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Is Safety Harbor pioneer's name spelled Philippe or Phillippe? Definitely not Philippi or Phillipi


Street signs say Philippe Parkway, with one L. Official city maps, press releases and an article by the mayor say Phillippe, with two L's.

Even the U.S. Post Office is confused. It spells Philippe Parkway with two L's, but nearby Philippe Court with one.

"Been that way since I've been here," said postmaster Brian Strasser, who has worked at the Safety Harbor post office for a decade in various capacities.

Blame it on phonetics, assumptions, carelessness or just plain habit. No one in Safety Harbor is sure how to spell the last name of the area's first permanent, non-native settler. And that's despite decades of efforts to correct inaccuracies in his story.

"There are certain people who have lived here all their lives and have spelled it a certain way," said city engineer Bill Baker, who passed out a map to city commissioners last month that, for instance, showed two spellings.

"They're probably going to spell it the way they're going to spell it for the rest of their lives. It's not like people are ignorant or anything. It's just they are going to do it their way."

• • •

The road's namesake signed his name with one L, said Allison DeFoor, a seventh-generation descendant who spent years researching his ancestor for a 1998 book, Odet Philippe: Peninsular Pioneer.

"I've got quite a few examples," said DeFoor, a former judge, sheriff, Everglades restoration czar and gubernatorial running mate turned jailhouse priest. "His will, deed, a couple of court documents. Every single signature that he signed has the same spelling, except one."

The grave marker inside the county park bearing Philippe's name also has one L. It hasn't always been that way.

For more than 30 years, the headstone was riddled with mistakes. Not only was Philippe's name misspelled (Phillipi), his birth year was wrong (1785 instead of 1787) and he was erroneously listed as a doctor and head surgeon of Napoleon's army. He was neither.

It wasn't until 1999 that a more accurate headstone took its place. Still, the variations persist.

Michelle Coleman has owned Phillippe Ridge Assisted Living Facility since 1993. She considers herself well-versed in Safety Harbor history. But until last week, she didn't realize the difference between her business name and the street signs.

"I don't know why we spell it that way," said Coleman, whose business is at 1055 Philippe Parkway. "Isn't that horrible?"

When Safety Harbor dedicated a portion of Philippe Parkway to a former commissioner this month, the city sent out a press release entitled, "Part of Phillippe Parkway to be Dedicated in Honor of Keith Zayac."

And in the opening sentence of Mayor Andy Steingold's monthly column in Top of the Bay Journal, a community newspaper for Safety Harbor and Oldsmar, he used two L's.

"People think in terms of the name Phillip," said Ron Fekete, director of exhibits at the Safety Harbor Museum of Regional History. "Phillip is spelled with two L's and so everybody assumes."

Now that he knows better, the mayor said: "In honor of one of the initial settlers, we should spell it with one. You can't decide to name a road or park after someone and spell their name different."

• • •

Coleman, the owner of the assisted living facility, said she doesn't plan to change the name anytime soon. "I'll probably keep it the same," she said.

And that's just fine by DeFoor, Philippe's descendant.

"I'm not terribly troubled," he said of the inconsistent spellings. "I'm just pleased that they remember him and remember his legacy. He was a real pioneer."

Rodney Thrash can be reached at or (727) 445-4167.

Is Safety Harbor pioneer's name spelled Philippe or Phillippe? Definitely not Philippi or Phillipi 12/24/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 24, 2009 5:47pm]
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