Curious newcomer explores history of Palm Harbor's Indian Bluff Island

Tom Rose decided to write a book about Indian Bluff Island because nobody had compiled its complete history.
Tom Rose decided to write a book about Indian Bluff Island because nobody had compiled its complete history.
Published Jan. 19, 2013


Two years ago, retired college professor Tom Rose bought a home on Indian Bluff Island, a land mass bordering the shoreline of Palm Harbor, with his wife, Dorcey.

It didn't take Rose long to grow curious about the history of the island, which is developed with some 100 homes, many with views of surrounding bayous.

"I was able to find bits and pieces of the island's history, but I quickly realized that nobody had compiled anything complete,'' said Rose, a rowing enthusiast who retired from Montgomery College in Maryland.

To gain more insight, he reached out to Terry Fortner, a board member and past president of the North Pinellas Historical Society who put him in touch with several old-timers. He began collecting information.

The result of his research is Indian Bluff Island Was Buchanan Island: A Century of Wall Springs and Florida History, a 34-page, soft-cover book Rose released in December. It reveals some information that few people knew about the island.

The book, being sold as a fundraiser for the Palm Harbor Historical Society, plumbs the memories of longtime residents, including sisters Joanna Buchanan Sutton and Evelyn Buchanan Sutton.

Their father, Dan Buchanan, established a home on the island around 1914. The women, both now in their 90s, shared stories of a childhood spent running barefoot on the island, selling homegrown vegetables out of a wheelbarrow and rowing a skiff to get to school at the Wall Springs brick school house on the mainland.

They also surprised Rose early on with an important fact.

"It was Evelyn and Joanna who told me that it wasn't always known as Indian Bluff Island. They told me it was known as Buchanan Island. It was the first time I had heard that. Nobody else had called it by that name,'' Rose said.

It wasn't until he located a U.S. Geological Survey map printed in 1943 that he was able to confirm that the land mass was originally identified as Buchanan Island.

After studying historical documents and interviewing Wally Ericson, owner of Ericson Marine in Tarpon Springs, who dredged the area in the 1950s, Rose got another surprise. The island was originally just 22 acres. A dredge and fill operation expanded it to 46 acres.

"If they didn't dredge out the inlets, there wouldn't be so many waterview houses here,'' he said. "The dredge and fill is a very important part of the history.''

Rose didn't unearth any scandals in his search of the island's history, but he did discover some unusual wildlife. A newspaper clipping from 1974 revealed that a leopard had been kept on the island.

"A resident on Carlyle Drive owned a leopard at one point,'' Rose said. "One day, the leopard attacked the babysitter and a neighbor boy shot it. It was a big deal.''

The babysitter survived.

Rose's neighbor, Amy Crawford Kelly, whose parents, Hilda and Porter Crawford, purchased a home on the island in 1962 when she was 5, also shared stories for the book. After reading Rose's completed work, she realized that ". . . there were still some things about the island I did not know.''

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However, she does remember the leopard. A teenager at the time, Kelly acknowledges that the leopard attack was one of the island's bigger stories.

"I remember hearing sirens and finding out shortly afterward what had happened. It was awful, and we were surprised that there was a leopard in the garage to begin with. No leopard should have been kept in a garage,'' she said.

To Fortner, whose grandmother, Myrtle Scharrer Betz, grew up on nearby Caladesi Island and shared her experiences in Yesteryear I Lived in Paradise, believes the first-person memories detailed in Rose's book ". . . are precious.''

"It's so important to get the history down on paper because we are talking about several people that lived here who are up there in their eighth and ninth decade of life," she said. "We need to document their stories while they are still with us."

Piper Castillo can be reached at (727) 445-4163 or To write a letter to the editor, go to