Meet Madeira’s Beach Pioneers

Welch’s original causeway, shown here in the 1940s, was the first free bridge to the lower beaches of Pinellas.
Gulf Beaches Public Library

Albert Bertram Archibald and David Sewall Welch transformed the beaches of the Gulf at a time when no permanent settlements existed between Pass-a-Grille and Indian Rocks. Long before Madeira Beach was incorporated in May 1947, their vision shaped this city, as well as Treasure Island and the Redingtons.

Albert Archibald brought his vision of Treasure Island to Madeira Beach in the early 1920s.
Bob Griffin collection

Find treasure on the island

Originally from Michigan, “Bert” Archibald arrived in St. Petersburg in 1901 at the age of 16. After working for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, he operated a farm produce business downtown. When H. Walter Fuller purchased much of present-day Treasure Island for $800 in 1913, Archibald purchased a share. Prior to 1920 he had established his Coney Island resort at the southern end of Johns Pass and had acquired most of Fuller’s holdings.

Archibald had big plans for his newly renamed Treasure Island development by 1921. His biggest challenge was securing funds to build a bridge so people could get to his island without taking a boat. Archibald launched an aggressive marketing campaign and received a permit from Pinellas County in June 1921 to build a causeway from Central Avenue to the beach.

If Archibald needed inspiration, he could turn to the beaches north and south of Treasure Island. Noel Mitchell’s attempt to develop the north side of Johns Pass between 1914 and 1919 ended before the October 1921 hurricane wiped out what little remained of Mitchell’s Beach. Archibald had no nearby coastal competitors. South of him, his older brother, Ira Graham Archibald, built the first bathhouse with changing rooms on Siesta Key’s Crescent Beach in 1919. His brother was also instrumental in helping Sarasota County gain independence of Manatee County in 1921. Ira served as an excellent role model.

However, one entrepreneur opposed Albert Archibald’s plan to build a bridge from St. Petersburg’s robust real estate market to his island: Perry Snell. Snell, the developer of North Shore and Snell Isle, wanted to prevent any competition along the Pinellas beaches. Snell vigorously opposed the construction of a toll-free roadway. He succeeded in persuading voters to refuse the bonds for Archibald’s project. Treasure Island Causeway would not open until November 1939, more than 15 years after Archibald abandoned plans for the south side of Johns Pass.

an aerial view of Johns Pass
Madeira Beach and Johns Pass without development or ‘finger islands’ dredged in 1926.
heritage village

Fill the beach

David Sewall Welch came to Florida in 1898 as a teenager after enlisting for service in the Spanish–American War. The Iowa native joined other troops fetching fresh water from St. Petersburg’s Mirror Lake for future President Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in Tampa. During the 1910s, Welch established himself in the Florida lumber business, first in Ocala and later in Oldsmar.

In the early 1920s, Welch moved his business interests from Oldsmar to the lower Pinellas and acquired much of the then uninhabited present-day Redington Beaches. After selling his Treasure Island possessions, Archibald purchased the land just south of Welch’s property, covering the area from what is now 140th to 151st Avenue in Madeira Beach.

Aware of Snell’s opposition to development along the Gulf beaches, Welch found a workaround to connect his and Archibald’s holdings to the mainland. Partnering with developers north of St. Petersburg, Welch lobbied for a successful countywide road referendum in 1923 that provided funding for a bridge to the beach. Crews dredged the approaches in 1925–26 for the first toll-free causeway along the Gulf beaches. On July 4, 1926 – the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence – vehicular traffic began crossing Welch Causeway. This original span, so narrow that a truck or school bus could not cross it if another vehicle approached from the opposite direction, remained in use until 1962.

Archibald and Welch finally had the bridge they had been looking for for many years, but also had a lot of extra work to do. In 1926, the only notable structure on present-day Madeira Beach was the wooden Archibald Bathhouse at the intersection of 150th Avenue and Gulf Boulevard. After a fire destroyed this facility, Archibald replaced it with a fancy casino building, new bathhouse, restaurant, and store.

Archibald and Welch had big plans for Madeira Beach in the mid-1920s. A few years later, small beach cottages began to appear along the shoreline.

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