Pinellas will celebrate its centennial this weekend at Pinewood Cultural Park in Largo

Coachman descendants will appear at the McMullen-Coachman Log Cabin, the oldest structure at Heritage Village. It was in their family.
Coachman descendants will appear at the McMullen-Coachman Log Cabin, the oldest structure at Heritage Village. It was in their family.
Published Sept. 11, 2012

LARGO — The three occupants of Pinewood Cultural Park — Heritage Village, the Florida Gulf Coast Center for Fishing and the Florida Botanical Gardens — are joining forces to celebrate Pinellas County's 100th birthday this weekend.

On Saturday and Sunday, several descendants of the county's pioneer families will share their memories on the porches of the historical homes at Heritage Village, the county's open-air history park.

At the Botanical Gardens, horticulturists will open their help desk to talk with visitors about gardening in Florida's unique climate.

And at the Center for Fishing, which opened in April, the staff will show off the new digs by holding a pancake breakfast and an afternoon fish fry. The public will be invited to check out the center's main gallery, where vintage fishing equipment will be displayed, including a bamboo outrigger (circa 1952), nautical charts (circa 1938) and an Army Corps compass (circa 1930).

At Heritage Village, one of the featured guests will be Joan Bates, whose grandfather, S.S. Coachman, served as chairman of the first Pinellas County Commission. Along with other Coachman descendants, she will appear both Saturday and Sunday at the McMullen-Coachman Log Cabin, the oldest structure at Heritage Village.

The cabin, built around 1852 by Capt. James Parramore McMullen, was purchased by S.S. Coachman in 1901. Before it was moved to Heritage Village, the cabin sat on 240 acres of orange groves near where Old Coachman Road is today.

"When I was very little, a family who worked on the grove lived in it for a while, and when they left, my dad, who was an amateur photographer, used it for his photography, as a darkroom,'' Bates recalled.

Bates will share stories about Pinellas history, including one about how Clearwater became the county seat.

The story goes that after the residents of the Pinellas peninsula seceded from Hillsborough County, St. Petersburg planned on being the county seat. But because Clearwater was centrally located, the St. Petersburg folks agreed to allow Clearwater to become the temporary county seat until a proper courthouse could be built.

So north county residents, including S.S. Coachman and his brother, E. Horace Coachman, got to work building a courthouse on the site of what is now Peace Memorial Presbyterian Church in downtown Clearwater.

When St. Petersburg residents heard what was going on, they tried to serve S.S. Coachman, who supplied the lumber, with an injunction to stop the work. Coachman made sure the injunction couldn't be served.

"S.S. heard about (the injunction), and he got into a boat. The stories differ about where he hid, but it is true, he went out on a boat to hide,'' Bates said.

After that episode, the Clearwater contingent rushed to complete the courthouse.

"My grandmother used to tell the story about how she kept the sandwiches and coffee going around the clock so the men could keep working on it,'' Bates said.

The county seat remains in Clearwater today.

Other special guests at Heritage Village will include Terry Fortner, co-author of the Cadadesi Cookbook: Recipes From a Florida Lifetime and granddaughter of Myrtle Scharrer Betz, who lived 40 years of her life on Caladesi Island.

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Other Florida authors who will attend include Michael Sanders, author of Florida's Historic Places Illustrated, and Wayne Ayers, Jim Schnur and Vincent Luisi, who have written books on Pinellas County for the Images of America series.