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  • Tags: sponge industry

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Anna Smolios Kouskoutis Ioanidis (right) worked in Sylvia Billiris’ (left) gift shop during the 1950s. With the decline of the sponge business in the late 1940s and early 1950s, tourism based on Greek culture and the sponge industry became Tarpon…

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Anthony “Curly” Spanolios is seen here trimming sponges near the Sponge Docks. When he was young, Spanolios’ family owned a wood yard on Athens Street, where he helped his father make charcoal for the sponge boats and private residences. He…

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With the spongers came many other Greeks working in related maritime businesses: ship chandlers, machine shops, boat builders, a sail loft, and sponge packing houses. Antonios Avgerinos (1860-1930) was a successful diving helmet maker from Symi who…

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This image shows Antonios Lerios and Nicholas Toth in 1986 alongside a diving helmet in the shop Lerios built in the early 20th century. Growing up in Tarpon Springs, Nicholas Toth visited his grandfather’s machine shop and gradually absorbed his…

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Piles of all types of sponges fill the courtyard of the Sponge Exchange on an auction day in 1921. Most of the men in the courtyard appear to be Greek, except for the African American man walking towards the camera. He was one of many who worked in…

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Little in the basic sponge cleaning process has changed. On the left, a man uses a wooden mallet to clean debris such small stone or shells from a sponge in George Emmanuel’s warehouse. Others trim sponges with the same type of shears used for…

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Back in port, the crew finishes cleaning and sorting sponges for auction on October 10, 1969. Cleaning the animals entails allowing their skins to decompose, rinsing them with water and squeezing them to eliminate internal matter and bits of skin,…

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A crew member finishes the grueling job of cleaning sponges on February 11, 1975. Sponges, which are simple animal organisms, must be cleaned of their skin, internal matter, and any stones or sand that have adhered to them. Crew members repeatedly…

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The son of a diver and hook boat captain, Costa John Tsataros (1926-2001) also became a sponge diver. While at sea, he often whittled—creating beautiful sponge boats from blocks of wood. Today his sons John and Steve continue his father’s…

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Costas Tsourakis loading strings of sponges into the back of a truck during the 1940s. Tsourakis arrived from Greece in 1905. In addition to working with sponges, he made charcoal for the sponge boats at a lot on Athens and Cedar Streets.

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The crew of the tourist boat St. Nicholas III poses for a photograph. Standing on the dock are Captain Michael J. Billiris, Angelo V. Billiris, unidentified diver; on the boat are George M. Billiris, Theodore J. Billiris, unidentified, Ted M.…

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Aerial view of the demolition of the Sponge Exchange in 1981. The Sponge Exchange was sold to new private owners who wanted to create a shopping complex. Although many members of the Greek community and preservationists from the Florida Department of…

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Usually out with the sponge fleet, this boat remained at the Sponge Docks and was put up for sale in the early 1970s due to a death in the family. A memorial wreath for deceased graces the sponge boat.

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This early image of a sponge packing house is associated with the name Trefon Constantinou. Sponge merchants are central to domestic and international distribution. Many belong to families that have worked in every aspect of the business for…

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The elevated view reveals the sponge fleet at the Sponge Docks and the Sponge Exchange and view of bridge and surrounding area in 1932. Note the boat yard to the right of the Docks, where boats were built, repaired, and their hulls cleaned.

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Outside their gift store on Pinellas Avenue in 1948 are children Costas Pappas, Fanitsa and Theodosios Frantzis, and adults Katherine Esfakis Pappas, her father-in-law Costas George Pappas, and sister-in-law Zula Pappas Frantzis. Katherine was raised…

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The family of a sponge fisherman poses for a photograph in front of their home on November 16, 1936. Although the talented Burgert Brothers photographers from Tampa found intriguing subjects in Tarpon Springs, they did not always record the names of…

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Florida Folk Heritage Award recipient and third generation boat builder George Saroukos is the last master builder of Greek sponge boats. During the first half of the 20th century, hundreds of achtermas-style sponge boats were built in Tarpon…

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The Gulf of Mexico Sponge Co. warehouse was built at 122 Roosevelt Boulevard around 1930 by Drosos Alahuzos, who arrived in the U.S. in 1916. Drosos ran the family sponge business out of Philadelphia but spent some of his time in Tarpon Springs,…

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This is the identification card for sponge fisherman Paul Stavropoulos. During World War II, sponge fishermen needed identification cards issued by the captain of the port in order to journey out to the sponge beds.

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James Piccolo sizes sponges at Acme Sponge & Chamois Company, one of the largest sponge distribution businesses in Tarpon Springs. The company was established in 1938 by Michael Cantonis, who came from a family of Symian sponge merchants. Acme…
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