The connections to Greece are everywhere. You can spot them as you watch workers fill wooden tubs with sponges outside the tourist shops on Dodecanese Boulevard. You can smell them as the scent of fresh Greek pastries floats down the sidewalk on Athens Street. You can hear them as you stand next to the Anclote River, listening to the waves knock against the hulls of the old wooden sponge boats.
But if you want to know how deep Greek roots really run in Tarpon Springs, now there's an app for that.
A free app offering an aural tour of the Greektown district was released Thursday. The educational tool is a joint project between the city and the Florida Humanities Council that can be downloaded to smartphones or tablets.
"The Florida Stories Walking Tour of Tarpon Springs'' lists 10 stops along a mile-long path. At each stop, visitors listen to a historical narrative as Greek music plays in the background and pictures appear on the screen.
The tour starts at a sponge diving helmet workshop just north of Dodecanese Boulevard. It winds down over the docks and into the site of the original Sponge Exchange. It loops up Athens Street and Lafayette Boulevard over to the Craig Park area along the bayou. By the time it ends at St. Nicholas Church, visitors will have heard a hefty number of stories on brotherhood and family loyalty, the origins of Greek songs and recipes, and the importance of the Greek Orthodox religion to the community.
The city's curator of arts and historical resources, Tina Bucavales, lives in Greektown and was one of the project's coordinators.
"You know, tourists go to the docks and they go into the shops ... but they typically don't talk to the local people,'' she said. "There is so much more for visitors to learn.''
Much of the tour material, such as the stories and vintage photos, came from conversations Bucavales has had with her neighbors.
"I knew I would be able to tell stories that not many people know about,'' she said. "For example, there is the story on the Greek record company (Grecophon Records was started on Athens Street). Even people who recognize the name of the record company don't realize it started in Tarpon Springs, and I got to share that story, one that I learned by making friends with older people in the neighborhood.''
The Florida Humanities Council began the Florida Stories Walking Tour in 2015. Currently, there are tours for St. Augustine (the first to be selected), Ybor City, Bartow, Lake Wales, DeLand and now Tarpon Springs. In the coming months, Key West, Fernandina Beach and Fort Pierce will be added.
The Florida Humanities Council's website administrator, Lisa Lennox, helped choose the communities. She said it's too hard to pick her favorite, but she gave kudos to Tarpon Springs.
"The music is wonderful, the pictures are fabulous, and by the way the narrator speaks, the time of the tour just flies by," Lennox said. "It is well-written and engaging, and that's how the tour was developed. That's all Tina.
"If I had to pick a favorite part of this tour, it would probably be the stop at St. Michael's Shrine. What a great story to share about how important the religion is to the people there. I love that about Tarpon Springs.''
Visitors should be warned that not all the tour stops are accessible to the public, Bucavales said, such as the former sponge-packing warehouses along Roosevelt Boulevard. Some of the historic properties belong to private citizens.
"It is fine to look over fences from the sidewalk," Bucavales said, "but don't go on private property unless you have permission, of course.''
For app details, go to floridahumanities.org.
Contact Piper Castillo at [email protected] Follow @Florida_PBJC.