Small Town Stories: Belleair, Florida

A Treasurer, who is a client of ours in Belleair, Florida, inspired this month’s small town story. After taking a look at Belleair and finding out more about its colorful history, we couldn’t help but make it into a small town story piece!

All that Belleair has to offer—yachting, horseback riding, golfing, tennis, and skeet shooting—was the exact reason why Henry B. Plant built a majestic hotel there in 1897. But it was the national craze for bicycling that really put Belleair (and the Belleview Hotel) on the map. Belleair became a cycling mecca during the Turn of the Century, hosting a six-day bicycle race and other national (and international) cycling events.

Eventually, people looked at the property surrounding the hotel and the nearby city of Clearwater, and in 1925, the town of Belleair was incorporated. Initially, plans for the town of Belleair were quite lavish, but the stock market crash of 1929 (as well as the end of the Florida Land Boom) led to the town’s default on more than $1 million dollars in bonds, and plans for grandeur were overgrown by weeds and neglect.

By WWII, the Army Air Corps moved in, and the once-pristine golf greens became the location for drill fields. It was also at this time that Belleair’s shallow waters became the testing ground for the wartime invention (and Belleair’s claim to fame), “The Alligator”–an aqueous/land vehicle used on the beaches of Europe and the Pacific Islands.

After the war, a massive restoration of the town was initiated, but it wasn’t until 1944, when seven acres were donated to develop the Florida Gulf Coast Art Center, that the population rose, and by the 1950’s, a rebirth of Belleair began to take shape.

Soon, the population soared from 300 to almost 2,200. Postwar professionals were drawn by the recreational opportunities and water and sewage infrastructure. By the 1960’s and 70’s, a U.S. Steel purchase of land brought forth another boom, and boosted the population to approximately 4,000.

Today, Belleair is abundant with the recreational opportunities that put it on the map over a century ago. Belleair is laced with parks and paths that provide a variety of recreation, as well as bordered by the Clearwater harbor and barrier islands where some of the best beaches in the state can be found.

The Belleair population stays steady at about 4,100 people, and the town is still home to the historic Belleview Biltmore Hotel, three golf courses, and a plethora of businesses and commercial offices.

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