Tarpon Springs is located near Florida's Gulf Coast, north of the Tampa Bay area. Historically, the town was important because the nearby Gulf waters is one of the few areas in the world where certain commercially-desirable species of sponges grow. During the 1890s fishermen from Tarpon Springs made their living by harvesting these sponges using hooks. A few years later at the turn of the 20th century a local entrepreneur decided to give the industry a bit of a push by inviting the experts here to work: Greek sponge divers, who immigrated to Tarpon Springs with their families, their centuries of mad diving skillz, and their state-of-the-art gear.
Thanks to the Greek divers the Tarpon Springs sponging industry took off in about 1908 and reached its peak during the 1930s. Today, the Greek community they started survives and gives the old Tarpon Springs waterfront its vibrance. This historic district is definitely worth a day of your time to visit. There are still a few of the old-style sponge boats along the main dock, some refitted for tourist cruises and photo opportunities, but others still working the sponge beds. You will also find very good Greek restaurants there, as well as a fun sponge museum and shops devoted to the maritime and sponging industries. Step in to one of these shops - decorated outside and in with big puffy sponges galore - and get yourself a genuine authentic natural Tarpon Springs sponge - I certainly did and it is way-cool. The first thing GB asked me was, if he could use my fine, new, fancy sponge for washing the boat. Um, NO.
Among all the shops catering to the tourist trade are tucked doctors', dentists' and lawyers' offices with shingles bearing Greek surnames. The surrounding neighborhood is full of well-preserved and -maintained century-old houses and is itself worth a stroll. The Florida sponging industry may no longer be what it once was, but it seems Tarpon Springs' Greek community lives on and prospers.