In 1887, John C. Williams convinced Russian entrepreneur Peter Demens to forget about expanding his Orange Belt Railroad to Disston City (now Gulfport), and lay the tracks to the eastern side of the Pinellas peninsula on the shore of Tampa Bay. On June 8, 1888, the “Mattie” pulled into a town commonly known as Wardsvillle, but soon to be renamed after Demens’ birthplace – St. Petersburg. Only one passenger stepped off the train that day, a shoe salesman from Savannah. But both Demens and Williams had faith in the potential of the little town, and Demens fulfilled his promise to build a grand hotel named after the Michigan hometown of Williams. In the background of the photograph, you can see the Detroit Hotel that still stands today.
The St Petersburg Museum of History is located at 335 2nd Ave NE, St. Petersburg, FL 33701. For more information about exhibits, hours, and ticket pricing visit SPMOH.com or call (727) 894-1052.