History: Greektown Flourishes
Greeks continued to settle in Tarpon Springs, seeking better opportunities in a difficult industry and escape from deteriorating political conditions. At first men arrived alone, but soon they were joined by their families. Women played an important role: they not only managed the family's daily life while the sponge boats were out, but frequently were involved in commerce through gift shop management or employment in sponge warehouses.
The Greeks soon established Greektown, with many residences, stores, churches, restaurants, coffee houses,and recreational facilities that stretched from the Sponge Docks to the central section of the city. Sponge fishing and related activities served as the economic base for the community.
As the sponge industry ascended, the city acquired a Mediterranean character and its earlier role as a resort diminished. From 1905 through the 1940s, Greeks constituted the numerically dominant cultural group—a phenomenon unmatched elsewhere in the U.S. By 1913, more than half of the residents of Tarpon Springs were reputedly Greek and signs at the railroad station were posted both in English and Greek. Although they maintained much of their traditonal culture, they increasingly participated in all aspects of American life. As they acquired money, many left Greektown for more expensive homes.
The Greeks gradually began to control municipal politics as the majority or by allying themselves with Black Tarponites. African Americans had settled in Tarpon Springs since its inception, and some Bahamians had arrived in the late 19th century. Many developed close relationships with the Greeks while working on their boats and in the warehouses--and many learned to speak Greek with a Dodecanese accent.
In the 1930s, a sponge disease spread north in the Caribbean and Atlantic, destroying the Bahamian, Cuban, and other Caribbean sponge beds. When World War II limited Mediterranean production, the increased prices and market share created a sponge boom in Tarpon Springs. But by 1948 a red tide devasted the Florida beds, Mediterranean sponges flooded the market, and Dupont introduced cheap synthetic ones. Tarpon Springs' harvest plummeted and many families left for the steel mills of Indiana or Ohio. By the time the beds recovered in a decade or two, most children of the divers and captains had entered more secure occupations and the link with the past was all but broken.