Arrrgh Matey… Ready for a tale of loot, lore, and pirates? Let’s take a look at the raucous story connected to an interesting fellow named William D. McAdoo way back at the dawn of the Golden Era of St. Pete!
Plans for a Resort
W.D. McAdoo was a wealthy hotelier from North Carolina who first arrived in St. Pete in the winter of 1916. After wintering with his family for the season, he liked what he saw and decided to return in 1917 with a more businesslike outlook. While he was clearly an eccentric free spirit, he had arrived with a plan. Determined to cash in on the growing interest in Florida and St. Petersburg, McAdoo decided to build his own resort in the area — and he wasted no time.
As a successful hotel operator, he believed he could develop a beachfront hotel that might compete with the fishing mecca of Pass-a-Grille. It took some time, but some months later in early 1918 he purchased 580 acres at the very north tip of Long Key near Blind Pass from Perry Snell of Snell Island fame, and then a bit more connecting property from Walter Fuller, an early and notorious Real Estate man with large holdings in lower-western Pinellas. Pass-a-Grille lay at the bottom of the key, and McAdoo’s undeveloped interest was on the opposite north tip. Interestingly, McAdoo named his development St. Petersburg Beach. Guess what? It’s still called that! (Ok, without the ‘burg’ anymore)
Originally Called Coney Island
McAdoo’s new acreage at the tip of Long Key was situated just across Blind Pass from what we know now as Treasure Island. However, Treasure Island at the time was known as “Coney Island.” Coney Island was a small barrier island that didn’t receive a lot of attention; it was little more than a lengthy sand bar at the time with no development of any sort except one hotel called the Coney Island Resort that catered to the fishing crowd in season.
So back to McAdoo. He was determined to get his development off to a good start, and wanted to get people talking. So just after his land purchase in early 1918 he announced that he was going on a fishing trip to his new property, and he’d be back in a few days. But before he left, he noted that on a previous excursion to survey the acreage he’d found an interesting nail on the shore of a small lake surrounded by his new land. And he was going to investigate the lake further.
What McAdoo actually did was fill an old chest with scrap iron and bury it in a shallow lake on his new property right at Blind Pass across from Coney Island, with the help of “Old John,” his handyman who had traveled with him. When he returned to town from his “fishing expedition” he had in tow a bona fide chest lid and a separate, very heavy box filled with what was undoubtedly treasure buried centuries ago by pirates. Conveniently, McAdoo’s office was in the Central National Bank on Central Avenue at the time, a busy spot, and that is where he took the lid and the chest. As you can imagine, this created quite the stir.
McAdoo showed off the lid, and the chest that was seen in tow must clearly have been filled with treasure from long ago and was deposited in the vault. Gold, jewels, you know, the whole shooting match.
So with the word spreading like wildfire and with the pieces in place, everyone in St. Pete wanted to see these chests. But McAdoo was pretty clever. Plenty of people had spotted the chest when it was being brought into the bank, but McAdoo denied it existed. Of course this made everyone think that the chest must have indeed been filled with amazing loot for McAdoo to have been so secretive about it, going so far to deny its very existence! And for all you treasure hunters out there… I can’t find a concise answer on whatever happened to that chest!
Anyway, the publicity stunt was a success, but with a tiny bit of confusion. While people had gone out to McAdoo’s shallow lake to see for themselves where the chest had been found (and hey, why not buy a lot!) it was very close to Blind Pass and many people thought it had been found on Coney Island.
Coney Island No More
So from that point forward Coney Island started to be casually referred to as “Treasure Island” due to McAdoo’s stunt, and the name stuck. Finally, a couple years later in 1921 the Coney Island name got officially dropped by a land developer who then owned much of the undeveloped isle in favor of the name that had become so popular.
Years later when the second land boom began after WWII, the “buried treasure chest” idea was copied in fun by real estate developers selling land on Treasure Island as a gimmick to attract buyers. The developers and Real Estate agents would bury chests for fun in the developments as a way to get people out there to see what they could dig up. If they bought a lot, I guess the Real Estate Agents were the ones who found gold!
McAdoo did many other interesting things, from building his own toll bridge (The McAdoo Bridge) to his development which existed for a bit less than a decade. He also notably and finally offered up his island property that he had named “St. Petersburg Beach” to developers who turned it into the beach town we all know so well. So both names, on purpose or by chance, were thanks to W.D. McAdoo.
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