About seven decades ago, when he was just a teen, Pat Carey would board the passenger train at the Tarpon Springs depot and head to Clearwater for a few dances and a few chances to meet some pretty girls.
“Tickets were 17 cents” to Clearwater’s dance pavilion, Carey said, but it was always a one-way trip for him.
“I had to hitchhike back because I didn’t have money for a (return) ticket, I didn’t have a car, and I didn’t have a job,” said Carey, who is now 84 and lives in South Florida. “But that’s the way things were back then.”
People interested in how things were “back then” will find the restored Railroad Depot Museum, operated by the Tarpon Springs Area Historical Society, a pleasurable way to while away a summer afternoon.
And you can’t beat the ticket price: Admission is free.
The station, at the intersection of Tarpon Avenue and the Pinellas Trail in downtown Tarpon Springs, was built in 1909, when the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad opened a new brick depot to replace the wooden one destroyed in a 1908 fire. It served passengers until 1971 and continued as a stop for freight trains until 1984.
A $900,000 restoration effort, completed in 2005, was made possible through the city’s efforts to obtain grant funding from the Florida Department of Transportation and the National Park Service’s Save America’s Treasures program.
Modern conveniences like air-conditioning were added and today the train depot looks much like the original, with white brick walls, forest green trim, and original heart of pine flooring. Even the red clay tile roof was matched to the original.
Visitors will note the main lobby area contains two ticket windows with iron bars, two waiting areas and two bathroom areas. These visible signs of the once-segregated South, with larger and superior facilities for whites, were retained for historical purposes, said Cyndi Tarapani, president of the historical society.
“It was important that it looked and felt like the original and that people could see that it operated as a segregated train station,” she said.
The museum is laden with antique artifacts: a cast iron potbelly stove, telegraph transmission and reception equipment, an early cash register and an oversized trainmaster’s desk.
The well-worn steamer trunks and luggage of renowned Tarpon Springs landscape artist George Inness Jr. and his wife are on display, provoking thoughts of early travel and adventure.
Youngsters may be surprised to learn that phones once had cords and rotary dials. Or that typewriters were once considered cutting-edge technology.
Beyond the restored waiting room and the station manager’s office is the freight warehouse, which showcases numerous vignettes of yesteryear.
Check out the antique baby stroller sporting all the modern conveniences of its day: a padded bed and a parasol on a swinging arm to shade the baby from the Florida sun.
And imagine what it would be like to sit in the old dental chair with its attached spit bowl and have a tooth pulled before the days of anesthetics.
A new display in the warehouse chronicles the 50th anniversary of integration in Tarpon Springs public schools through photos and written accounts. The schools were segregated until 1963, when three African-American students gained permission from the School Board to transfer to an all-white school.
“We’re hoping to get a school curriculum together and start inviting schools here for field trips,” said Phyllis Kolianos, vice president of the historical society. “I think the children would really benefit from going through the museum.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following clarification:
The historic Tarpon Springs Train Depot was restored through the city’s efforts to obtain grant funding from the Florida Department of Transportation and the National Park Service’s Save America’s Treasures program and is operated as a museum by the Tarpon Springs Historical Society.