The Evolution of the Village of Ozona
The settlement of the area now called Ozona had everything to do with location and favorable climate coupled with the abundance of fresh seafood available in St. Joseph Sound. Native Americans thrived here and many collections of arrow points have been assembled and are displayed in local homes. The first recorded homestead in Ozona was that of Walton Whitehurst in 1875. Ozona has primarily been home to working people, however, from its earliest years it also attracted many who came here for retirement and health reasons. A characteristic of our community is the diversity of housing styles, sizes and, until quite recently, values.
Until the 1950’s agriculture and fishing were the primary economic activities, providing food for the local population as well as products for commerce. Now that the citrus industry is gone and commercial fishing is no longer viable our livelihood is tied to the professional and service sector workforce. Locally owned and operated businesses provide necessary services. Most of Ozona is zoned as Residential Low Density (S u.p.a.) presently utilized primarily for single family residences. There is a recent intrusion of redevelopment as multi-family duplex-triplex condominiums. Marinas , commercial ventures and industrial use continue to thrive at locations interspersed throughout our community. Currently, the primary concentration for commercial activity is located on Orange Street between Tampa Road and Lemon Street .
Some of the businesses along Orange Street are housed in older homes and some are in more modern looking buildings. The “mall” on the corner of Orange Street and Lemon has a distinct “general store” look to it and provides not only shop space, but also supports a community room where support groups gather for meetings. The overall feeling of the Ozona commercial activity center is one of a small town bustling with local patrons. This is, however, deceiving because Ozona businesses draw customers from all over Pinellas County and beyond. People enjoy the unique charm of the businesses and specialty shops that Ozona has offer.
The older homes in our community were often used jointly for family living and commercial activity. The original streets of Ozona were Bay, Lemon, Mississippi , Orange , St. Louis , and Virginia (now called Pennsylvania west of the Pinellas Trail and all the way to the water). Another original street is now called North Street and Shore Drive . The surviving diversity of older homes along these streets provides a link to the past and impart a sense of being in a community that is distinct and recognizable. In 1991 and 1993, Pinellas County hired a consultant to survey and inventory the historically significant structures in unincorporated North Pinellas County . The survey found 62 historically significant structures in Ozona, and recommended that Ozona is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
Some of the oldest roads and bridges in all of Pinellas County are right here in Ozona. The main route south was called Dixie Highway , now Orange Street . Tampa Road , which originates at Orange St. , was the first paved (graded shell) road to Tampa . During the boom time (pre 1929), Tampa Road was paved with dark red bricks, when these were replaced by asphalt in the 1970’s many area residents acquired these. You can see them used for walkways, driveways and walls here and there in the older part of our neighborhood. Where the Pinellas Trail overpass is now located, the original Dixie Highway took a jog to the east and continued south toward Dunedin . The tiny bridge on Orange Street near Homeport Marina was once essential for linking the communities of Dunedin and Ozona. Of special local significance is the historic, arched bridge along Shore Drive that locals fondly refer to as “ Thrill Bridge .” A slight acceleration upon approach in a motor vehicle can result in a moment of weightlessness upon crossing!
Another feature long time residents of Ozona appreciate very much are our streets with flat shoulders. Some areas still have shell or gravel roads that access single-family homes. And we like our nighttime darkness!!! In Ozona, one can still watch the moon rise and view the night sky without competition from streetlights. Numerous mature oaks, pine, palm and cedar trees grace our neighborhood, especially along our original streets and at our older home sites.
The First Baptist Church of Ozona-Palm Harbor was founded in 1915 and supplanted an earlier church located at 610 Pennsylvania . The present structure was built in 1950. Next door is Ozona Elementary School . In 1895, a frame building just west of the existing “little red school house” provided a location for the education of the area children. In 1916, the two room red brick structure was dedicated and initially served as schoolhouse for first through eighth grade. Ozona Elementary School is an important part of our community and we are glad that the school board values and preserves the original brick structure which now houses administrative offices.
Around 1893, the Ladies Village Improvement Society became the first community association in Ozona. By 1900, the ladies had raised the funds and accomplished the construction of what we now call our Ozona Village Hall. An unbroken, direct lineage from that first expression of community wide embrasure has persisted through the years as the Ozona Civic Association, Ozona Recreation Club, and most recently the Ozona Village Improvement Society. Each group in turn has cared for the Hall located at 341 Bay Street . This historic, community Hall has been the setting for dances, plays, parties, weddings, has served as a polling place, library, place of worship and always as a club house. We are most grateful for the recent renovation of our beloved Ozona Village Hall, paid for by a generous county awarded federal grant.
Ozona has shoreline to the north on Sutherland Bayou, west on St. Joseph Sound and south on Smith Bayou. Docks, bait shops, boat ways and marinas were once located at many homes along the waterfront. Commercial fisherman lived and worked on site. Currently, the use of the remaining public access waterfront is almost purely for recreation. The commercial interest has moved into the ownership of wet-slips and dry- docks. We value our remaining marinas and our gulf access.
The first wharf was built at the west end of Bay Street around 1883 and was known as the Yellow Bluff Pier. Through the years, whenever the dock was damaged or destroyed it was rebuilt by local businessmen. This dock area was the site for many commercial ventures including a general mercantile, later a drug store and clinic, and local residents still remember the Ozona Fish House. Net spreads covered the waterfront and much activity took place in this area. The Fish House and dock were taken down in the 1960’s. Then as now, Ozona neighbors gather each evening at the end of Bay Street to witness the close of the day, but the old timers still miss the dock.
Until it was allowed to be closed and vacated in the 1970’s the public had informal access to the waterfront on a road which ran north from Bay Street to Pennsylvania . Fishing and crabbing, gathering of oysters, clams and scallops, was done according to the season and the children of Ozona swam and played at the waterfront. At the present time there is no longer any gathering place in public ownership that gives access to the waterfront.
In the mid-1980’s community activism with cooperation and support from Pinellas County led to the establishment of an area known as the Ozona Preserve. The eight acre Preserve is dedicated as a habitat area for native plants and animals. The county’s acquisition of the Seaboard Coastline railroad right of way, which has been transformed into the Pinellas Trail, is another valuable feature of our Ozona community.
East of the Pinellas Trail at Florida Ave. is the Ozona Industrial Park, zoned Light Manufacturing and Industry, where many businesses operate to the advantage of the entire north county area. A special feature of this industrial area is that it has quite a low profile. It “fits” and residents often don’t notice that it is there. The Ozona Industrial Park is considered to be a necessary part of our sustainable working community.
Several mobile home communities and RV parks are located along Alt. 19 and also at Tampa and Dempsey Road . For nearly 50 years these communities have provided seasonal housing for visitors to our area as well as providing affordable housing to year round residents. These parcels are under pressure to be re
ned as sites for allowing the construction of permanent upscale apartments and condominiums.
Aside from a livable environment, Ozona’s most precious resource is its citizenry. We are fortunate beyond measure to have many caring citizens who are actively involved in many community activities. Quite likely, if there is a job to be done or some special counsel that is required, there is someone in Ozona who can help or offer advice. Records of community events, activities and personalities demonstrate a deeply established involvement with neighborly endeavor for well over 100 years. Because of our Ozona natives and long time residents we have a community where neighbors have maintained interconnected relationships for decades. “Ozonians” develop an intense loyalty to the community. We develop a special feeling for our village. We locals call it an “Ozona state of mind”.