines, typewriters and depictions of life in the station.
The Jim Crow laws that discriminated against African-Americans are apparent.
The Tarpon Springs depot, which dates to 1909, has visible reminders of those laws in photos, separate commodes and old ticket windows.
"It was very segregated back then," said Margaret Raymer, who manages the museum volunteers. "We had black and white waiting rooms separated by a wall, and black and white ticket windows."
The Dunedin depot, rebuilt in 1922 after twice being destroyed by fire, also features a replica of the segregated ticket windows. Black patrons appear on a painted mural behind the iron grillwork of one window, and white patrons behind the other. Wall photos show African-Americans at work on the tracks.
"African-Americans started by doing physical labor building the tracks," said Vinnie Luisi, director of the Dunedin Historical Society Museum. "With time came opportunities for them to do other jobs, eventually including engineering."
While the freight trains rumbled on, passenger travel ended in 1967. That was the year Dunedin station master Robert Boyd retired. His typewriter is among the artifacts on display.
One recent morning Boyd's son John, now living in Kentucky, was in the area and came into the Dunedin museum.
"I grew up across from the tracks and met the evening train from the time I was 11 until I left home at 18," he said. "I loaded and unloaded the mail every day."
The front room brought back memories for him.
"My father had his telegraph machine in here," Boyd said. "He was Western Union, ticket agent, express agent and freight agent."
Each depot museum carries the memories of its city's outstanding citizens and events. The Dunedin museum contains medical artifacts relating to Dr. Jack Mease, who opened Mease Hospital of Dunedin in 1938. That hospital merged with the older Morton Plant Hospital in 1999. Original medical equipment, a leather doctor's bag and a standing model of an early 20th century nurse are on display.
One of the four exhibition rooms includes porcelain-headed dolls, metal fire engines and other toys of yesteryear. A large library is upstairs. That collection houses about 200 books and 3,500 old photographs, most donated by local families.
The Tarpon Springs museum displays artifacts of the sponge industry, which dates to the late 19th century. The industry grew significantly in 1905, when New York sponge buyer John Corcoris brought 500 divers from the Greek islands to Tarpon Springs and introduced the first mechanized sponge fishing boat. The exhibit includes a model of an authentic sponge boat.
An original steamer trunk, a footlocker, a hatbox and leather luggage belonging to former winter residents Julia Goodrich Inness and her husband, landscape artist George Inness Jr., bear the faded, scruffy patina of long-ago journeys.
In Dunedin, the exhibit up front rotates. Currently, it includes a tall figure of a 19th century conductor holding a lantern. The exhibit will stay up until January 2012 — a special date.
Said Luisi, "That will mark the 100th anniversary of Pinellas separating from Hillsborough and becoming its own county."