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Video will give fourth-graders a peek at North Pinellas history

Student actors go through their scenes in a meeting at the Palm Harbor Historical Society before filming begins on a video about the history of northern Pinellas County.
Published Aug. 17, 2012

PALM HARBOR — Terry Fortner remembers when Curlew Road was made of dirt.

She remembers when there were more woods, more pastures and more cattle in North Pinellas.

"There were citrus groves everywhere," Fortner also recalled.

Fortner, 59, is a member of the Palm Harbor Historical Society, an organization that has teamed up with the community to share memories of North Pinellas history with school students via video. The video will be available to Pinellas County fourth-grade teachers to use to educate their students about local history.

The plot of the video involves a scavenger hunt and three fourth-grade girls: Lucy, played by Elyssa Warner, 11, of Palm Harbor Middle; Evie, played by Haylee Unger, 11, also of Palm Harbor Middle; and Sophie, played by Maya Kohli, 10, of Ridgecrest Elementary.

The characters compete to solve clues about North Pinellas history. The scavenger hunt quickly turns into a battle of the sexes when three boys enter the competition: Jack, played by Cameron Sharrone, 10, of Ozona Elementary; Liam, played by Alexander Dubay, 10, of Tarpon Springs Fundamental; and Aiden, played by Owen Huckstep, 9, of Gulfside Elementary.

Cameron, 10, said it's important to learn local history.

"It helps you learn about Florida's history and life," he said. "If you didn't really know that then everyone would wonder."

While viewers follow the young students' adventure, they will learn:

• That during World War II, a slash pine tree was used as a lookout for residents to climb up and search for suspicious activity in the gulf. The tree, located in Crystal Beach, is still there.

• The Olde Schoolhouse Restaurant in Palm Harbor used to be a school. It was built in 1910.

• The Pinellas Trail replaced a railroad that was built in the 1880s. One of its uses was to transport mail, and a conductor would use a hook to reach out and grab a bag of mail — sometimes without stopping the train.

• There used to be an Ozona fish house, back when the area was a major location for commercial fishing.

• The Boot Ranch Shopping Center and surrounding area used to be a large ranch with horses and prize-winning cattle.

The idea for the video grew out of the celebration of Pinellas County's centennial anniversary this year. The video production is funded by a $10,000 grant from the Pinellas Community Foundation.

Older students also were involved in the video: Three Countryside High School students are producing it.

One of the students, Katie Bessell, 17, said the project began during the spring semester. They completed shooting the video in early August.

"If I was younger, it would be cool to be like, 'Oh, that's right where I live. It's actually here,' " she said. "It's something to show the kids that they can discover (history) themselves."

The goal is to have the video available as school starts. One of the Palm Harbor Historical Society members, Sallie Parks, a former county commissioner, said they consulted teachers to ensure the video follows the school district's elementary curriculum.

"I think our point of view is trying to help people understand what our predecessors did and what our ancestors did for a living here," Parks said. "It will bring history to life."

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