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History book "Images of America: Largo" will benefit Pinellas County's Heritage Village museum.

James “Jim” Schnur, who wrote Images of America: Largo, is a past president of the Pinellas County Historical Society. “I think Largo has often been overlooked in Tampa Bay’s history,” he says.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

James “Jim” Schnur, who wrote Images of America: Largo, is a past president of the Pinellas County Historical Society. “I think Largo has often been overlooked in Tampa Bay’s history,” he says.

You might already know that Largo High's student body got its nickname, the Packers, because of the history of citrus-packing plants in the area, but here's another piece of trivia for you. Did you know that Largo's first bank served not only as a financial institution, but also as a lookout tower during World War II?

Did you know that in the mid to late 1920s, under the direction of Jay Starkey, Largo produced the most pork in the state at the Ulmerton Ranch? Or that after farmers drained the 500-acre Lake Largo in 1915, they grew rice in the remaining muck near where Ulmerton and Starkey roads are today?

Historian Jim Schnur can rattle off Florida trivia like the above in rapid-fire mode. So when he learned that Arcadia Publishing was looking for a writer to work on a Largo history book, he jumped at the chance.

The finished product, Images of America: Largo, was released Monday. All proceeds will go to the Pinellas County Historical Society, a nonprofit organization that supports Heritage Village in Largo.

"The invitation fit in perfectly for what I was thinking about at the time," said Schnur, past president of the historical society. "Heritage Village was losing funding from Pinellas County, and we knew something like this would help.''

People who aren't part of the community automatically think of Largo as a place filled with subdivisions and mobile home parks, said Schnur. He hopes his book will correct that notion.

The book details how the region grew from a disconnected area in the 1800s, made up of a small fishing community in the west and a farming community in the east, to the third-largest city in Pinellas County.

"I think Largo has often been overlooked in Tampa Bay's history," Schnur said. "An example is when St. Petersburg was growing during the big land boom. St. Pete was known as Sunshine City with tourists coming down and staying in the big hotels, and where did the food come from? It came from Largo.''

• • •

He begins the book by introducing Largo's pioneer families, including the Lowes, Meares, Taylors, McMullens and Belchers. Most settled in the region because of the elevated land that was good for farming, although some chose the coast, hoping the warm water of the Gulf of Mexico would prevent their crops from freezing.

The book is also quick to point out the importance of the railroad, in particular the arrival of the Orangeway Beltway in 1888.

This isn't the first time that Arcadia Publishing, based in Mount Pleasant, S.C., has focused on the Tampa Bay area. Other titles in its history series focus on Clearwater, Dunedin, St. Petersburg, Gulfport and Indian Rocks Beach. "Largo seemed like a missing link in our catalog,'' said Lindsay Carter, acquisitions editor for the publisher.

It was Ellen Babb, director of Heritage Village, who recommended the author. "Jim is a prolific writer who has done research on this area going back decades, and what he's doing for the Pinellas County Historical Society shows just how much he cares,'' she said.

Schnur, whose day job is special collections librarian at University of South Florida St. Petersburg, says one of his more interesting realizations had to do with the Pinellas County Fair, held in Largo from about 1915 to 1980.

"I just found it incredibly ironic that as the fair became more well-known in the 1950s and 1960s, the agricultural community was disappearing,'' said Schnur, who grew up on Redington Beach. "It was like the people were already getting nostalgic for what they were losing.''

He admits that real-life stories of how Florida's landscape has given way, going from orange trees to urban sprawl, is nothing new. However, the value of books like this is that it serves as a chance for people to check their actions.

He points out that in 2011, Largo's landscape doesn't include many historical landmarks.

"I find it interesting that the city has only one building, the Johnson Building (on First Street SW), listed on the National Register of Historic Places,'' he said.

"Like with the rest of the county, Largo has been built out, and there has to be serious consideration to how the developments will now be redeveloped. In order to look at what is next, we need to understand what brought people here in the first place.''

Reach Piper Castillo at pcastillo@sptimes.com

>> Fast facts

The latest on Largo

Images of America: Largo by James Anthony Schnur was released by Arcadia Publishing on Monday. The book retails for $21.99 and is available at area bookstores. Schnur has directed Arcadia to send author royalties to the Pinellas County Historical Society to benefit the Heritage Village, Pinellas County's living history museum.

This is not the first history book to be published on the city of Largo. In 1979, with Sadie Johnson serving as president, the Largo Area Historical Society released Largo: Then Til … . In 2005, with Elmer Williams serving as president, the group released From Pines and Palmettos: A Portrait of Largo, Florida.

History book "Images of America: Largo" will benefit Pinellas County's Heritage Village museum. 03/08/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 8, 2011 2:53pm]

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