TARPON SPRINGS, FL – USA Today announced on May 18 that its readers selected the top-10 historic small towns in the United States, with the Florida Gulf Coast town of Tarpon Springs emerging as number one.
Twenty towns were selected for the poll by a panel of experts, and then the readers chose Tarpon Springs – which has the highest per capita Greek population in the United States, and which with its sponge boats, Greek gift shops, and tavernas, coupled with warm weather and blue sea, arguably resembles Greece more than any other place does in the United States – as the winner.
Greeks from the Dodecanese islands of Kalymnos, Symi, and Halki first settled in Tarpon Springs over a hundred years ago, plying their trade of sponge diving, which continues to this day. Those three islands’ capitals are Tarpon’s sister cities (as is Larnaca, Cyprus). While there are many other cities and towns on Florida’s Gulf Coast with thriving Greek communities, including Greek Orthodox churches, it is Tarpon’s historic Sponge Docks, along the Anclote River on Dodecanese Boulevard that give it its unique quality to be considered “America’s Greek Island.” It is commonly referred to as “Epiphany City,” given the very prominent cross dive on Epiphany Day that takes place each year at Tarpon’s Spring Bayou.
Tarpon’s Chamber of Commerce proudly announced the news of Tarpon’s first-place finish on its Facebook page, thanking “our wonderful residents and visitors for getting out those votes! Now we have earned some serious bragging rights!”
Congressman Gus Bilirakis, whose district includes Tarpon Springs, where he was raised and which his father, Mike, also represented in Congress, told The National Herald that “Tarpon Springs is a national treasure. I feel very fortunate to have grown up in such a wonderful place, a unique mixture of old and new worlds.”
Tarpon Mayor Chris Alahouzos told TNH that he is “very happy we were voted the best historic small town in the United States. We are a small city of 25,000 people, but we are very rich in history and culture.”
Tarpon’s Curator of Arts and Historical Resources Tina Bucuvalas added that despite attempts at gentrification, Tarpon’s Historic District “has fiercely persevered in its unique tangible and intangible traditional culture.”
The other nine towns that made the top 10 list, in order of finish, were: 2: Natchitoches, LA; 3. Haddonfield, NJ; 4. Williamsburg, VA; 5. Natchez, MS; 6. Dodge City, KS; 7. Cody, WI; 8. Solvang, CA; 9. Bath, ME and 10. Madison, GA.