John’s Pass Village and Boardwalk, near Madeira Beach - Orlando / Florida Guide
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Situated on Highway 699, just north of Treasure Island, is a quaint and enchanting fishing village, marina and boardwalk. It has a fascinating history, which dates back to the mid 1800’s, when Florida was very different from the way it is now.
Florida was an untamed and lawless land in the early part of the 19th century, with pine forests, swamps and islands entangled with mangroves. Slaves running away from southern planters fled to Florida, and took refuge amongst those native Americans, who had also been displaced when they were chased from their homelands. These native Americans were called ‘Seminoles’, which means ‘wild ones’ – Seminole County bears their name.
Unfortunately, the Southern planters were determined to remove these Indians from Florida, and replace them with white settlers. The plan was to transport them to reservations out west, but the Seminoles fought back. Escaped slaves were also to be captured and returned, and there were several wars fought.
Joseph Silva and John Levach took advantage of an act which allowed homesteaders 160 acres of land – as long as they farmed some of it and agreed to fight the Seminoles if the need arose. They settled along the mainland coast at Upper Ciega Bay, near St. Petersburg, and had it not been for a badly timed timed fishing expedition, John’s Pass might never have existed!
It was in the late summer of 1848 that these two men sailed to New Orleans to sell a cargo of green turtles. On their way home they encountered a fierce and terrifying hurricane, which tore down trees and wiped out former landmarks, as well as changing the shoreline. After the storm, John Levach tried to find an entrance to Boca Siega Bay, and, by chance, found a more northerly opening which had not existed before the hurricane. On the morning of September 27th, 1848, the two men navigated their way through this new pass, between Madeira Beach and Treasure Island. Since then it has become known as John’s Pass, in honour of the man who discovered it, although since the Great Gale of 1848 this pass has probably shifted at least 5,000 feet.
A huge variety of wildlife was found on the barrier islands such as deer, tortoise, sea turtle, alligator, gopher, small mammals and flocks of seabirds. However, indiscriminate hunting of these led to the decimation of much of its wildlife, and the near extinction of many of its bird species. By the beginning of the 20th century there was little wildlife left, and so the land was ripe for development.
In 1980 a public waterfront boardwalk was built along John’s Pass, and thus the larger community of John’s Pass Village. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Wilson Hubbard had settled in the tiny waterfront community of Pass-s-Grille with his parents, who were travelling with a carnival. At the young age of 17 he purchased 5 rowboats, but after the war, in 1954 he started the first Gulf coast half day fishing party boats. By 1956 he had introduced 18 hour fishing trips for experienced anglers, and in 1971 he established overnight weekend trips to the far offshore fishing ground. However, it wasn’t until 1976 that he moved his operation to John’s Pass, and 3 years later he established the Friendly Fisherman Seafood Restaurant there.
In 1982 and 1983 he added the quaint shops which we can now enjoy. His youngest son, Mark, established Hubbard’s Sea Adventures, which is a dolphin watching nature cruise operation. With narrated tours, you can visit local environments and see the wildlife for yourself – these may include pods of dolphins, and endangered seabirds in the mangroves.
If you are ever in the area, do take a look at this fascinating place. There is so much to see and do, plus great places to eat. The sunsets, alone, are worth the trip.
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