|"AMERICA'S SPONGE DIVING BIRTHPLACE"
The two people responsible for starting
for sponges in
America are John K. Cheyney and John M.
Cheyney was a Pennsylvania Dutchman
came to Florida in 1882 to invest in land.
He and some Penn
sylvania associates formed the "Lake
Butler Villa Company" which bought sizeable acreage from the State
of Florida in and
around Tarpon Springs. He prospered and
began investing in
other ventures. One of them was sponges.
John M. Cocoris was born in Leonidion, Greece, in 1878.
He left Greece and landed in New York City
in 1895 and went to
work there for the Lembesis Sponge Company.
The firm sent
him to Tarpon Springs to buy sponges that
were harvested by
the "hooking" boats. He is said
to be the first Creek to come to
the area. Cocoris went to work in Cheyney's
sponge packing house
which is reported to be the first one
in Tarpon Springs.
Business flourished. Cheyney was shipping
sponges all over
|John M. Cocoris & John K. Cheyney
the United States.
A publication issued by the U. S. Department
of the Interior
states that by the year 1901, two brothers
of John Cocoris,
George and Louis, had arrived in Tarpon
Springs from Greece
to work with John. This trio harvested
along the coast
from Tarpon Springs to Key West. In 1902,
Gus, joined them. The Cocoris brothers came
from a family that
operated its own sponge business in Hydra,
John Cocoris, convinced that the Gulf of
Mexico was rich
with the "yellow gold", sometimes
called the "golden fleece",
convinced Cheyney that much more and
could be obtained by importing skilled men
and diving equip
ment, which is reported never having
before been used in
America, from Greece.
In 1904 the first Greek spongers came to
There were divers, boat helpers, life line
tenders and deck
hands. They brought with them diving equipment,
plans of the
boats used in the Mediterranean, their
a different way oflife.
The Cocoris brothers purchased a fishing
boat from William
Low for $180. Some reports say it was called
others say "Pandora." They converted
it into a diving boat and
renamed it ELPIS which in Greek means "hope."
Air foi. the
divers was supplied by a hand-pump.
In February, 1905, or June 18, 1905,
first sponge boat
with "mechanized" sponge diving
equipment, the "Elpis",
hoisted to her mast flags of the United
States and Greece and
sailed for the sponge beds in the blue waters.
The first diver to
go overboard was Demo Kavasilos who stayed
down ten min
utes and brought up his sponge bag
sponges. His first words were, "There's
enough sponges in
5these beds to supply the whole world."
By nightfall, the "Elpis"
returned loaded from bow to stern.
Financed by Cheyney, the Cocoris brothers
built five more
diving boats and brought the crews over
from the "old country."
By the end of the first year, 1500 Greeks
had arrived in Tarpon
Springs. They came from the Dodecanese
Halki, Calymnos, Symi and others. They brought
their families, dress, dances and religious
Due to Cheyney and the Cocoris brothers
a great new enter
prise had been founded. The Greek people
who developed the
industry represent an important Hellenic
contribution to the
economic growth and life of America.
In two short years the spongers had approximately
diving boats and fifty-five new "hook"
boats. By 1939, the
sponge fleet of Tarpon Springs came to two
hundred boats and
the spongers numbered over one thousand.
In the beginning the names of the boats
nating familiar places or personalities
classic history. In later years one could find boats named after
men like Washington, Lincoln and others.
An indication ofhow
fully the Greeks had entered into the American
For many years the Hellenic Community at
had the unique distinction of being the
only one in America
whose membership constituted a large majority
of the city in
which it was established. At one time there
were more than
2,000 Greek people ofthe 3,500 population.
Also, the entire city "
and a large portion ofthe county were
their existence upon the products of
sponge industry in
which the Hellenic people were engaged.
On January 14, 1930, President of the
Coolidge, visiting the area with his
said, "The visit to
Tarpon Springs and the sponge industry
been the ·most
interesting part of my Florida trip."
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