Vanderbilt Beach – An Historical View

Vanderbilt Beach is the common designation for the area bounded by the Cocohatchee River on the north, Vanderbilt Beach Road on the south, Vanderbilt Drive on the east and the Gulf of Mexico on the west.  Old aerial photos (circa 1952) show it as a wilderness area composed of mainly scrub oak habitat on the eastern fringe with mangrove stands and lagoons as the intermediate natural habitat before reaching the sandy beaches on the Gulf.

It was not until 1950-1952 that a hydraulic dredge opened a channel from Wiggins Pass to what is now the Vanderbilt intercanal area.  This dredging simultaneously opened a passageway to the Gulf and invited the intrusion of salt water into the backwater areas.  Two subsequent dredging operations created the first solid buildable landmass.  The finger canals and streets were constructed in the mid-1950s.

J.B. Conners, the land development pioneer of Vanderbilt Beach, was a road builder from Tampa who developed the area and later returned to Tampa.  When Conners began to develop the area, the only inhabitants were occasional occupants of a fish camp to the north and a few farmers.  It is said that he chose the name “Vanderbilt Beach” as a marketing ploy to create an impression of wealth and prestige.  Conners began the platting process in 1953 and completed it in 1959.  He envisioned a deed-restricted community with single and multiple family units, parks and open areas, and easy water access.  To preserve his vision, he created the Vanderbilt Beach Property Owners Association in 1968 and transferred responsibility for protecting deed restrictions to it.

Many area – old-timers – remember an early era of hayrides, cookouts, driving easily to the beach, and organized water activities including sailing and fishing.  Then, in the late 1970s, the building boom began with the construction of single-family homes and condominiums for both full and part-time residents.  A small commercial section developed on the corner of Gulf Shore Drive and Vanderbilt Beach Road.  In recent years, many planned developments were completed and the neighborhoods have been built out.  Also, many of the original homes have been torn down and rebuilt.  As a result, the area now offers a large variety of home styles and sizes.  While our community is being altered through these activities, every effort is being made to maintain the quiet residential character that we all enjoy. Traffic congestion, population density, appropriate zoning and compliance, and water quality are now the prime concerns of local residents.

The Vanderbilt community is fortunate to have developed with easy access to the beach.   Public parks were placed at the ends of Bluebill Avenue and Vanderbilt Beach Road and several access paths were preserved along Gulf Shore Drive.  A pedestrian park, Conners Park on the corner of Vanderbilt Drive and Bluebill Avenue, was begun in 2000 on land donated to the county by J.B. Conners for that purpose.  Now complete, it offers walkers and bikers respite in a lovely environment.   New beach parking was contributed by the Dunes on the north side of Bluebill and is maintained by the county.  Regular dredging keeps our water channels open to the benefit of the both the environment and local boaters.  In 2001, a Municipal Services Taxing Unit (MSTU) was created to handle the costs of landscaping and general improvements to the common areas throughout Vanderbilt Beach as well as ongoing maintenance including irrigation.  Five local residents serve as appointees on the Advisory Board of the MSTU.

View the original deed of restrictions.