On January 14, 1897, Ernest Tate purchased an uninhabited wilderness known as Clearwater Beach Island. He paid $200 for the land grant of 164 acres. The property was part of Hillsborough County at that time (Pinellas County did not exist), and early maps officially titled it Clearwater Key.
By the early 1900s, the land had become commonly known as Tate’s Island.
Tate’s first task was to build a dwelling for himself and his wife Leola Rogers. He borrowed $450 for building materials, pledging the island as collateral. The house Tate built was the only one on the island. It stood where the Hilton is today.
According to an account by Leola Tate’s niece, Margaret Mason, life on Tate’s Island was an adventure. The only means of reaching the island were sailboat, rowboat or swimming. Some did swim the channel, she claims.
The biggest adventure was a traumatic one that led to the Tates leaving their island paradise. A hurricane swept in from the Gulf while Tate was away. The account reads, “Leona was so frightened of being washed away, she tied herself to a palm tree while the waves poured through the small cottage.” A day later, a party from Dunedin arrived to rescue her.
The hurricane experience convinced Leona Tate she wanted nothing more to do with Tate’s Island. She refused to go back to the homestead. Ernest Tate gave up his land for the $450 note. The Tates went on to happily live out their days in Clearwater, among friends and relatives in the town of about 400.
Tate’s Island slumbered for a few years thereafter. But its isolation came to an end in 1917 with the opening of a three-mile wooden bridge from the mainland at Seminole Street. Soon, thousands of motoring tourists and aspiring landowners came clanking across to “discover” the island’s lush vistas and fantastic beaches.
In 1924, Tate’s Island became a fading memory when the name was officially changed to Clearwater Beach.
According to Bill Wallace, of the Clearwater Historical Society, the Tate Island name is something of a misnomer. Tate never owned the whole island to begin with, only 164 acres, Wallace points out. However, Ernest Tate was a very noticeable personality and made himself known.
Wallace also notes that around 1900 Clearwater Beach was about half of today’s size. Dredge and fill operations in the 20th century made up the difference. Today the old name has resurfaced on the Tate Island Grill, a Sandpearl Resort eatery, not far from the site of Ernest and Leola Tate’s original island home.
By Wayne Ayers, Historian and Author
Wayne and Nancy Ayers’ book, “Tampa Bay’s Beaches: Then & Now,” is available at area bookstores and selected gift shops.