History of St. Pete

Print this pageAn Icon representing a Printer. Click to print.

Generations of Growth

St. Petersburg has always been characterized by endless sunshine, soaring pelicans, and a glistening waterfront, so it’s easy to imagine what attracted its founders here nearly 150 years ago.

Historic Preservation in St. Pete

History of St. Pete

Like most of the United States, the Tampa Bay area was home to generations of Indigenous tribes before the first White settlers arrived. While Spanish explorers came and went in the 1500s, it wasn’t until much later that the St. Pete we know began to form. 

People began moving to the area during the 1830s and 1840s, setting up homesteads, planting citrus and other crops, and raising animals. After the Civil War, more settlers arrived, including the area's first Black settlers, John Donaldson and Anna Germain, in 1868.  

In 1875 John Constantine Williams of Detroit, Michigan moved to Tampa and bought 2,500 acres of warm waterfront land that would eventually become St. Petersburg. Thirteen years later, he transferred part of that land to Peter Demens, an exiled Russian aristocrat. In exchange, Demens extended the Orange Belt Railroad to Williams’s settlement. The first train arrived in St. Petersburg in 1888, carrying empty freight cars and a single passenger. 

Legend says that Williams and Demens flipped a coin to see who would name the city. Demens won the coin toss and named it after Saint Petersburg, Russia. Williams named the city’s first hotel after his birthplace, Detroit. 

In 1903, with a population of only a few hundred people, St. Petersburg incorporated as a city.

More

Self-Guided Historic Tours

Residents and visitors can experience St. Pete history on foot by engaging with one of the many self-guided historic tours around the city. Heritage trails are a valuable cultural resource and an important component of historic preservation and heritage tourism. In addition to preserving personal stories, heritage trails bring life and add value to the surrounding physical environment.

Walk St. Pete: Downtown Audio & Photo Tour

The Florida Stories Walking Tour app offers fun stories about characters from the city’s past and guides users to some of downtown’s best in historic architecture. This tour is a collaboration between the Florida Humanities Council and St. Petersburg Preservation. Inc.

Downtown & Waterfront Walking Tours

There are three routes to choose from on the Downtown and Waterfront Walking Tours. Visitors can guide their own tour or hire a professional docent to host a tour. This tour is a collaboration between the Florida Department of State—Division of Historic Resources, St. Petersburg Preservation Inc. and Southern Roots Realty, Inc. 

African American Heritage Trails

The African American Heritage Trail has two two self-guided walking tours, each of which contains a concentration of resources that are significant to the history of St. Petersburg’s African American residents. Nineteen markers and a corresponding guide explore the African American community between the arrival of the first African Americans in 1868 and the Civil Rights era ending in 1968. Both trails begin at the Dr. Carter G. Woodsen Museum at 2240 9th Ave South. This tour is a collaboration between the City of St. Petersburg and the African American Heritage Association of St. Petersburg. 

Historic Outdoor Museum of Roser Park

The Historic Outdoor Museum of Roser Park is a self-guided walking tour that currently features twenty-eight markers describing the neighborhood's features and history. This tour is maintained through the Historic Roser Park Neighborhood Association.