A Land Worth More Than Remembering:
A two-part special on a unique tract of land in Pinellas
By James A. Schnur
Precious Lands and Florida Dreams
Our region’s natural beauty attracted many of us or our ancestors to Pinellas County. This week, we learn about Gladys Douglas, a woman who moved here more than 70 years ago, married into a pioneer family, and enjoyed her version of the “Florida dream” on acreage near Dunedin. Next week, we discover how a community has mobilized to preserve these lands for future generations to enjoy.
Patrick D. Smith published “A Land Remembered” in 1984. One of the most popular Florida fiction titles ever released, this novel describes changes his characters witnessed across generations as barely inhabited areas along peninsular Florida became ranches, homesteads and farmsteads, with some of these lands later transforming into sizeable settlements. Smith waxed nostalgic as he focused on what we have lost after we tamed the frontier.
As the Florida land boom kicked into high gear after World War I, developers touted the climate and environment of “Peerless Pinellas,” then an agricultural powerhouse replete with groves and farmlands. They sought to attract newcomers and investors at a time when the 1920 federal census counted only 28,265 residents in the entire county.
A century later, urbanization has transformed the landscape. More than 12,300 people call Gulfport home today. With the county’s population now approaching 975,000, pavement, parking lots and subdivisions have replaced many of the green spaces and dream places we once cherished.
A Pioneer Tradition
Members of the Douglas family left Scotland during the 1880s. They arrived at a tiny settlement then known as Jonesboro. Natives of Edinburgh, they led efforts to rename this outpost north of Clearwater with the Gaelic name for their Scottish hometown, Dunedin. They acquired land, farmed and established businesses in the area.
A tract along Keene Road near Dunedin has remained in the family’s hands for generations. Currently known as the Douglas property, this largely undeveloped land in unincorporated Pinellas maintains a natural essence rarely found in this area today. This property occupies 43.44 acres located north of Virginia Avenue, south of Dunedin Cemetery, and adjacent to public lands managed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District that include Jerry Lake.
Settlers first congregated near the Douglas property in the 1870s. A man named Bart Brown donated a 10-acre tract just north of this land in 1871 for a Presbyterian church and cemetery. Worshipers later moved their sanctuary to Andrews Memorial Chapel when that structure opened at a different location in 1878. Citrus groves and agricultural fields covered parts of the Douglas property during the 20th century.
Gladys Douglas Continues the Tradition
Gladys Elaine Nelson was born in Minneapolis on July 24, 1924. She moved to Washington, D.C. shortly after finishing high school. There, she acquired business and administrative skills while working at various venues, including the Pentagon.
Florida’s natural beauty first captured Gladys’s heart during a two-week boat trip in the late 1940s. This journey began at Chesapeake Bay, followed the Intracoastal Waterway along the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, and brought her to the Tampa Bay area. In those days, abundant schools of fish swam in the area’s waters and boaters could enjoy the fragrance of orange blossoms from more than a mile offshore.
Gladys moved to Clearwater in 1950. She served the Junior Women’s Club of Clearwater as its organizing president in the mid-1950s and volunteered in leadership roles for other organizations in the Dunedin and Clearwater areas. She became a high-ranking sales agent at the Douglas Arms Construction Company, a business run by members of the Douglas pioneer family in Dunedin.
Gladys married Stanley Royal Douglas in 1965. They enjoyed living on and carefully managing this parcel. Gladys Douglas engaged in community uplift, philanthropy and local business activities. After Stanley passed away in 1988, she married Robert “Bob” Hackworth.
A private person who cherished and preserved these lands, Gladys won many honors for her civic activism. She led efforts to revive downtown Dunedin through her gift of the historic Bank of Dunedin building to the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce, the development of Shops at Douglas Village, and other initiatives. She passed away four days after her 95th birthday on July 28, 2019 and is buried at the Dunedin Cemetery next to this property.
After her death, the Douglas property’s outlook seemed imperiled. Developers licked their chops as this unique parcel appeared on the market. A firm entered into a contract to develop the land, but withdrew its offer last year. Next week, we will learn about this land, a place worth more than remembering.
(Editor’s Note: The Pinellas Community Foundation has taken a leadership role in preserving the Douglas property. For more information about this organization’s initiative, visit pinellascf.org/save-the-gladys-douglas-preserve.)
A graduate of Boca Ciega High School, James A. Schnur served as president of the Pinellas County Historical Society and as a member of the Pinellas County Historical Commission. He has authored four photographic history books on the cities of Largo, Madeira Beach, St. Petersburg and Seminole, as well as a history of Pinellas County.