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How Largo got its name, maybe

There's a woman in the city's past, at least according to one version. But don't ask her name. There's also a lake with a murky tie to the city's history.

Published June 27, 2004

LARGO - What's in a name, you ask?

A lot of frustration if you're Bob Delack.

The former Largo Area Historical Society president practically cringes when you ask questions about how Largo got its name.

Was it almost called Luluville? Lulaville?

And where is Lake Tolulu anyway? Or was it Lake Talullah? Lake Largo?

Did bears drink out of it?

Well? Did they, Bob?

The St. Petersburg Times opened a can of worms when it dared to delve into the subject last week.

Poor Elmer Williams, the current president of the Largo Area Historical Society, meant well when he gave the Times the version he was told. He said that at an 1888 meeting, the movers and shakers at the time were struggling to come up with a name for the area because the railroad was coming. Gideon Blitch supposedly suggested they name it Luluville after his daughter, Lulu Dieffenwierth.

But Rufus McMullen wanted to name it Largo after Lake Largo, and the people agreed.

The story sparked Marthelle Lowen to give the newspaper a call the very next morning.

Lowen said she is Lula Dieffenwierth's great-great-niece, that the account was wrong and that she is tired of seeing the story mangled in the press for so many years. More amused than angry, she just wanted to set the record straight.

According to her family's lore, it was almost called Lulaville, not Luluville, she said.

"They wanted to call it Lulaville, but that name was too long to put on a sign at the railroad station," said Lowen. "So they called it Largo."

She remembers her grandmother's sister fondly.

"She was wiry and energetic and had been (partly) deaf since she was girl," said Lowen, 63. "She lived in an old two-story Cracker house on what is now Missouri Avenue - it's still there - and had an orange grove, which is now an RV park. We would come down to see Aunt Lula. She always had a garden and a big camphor tree."

But Delack said he heard a slightly different story, which starts out about the same as Williams' version. He said in 1888 when the railroad arrived, a name was tossed around. Lula was 10.

"The popular myth is Gideon Blitch wanted to name the town Lulaville but the actual name suggested was Luluville, which I think has ties to the name of the lake," he said. "Prior to 1888, the lake was known as Lake Largo and Lake Tolulu. Where the name Tolulu came from I don't know."

Lake Tolulu was drained at some point. It was near the current site of the Winn-Dixie on East Bay Drive.

The Lula story aside, Delack said there "is another possibility" as to how Largo got its name.

The McMullen family originally immigrated from Europe, where there was a fishing village called Largo.

"Rufus (McMullen) said he liked the idea of slow and steady, and musically that's what it means," he said.

One thing is for sure: Through the years "a lot of mythology is built up around the story of how the town got its name," Delack said.

"I'd love to get to the bottom of it," he said. "But I don't think I ever will. Only four or five people actually know the truth, and they're all dead."

- Eileen Schulte can be reached at 727 445-4153 or

[Last modified June 27, 2004, 01:00:42]

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