Vital Sunday: America’s Healthiest City!

There is no healthier place to be, than our sweet metropolis, down by the sea … or so went the original lyrics to Sunshine City, my new musical, to be sung and read tomorrow night at the Palladium Side Door.  Here are the facts, thanks to Nevin Sitler.

Attempts to alter portions of Pinellas into a themed landscape
continued. In 1906, Frank A. Davis, with the backing of Captain J.F. Chase, purchased
two hundred acres of nearby Disston City (modern day Gulfport) with the intent on
creating a Civil War veterans’ hideaway and retirement paradise. Like Florida’s largest
landowner, Hamilton Disston, before him, F.A Davis bragged and boasted of southern
Pinellas, but met with lackluster results in selling his tropical oasis. Throughout the later
part of the century, Davis, who had been in New Orleans when Van Bibber read his
“health city” paper, utilized his Philadelphia publishing company to reprint the report
many times over. According to Robert Craven Jr., grandnephew of F.A Davis, his great
uncle was greatly influenced by Van Bibber’s 1885 AMA conference report. For several
years, Davis printed promotional pamphlets about the Pinellas Peninsula and its salutary
benefits. From his “Facts and Suggestions for Persons Forced to Seek Permanent or
Temporary Homes on the Pinellas Peninsula,” compiled in 1896, and his 1901 “Progress
and Possibilities of St. Petersburg,” to his 1906 “Souvenir –St. Petersburg, the Pleasure
City of the South,” F.A. Davis encouraged Northern doctors and tourists to experience
Florida’s healthiest spot, St. Petersburg.
Several years later, with the Disston/Veteran City debacle behind him and
requiring the healthy climes of Florida himself, Frank A. Davis proposed to build a
sanitarium in nearby Tarpon Springs. Although the idea failed due to lack of interest,
Davis remained in Pinellas and eventually brought an electrical plant to St. Petersburg
and many other infrastructures required of growing city. As for Van Bibber, he too made
an attempt at a Southern sanitarium prior to his medical findings, perhaps prompting him
to promote Pinellas. Although he was not a direct owner, Van Bibber sent his son Claude
and three investing Baltimoreans to secure what he deemed the best portion of Pinellas.
Their purchase of the Pinellas Point from Maximo Hernandez’ widow, the areas first
homesteaders, never saw the first sign of development and foreclosed. The investment group quietly abandoned the land for back taxes. Though it may have been Dr. Van
Bibber’s financial goal to promote the area, it was certainly the countless references by
Frank A. Davis, and subsequent reprinting of the Van Bibber report, which secured
Pinellas’s attraction to Northern visitors, and encouraged doctors in prescribing the
destination for consumptives and invalids. “We can thank Providence for the peninsular
setting, the blue skies and waters and the sunshine, reported the Times nearly a century
later. “It just needed a little promotion. And for that we can thank the physician who
proclaimed St. Petersburg the healthiest spot on Earth.”