In the late winter of 1944, a man moved from Boston to St. Petersburg. Wanting to continue his AA way of life, he wrote to the New York office and asked if there were any groups, or any Alcoholics Anonymous members in this area. In answer to his letter, the New York office told him of a new group in Tampa, meeting at the old De Soto Hotel and also of a man in St. Pete who had just purchased a Big Book. He was also given the name of a man there from Baltimore, Fred Meakin. Most of us called him the "Deacon".
Fred had already contacted the group in Tampa where he met Ernie King, and the "Sarge", Roy Yeargan, who had started the Tampa group. He went back to St. Petersburg, and called on the man who had purchased the book, Bob W. After talking to Bob and going to the Tampa meetings together, they decided to form their own meeting in St. Petersburg on February 14th. It was first held in Bob's office at the Florida Power building.
In the meantime, they heard about an active alcoholic in the St. Pete Stockade, and Bob talked to him. Bennie W. decided he would like to try the program. Bob and the Deacon talked to the jailor and asked them if they could take him out to a meeting, and return him afterwards.
The first meeting on February 14, 1945 consisted of eight men: Two from the Tampa group, Ernie K. and Roy Y. "The Sarge", one "snow bird" from NJ, Walter O., & Ferrell C. of Akron, along with four from St. Pete, Bob W., Fred M. the Deacon, and their two boys from the jail, Bennie W. and Jack H. This group, known as the St. Petersburg Group, registered with the NY office in February of 1945.
The next week two more alcoholics attended. One was Dick E. with 2 years of sobriety on the "Big Book" alone. The other was a snow bird from New Jersey, who we all love so much for all the help he gave us in those early years. He is George S., who with another man, visited Miesners Sanitarium to see a dentist from Clearwater. This man took to Alcoholics Anonymous like a duck takes to water. You all know of Dr. Fred. God bless him because he went back to Clearwater and started to carry the message. I believe one of his first successful babies was Eddie M. and from this humble beginning, Alcoholics Anonymous in Pinellas County started to grow.
Bob's office soon became too small, and they moved to the Coca Cola building on 4th Street. On March 16, 1945 Fred stated in a letter to NY that there were 27 to attend that first meeting. Again they had to move to larger quarters and moved into a room upstairs in the Alhambra Arcade, a beautiful old Spanish-style building located on the corner of 6th Street and First Avenue North. Here they celebrated their first anniversary. (Sadly, the building was torn down in the late 50's or early 60's.) The write-up in the St. Pete Times was responsible for changing the lives of many.
During the winter months they had as many as forty people, counting the "Snow Birds". A wonderful closeness remained between the three area groups -- Tampa, Clearwater, & St. Pete. They held a meeting once a month, which was called The Golden Triangle meeting. Once a month they would exchange meeting places and Chairmen. Sometimes these meetings meant the difference between paying the rent or not. Late in 1946 they had to move because of remodeling and found a room at the YMCA, but continued to look for a larger and more convenient place. They finally located a place at 28 Beach Drive N.E., which belonged to a rest home across the street. This location consisted of the entire first floor and a large screened porch, which was a perfect environment for group sessions. The group really thrived and grew in this location and became large enough to have two meetings a week. It wasn't long before they outgrew their Beach Drive home, and found a perfect meeting hall at Saint Mary's. Growth was tremendous, so they started splitting into smaller groups and moved to different parts of the city.
The folks who remained at St. Mary's called themselves The Sunshine Group. Some members retained the original name, St. Pete Group, and moved to 710 Central Avenue, while other members of the original group became the Central Group. The first AA clubhouse was established in 1951 in the 1100 block of Second Avenue.
There is controversy concerning this "title" of the "Oldest Group" or the "Original Group" -- the Central Group or St. Pete Group. We only know that New York records The St. Pete Group registration from the Coca Cola building in February, 1945. The split-up was considered to be very tragic to most people at the time, but AA has a way of coming out of troubles, even stronger than before.
By 1951, AA was well established in our county. In addition to St. Pete, Sunshine and Central, there was a group that had first met in a home and then moved to Pasadena, and a small group at Pass-A-Grille, which eventually became the Holiday Isles Group. There was a group called "Women's Unit" in St. Pete and in Clearwater. I assume these were the beginnings of what are now just called women's meeting. In the meantime, Clearwater was growing fast, and they found a nice place in The Women's' Club Building. From the Clearwater Group, new groups opened in Dunedin, Safety Harbor, Ozona, & Tarpon Springs. In Ozona, there were even meetings held in a bar that was owned by a grateful member of Alcoholics Anonymous. In our archives there is a newspaper article about an anniversary celebration held there.
Over the years, as the number of groups multiplied, attempts were made to establish an active Intergroup Office, which could be of service to all of Pinellas County. This was finally accomplished in December, 1962.
In our Archives, we have the Minutes from those first few meetings. There were representatives from six groups listed in attendance. Those included:
- Home Group
- Holiday Isles
- Pinellas Park Group
- Seminole Group
- St. Petersburg Group
- Surfside Group
The first Central Office was evidently in St. Petersburg. Soon an office was established on Seminole Blvd. in Largo with a telephone installed to relay the calls for help to members of individual groups, to say nothing of the many calls for information of all kinds.
This thumbnail sketch can only give a brief synopsis of Alcoholics Anonymous in Pinellas County during the first few years, but it is heartening to all concerned to realize the tremendous progress of this fellowship.