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Why do they call it that? Bearss Avenue and Pinellas County

11:08 AM, Dec 9, 2009   |    comments
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  • Bearss Avenue
  • "Pinellas" on the sign for the Pinellas County Judicial Building in St. Petersburg.
  • The tip of the Pinellas Peninsula is labeled "Piney Pt." on this historical map.
  • Marty Bearss
  • Bearss Avenue
  • The name "Pinellas" appears near modern St. Petersburg on this map from 1882.

Tampa, Florida -- They're a pair of names whose pronunciation has puzzled people for decades.  We have the stories behind all the different ways to say Bearss Avenue and Pinellas County.

Why do they call it Bearss Avenue -- and how do you pronounce it?

"The name is pronounced 'Bearce' -- it rhymes with 'fierce,'" said Marty Bearss, the man behind Bearss Groves, which sits right along Bearss Avenue. And he should know. Marty Bearss is the great-grandson of the first Bearss to move to Tampa.

The Reverend I.W. Bearss came here in 1894 and founded a church. "It was actually an eleven-week mule train trip from northeastern Missouri down here," his great-grandson said.

Marty Bearss says much of the money loaned to the government to build the road back in the 1920's came from the Bearss family.

After the stock market collapsed, Bearss says the county couldn't afford to pay the family members back -- so the county named the road after them instead.

"People say, 'Well, it should be [pronounced] 'Bare' because it's [spelled] 'B-e-a-r','" Marty Bearss said. "But then, if you grow hair on your face, is that a 'bared' or is that a 'beard'? So, it is 'Bearce'."

Why do they call it Pinellas County -- and how do you pronounce it?

You've heard it said a handful of ways: "Pinn-ellas". "Puh-nellas". "Pye-nellas".

The peninsula that runs from what's now Tarpon Springs to Gulfport got the name "Punta Pinal" from an early Spanish explorer. That's pronounced "Poon-tuh Peen-awl".

It means "Point of Pines". Along those lines, on some old English-language maps, the tip of the peninsula is called "Piney Point".

By 1882, an area near where St. Petersburg now stands had picked up the modified name "Pinellas".

In 1911, city leaders in St. Pete got the go-ahead from the state to break away from Hillsborough County. They named their new county after the peninsula.

So, how do you say it?

Most commonly, it's "Pinn-ellas". Based on Piney Point, it could be "Pye-nellas". Based on Punta Pinal, it could be "Peen-ellas". Bet you haven't heard that one before.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

Thanks to Sandy, Scott from Brandon, and Patrice from Tampa for suggesting Bearss Avenue.

There are a lot more places out there with names that could use explaining. If you want to ask "Why do they call it that?" send an e-mail with a name that has you curious to Grayson Kamm using this link.

We'll be featuring new places and stories each Wednesday on The Morning Show from 5-7 a.m. on 10 Connects.

Check out Grayson's other "Why do they call it that?" stories:
Tampa and Courtney Campbell Causeway
Dale Mabry Highway and Thonotosassa 
Hillsborough County and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard
Wimauma and the Howard Frankland Bridge
Pass-A-Grille and Gandy Bridge

Connect with 10 Connects multi-media journalist Grayson Kamm on Twitter as @graysonkamm, on his Facebook page, by e-mail at this link, or on AOL Instant Messenger as screen name GraysonConnects.

Grayson Kamm, 10 Connects

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