Cultural History of a Small Town: Safety Harbor’s First Settlers

I did two sites in Safety Harbor, that in my opinion were related, and they were just down the road from one another making a perfect little afternoon outing to learn the history and cultural heritage of the town.

Safety Harbor Museum and Cultural Center

329 Bayshore Blvd

Safety Harbor Fl, 34695


Philippe Park
2525 Philippe Pkwy.
Safety Harbor, FL 34695



Located in Downtown Safety Harbor, the Safety Harbor Museum and Cultural Center is across from the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa and down the street from the Library.  It faces the Gulf of Mexico with a great view of the water.  It is also down the street from Philippe Park which is home to an Indian Mound.


The website is pretty simple and is part of the city’s website.  It has tabs labled: About, Supporters, Classes, Museum and Tours, Workshops, Volunteer, Camps, and one for Viva Florida.

The Park’s website gives basic information on location and amenities.


The Museum’s board has recently partnered with the city for the running of the building and programing while the board still is in charge of the exhibits and cultural aspects.  Other partners are the Chamber of Commerce, Creative Pinellas, the Garden Club, Family Center, Astronomy Club, Special Arts, Public Art Group, and Writers and Poets group.  They are also partnered with a group known as the VSA FL, the state organization on arts and disability which strives to create a society where people with disabilities can learn through, participate in, and enjoy the arts.

Accreditation Status

The museum is listed on the FAM website, but I was unable to confirm accreditation from the woman who was working the museum.  A closer look at the American Alliance of Museums site revealed no accreditation through them.

Philippe Park is on the National Historic Registry of Places and Landmarks.


They publish a monthly newsletter, an Arts and Culture e-news e-mail list, and publish on the city website any events.

Life Long Learning

The museum is participating in the Viva Florida events and has numerous programs for adults and children.  The class list for the spring included a Kids Night @ the Museum, a Coffee Talk on the Tuskegee Airmen, a Social Media for Artists, two writing classes, and at least two art classes.  For the summer, they are participating in the Kids Summer Camp with themes being: Chess Dialectics, Geochche, Math Mania, Young Reporters, Museum Explorers, Woodburning and Carving, young artists, create your own comic book, Sign art, repurpose fashion, and more.  Adult classes for the month of June include: Realism from Photos, Writing your Memoirs, Glass Enamel and Bead, and Jewelry workshops and an Etsy Craft Party.  They also conduct lectures, tours, and have events for learning of all ages in the arts and culture/history.

Connections with Libraries

The Safety Harbor Library which is down the street from the Center.

Cultural Heritage

The Museum and Cultural Center preserves the history and culture of Safety Harbor.  The Museums exhibits start with the Tocabaga Indians who were the original settlers and then go to the first European settlers with Odet Philippe.  The artifact and diagrams show the history of the town and the area, preserving for the current and future residents, as well as visitors, what the areas Cultural Heritage and History.

Philippe Park preserves the land originally own be Odet Philippe and the Indain Mound that can be found there.

Reactions and Observations

The collection was small, but covered several thousand years of the area’s history.  The diagrams started with the Tocabaga Indians that used to live in the area showing their homes and hunting practices and information on the mounds they created in the area (more on that later).  This part of the exhibit also showed depictions of prehistoric animals that were known to live in the area including Smilodons or Saber Tooth Cat, Eremotherium or Giant Ground Sloth, and Bootherium or Oxen.  Further on the exhibit showed some fossilized bones and implements that had been discovered at archeological sites and other sites around Safety Harbor.

The diagrams then skipped forward to 1823 when Odet Philippe settled the area on 160 acres of what is now Philippe Park.    They also had a diagram depicting old Cracker Houses.  From there, the exhibit showed a Seven Foot Chickering Square Grand Piano form 1840 that the museum was collecting donations to mount a restoration.  I love that the museum is trying to restore the old piano for future generations.  Artifacts from the 19th and early 20th century were set up to show life in Safety Harbor.  These pieces included, among other things, an old moonshine still, kitchen equipment, old mailboxes from the post office, and a man’s coat and top hat.  All the little items really came together to depict an earlier way of life and the history of the town.  There was also a family tree for Philippe showing his descendants, which according to the tree, eventually became the McMullen-Booths.

A third part to the exhibit was fossilized bones, pottery, and implements from various times in the past.  Some were on the wall behind glass, others were in drawers, also covered in glass, which could be pulled out and looked at close up.

While it only took up one room, it was informative and eye opening.  I was surprised to learn that that earliest people in the area were from around 20,000 BCE.  I never realized how far back Pinellas County went.  I had no idea that there were Indian Mounds in the area either.  It really gave me a better understanding of Safety Harbor history and the history of Pinellas County.  In this way, this is similar to the Traditional Cultural Expressions mandate that individual groups preserve their own history.  They City is making sure their history and the history of the Tocabaga are preserved, especially since the Tocabaga are no longer here to do so themselves.  Their affiliation with the City run library is the perfect partnership just as the report states.  I now wish I had gotten that job at Safety Harbor Library so I could be closer and participate in the rich cultural offerings the Museum and the rest of the town has.

On the way out of Safety Harbor, I stopped by Philippe Park, which I had passed on my way to the Museum.  The sign proclaiming it to have an Indian Mound intrigued me, especially after seeing the artifacts in the museum.  The Park has a boat ramp, eight picnic pavilions, fishing, two playgrounds, a softball field, water fountains, and restrooms as well as a trail along the water’s edge.

According to the information at the park, Pedro Menendez de Aviles came to the area looking for a direct water way to St. Augustine.  Of course, he didn’t find one, but did find the Tocabaga.  A mission was started before he left, however when a Jesuit Priest arrived a year later, he found those left behind dead and the village abandoned.  The mound in the park is what is left of the village.  Historians believe that the chief lived on top of the mound and that it might have served as a central meeting area.

A paved ramp now leads to the top of the mound, however it is quite steep.  I found myself having to lean forward when walking up to keep from falling back, and then leaning back going down to keep from falling forward and tumbling down to the bottom.  At the top, were two benches and two series of steps leading down to a path between the water’s edge and the mound.  The view of the water is spectacular, and worth the steep climb.

This preservation goes with this week’s and part of last week’s topic of a park, home, or other landscape being a part or our cultural heritage.  The park is a county park and home to a national historic landmark, making it a cultural landscape worthy of being preserved.  It fits in with UNESCO’s third definition of a Cultural Landscape: Associative cultural landscapes, areas with powerful religious, artistic or cultural associations rather than material cultural evidence.”


Traditional Cultural Expressions Task Force. (2010). Librarianship and traditional cultural expressions: Nurturing understanding and respect.

Cultural Landscape Foundation. (2012). Retrieved from

Post Office Set Up

The Piano

Typewriters and Printing Blocks

Plaque Dedicating Philippe Park


View from the Mound

A Tree I Found Interesting



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