1057 N Pinellas Ave, Tarpon Springs, FL 34689-3351 | (727) 938-8868
Since the late 1890’s, men of Greek descent have been diving for sponges on the floor of Florida’s warm Gulf of Mexico waters. The center of this pursuit is Tarpon Springs, located just northwest of Tampa. Though today most of the divers use modified scuba gear, a few still wear the traditional helmet made from copper, brass and plate glass by Nicholas Toth.
Toth's Grandfather, Anthony Lerios, was a master craftsman and engineer who arrived in Tarpon Springs, Florida in 1913. Anthony was born in Kalymnos Greece in 1891. At the age of five, Anthony and his family moved to Istanbul, Turkey "(known then as Constantinople). In this great metropolis, Anthony acquired his education, engineering and metalworking skills. He worked in the shipyards where steam powered ocean liners were built, and at the young age of 22 years old, he was appointed manager of one of these great ship yards.At this same time, the Turkish government began conscripting young Greek men into the army, requiring them to fight against their own Greek countrymen. This greatly troubled Anthony, and despite his very promising career, he made the decision to leave Istanbul and join his father and brother who had already traveled to the United States, to a small town known as Tarpon Springs.
In Tarpon Springs, Anthony became known for the unparalleled level of craftsmanship he brought to the sponge diving industry. At the height of the sponge industry, Anthony (Tony) not only outfitted boats, but he maintained a majority of the sponge boat fleet, which exceeded well over 120 vessels. Many of these wood hulled boats were built in the boat yard adjacent to his riverside machine shop. If a boat captain faced an issue on his vessel, the expertise of "Tony" would be sought. From the most complex designs to the simplest parts, Tony could fix it or most often, he would ponder the issue, design a wood pattern, and then build the part that was needed. As a point of interest and historical significance, Anthony Lerios installed the very first diesel engine in a sponge boat, circa 1920.
Anthony also turned his attention to the diving gear and began creating copper and brass diving helmets needed by the sponge divers. He adjusted the angle of the portholes so the diver could more easily see sponges growing on the bottom and the top porthole was adjusted so the diver could maintain a visual sight line of the sponge boat drifting above him in the water. Tony also moved the exhaust valve further forward, to make it easier for the diver to exhaust air out of the helmet without losing his focus on the sponge beds. These functional improvements were important to the divers, while the design continued to be a copper and brass master piece.
For over eight decades, Anthony Lerios continued his hard work and dedication to the captains, the divers and maritime interests of Tarpon Springs. The A. Lerios Machine Shop was a place where intricate mechanical designs would come to life, where building diesel boat engines was a passionate past time, and where a young boy began visiting his grandfather, watching and learning, absorbing infinite knowledge and skill. The engineer and master craftsman would teach his skills to the “apprentice” and hand to his grandson a precious gift that continues to this day. In 1992, at the age of 100, Anthony Lerios passed away, leaving his legacy in the hands of his grandson, Nicholas Toth.
The area's cultural richness and lure of the water makes Tarpon Springs a unique and colorful destination. The historic sponge docks provide the perfect opportunity to take a stroll back in time, shopping, eating and enjoying the company of friends and family. A large tourist industry now thrives, with over 100 shops, restaurants, and perfect waterfront views! Enjoy the islands of Greece right here in Florida....
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