Wednesday, November 24, 2010

St. Petersburg as a 'health city'?

Dr. Van Bibber's article.
We’re revisiting the Walter P. Fuller files today. Previously we had discussed Fuller and pioneer developer C. Perry Snell. Now we’re looking at the folder on the well-known Van Bibber report.

Dr. W.C. Van Bibber was a physician of some national repute. He was the personal physician of philanthropist Johns Hopkins (for whom the university was named) and attended him when he died. He was nationally published and respected in medical circles.

In 1885, Van Bibber told American Medical Association members that he’d found the healthiest place in the world – Point Pinellas, Florida. In a report he delivered at the convention in New Orleans, Van Bibber advanced his theory that peninsulas are by their nature healthy places to be. He further reasoned that a peninsula on a peninsula was, therefore, even better. Van Bibber proposed nothing less than a “health city,” a world-renowned place that would heal the ill and infirm and raise the spirits of the rest.

A copy of Van Bibber’s report is contained in the Fuller files at Lighthouse Books, ABAA, along with other notes of Fuller’s research. It was printed in the Journal of the American Medical Association on May 16, 1885.

The report set off a frenzy of promotion and the tourist industry in the region was born. Van Bibber's son, Claude, and three associates, all doctors in Baltimore, bought land at Point Pinellas (where Eckerd College is now) in anticipation of the building boom that surely would follow.

Fuller concludes in a piece he wrote for Tequesta, the journal of the Historical Association of Southern Florida, that one of the associates, William C. Chase, must certainly have been the impetus behind the whole project. He suggests, perhaps kindly, that the enthusiastic Chase, must have “inspired” Van Bibber to reach his conclusions and give his report to the AMA.

In the end, it all came to nothing. The idea of a 'health city' gained no traction around the country and, eventually, the investors abandoned the idea. A land speculator, Roy Hanna, picked up the property in a tax sale but eventually lost it when he couldn't pay the taxes.

The city of St. Petersburg acquired the land, and when Florida Presbyterian College decided to move to St. Petersburg, the city could offer Point Pinellas as a location.

We'll revisit more of Walter Fuller's files in a later entry. Come back for a visit.

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