An Island's Hidden Treasure
By Sally G. Yoder

Nestled along 10th Avenue in the historic Pass-a-Grille community of St. Pete Beach lies one of best-kept treasurers of island heritage.. The Gulf Beaches Historical Museum.

Located at 115 Tenth Ave., it was built in 1917 by several local builders who constructed it using rusticated cement blocks with red grout mixed from beach sand and limestone. All building supplies had to be brought over by boats from the St. Petersburg mainland. Local folk lore tells us the grout was colored by using red juice from the holly berry trees which dotted the island. Whatever was used retained the dark red color well. In 1997 when the building, which had been painted green, was sandblasted down to the original cinder block light gray color, there was the dark red grout as good as new.

The little church was the first church of the barrier islands and even while church services were being held in local hotel lobbies, the community felt the need for property of their own. While the church was under construction, services were held down the street in the schoolhouse at 105 Tenth Ave.

Once services began with visiting ministers, a choir and a growing attendance, the church became a staple on the island. Dinners, Sunday School classes and many social gatherings held at the church filled a need in the community. After WWII, many northern residents began migrating their way south and the quiet islands along Florida's West Coast seemed a perfect haven for cold worn visitors. Many vacationed but soon returned to become permanent islanders. The Pass-a-Grille Community Church grew right along with community and property had an addition in 1946, a WW II army barrack was moved from the point of the island and attached to the north side to be used as classrooms. In 1959 the budding congregation outgrew the little church and built a new structure on 16th Ave.

Bound for the wrecking ball, the property was purchased by Mrs. Joan Haley, a local resident and historic preservationist from the D.C. area. She turned the church into a beautiful home with antiques and warm furnishings. Upon her death in 1989 she willed the property to Pinellas County to be used as a museum for island history.

In 1993 it opened to the public and became a satellite of Pinellas County's Heritage Village. The museum is maintained by a 40 + all-volunteer group and by its non-profit Friends of the GBHM support organization. The historic collection is collected, preserved, and exhibited by volunteers, docents are trained to staff the Museum during open hours and are ready to tell stories and welcome questions from visitors.

Over the past 21 years it has grown and its collection of artifacts, memorabilia, photos, post cards, and old brochures is one of the best in Pinellas County. Inside its doors one can see many photos of how the island looked as it developed from early 1900. A time-line covers area heritage from 1500 to present time, enjoy a look through albums of pioneer families, view the complete history and photos of the original island's Sunshine School, plus the Gulf Beaches School albums from 1950. These are just a few of the popular exhibits along with artifacts and memorabilia of other island churches.

If you want to see what island life was like through the past 100 + years, visit the oldest church building on the Tampa Bay barrier islands, The Gulf Beaches Historical Museum. Learn history; enjoy its pioneer photographs, and old post-cards, an exhibit of WW II memorabilia and the famous pink Don CeSar Hotel. View artwork by some local artists, browse the brochure rack for sea-life information, and visit the little corner gift shop.

Open hours are October -May are Thus, Fri., Sat., 10 am - 4 pm and June -September are Fri., Sat., 10 am - 4 PM and all Sundays 1 - 4 PM If you are interested in a private tour for a group, please call 727-552-1610 and we will be pleased to make arrangements when the Museum is not open to the public. A special "you bring desert and we have coffee/tea" tour has been added recently. A program about the Museum and island history is also available for presentation at a meeting or dinner. The Museum is handicap assessable and there is no admission fee. A visit to this island treasure will be sure to enlighten your knowledge of local history and it can be fun trip for all the family.



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