1987: Man who helped create parks dies

By THERESA BLACKWELL, Times Staff Writer
Published July 29, 2007

JULY 17, 1987

ST. PETERSBURG - John Chesnut Sr., a longtime county commissioner who played a key role in developing the parks of Pinellas County, died Thursday July 16, 1987 at Morton Plant Hospital. He was 85.

A reporter once asked Mr. Chesnut, a commissioner from 1936 to 1952, to single out his most significant contribution while on the board. He shot back: "The parks.

"I organized the Park Board with Chauncey Brown (then publisher of the Evening Independent), and Courtney Campbell and Ed Beckett on it," Mr. Chesnut said.

"Today, Pinellas has the best park system in Florida."

"We were always looking into the future when I was on the board," Mr. Chesnut said. "We knew we had the most beautiful county in Florida, and then pretty soon we saw those money boys bringing in their draglines and dredges to mess up that beauty."

When Mr. Chesnut held public office, his actions sometimes thwarted the ambitions of land developers.

"Fort De Soto Park," the late A.L. Anderson, a former county commissioner, once said, "would be one big high-rise had it not been for John Chesnut's farsightedness."

Mr. Chesnut also initiated buying land for the Belleair Beach Causeway, the Gulf beaches water system, St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport and the start of the Pinellas-Manatee bridge (later named the Sunshine Skyway).

In connection with the Skyway, Mr. Chesnut in 1950 was named general chairman of "Hands and Spans Across the Bay," a three-day celebration of the opening of bids for Skyway construction.

Among other achievements reflected in his 16-year record was construction of the County Health Clinic in Clearwater. He was chairman of the commission that built it.

"He had Pinellas County in his heart and will be sorely missed," said Bruce Tyndall, a member of the current County Commission.

Born in Gainesville in 1901, Mr. Chesnut remained in his home town for his higher education at the University of Florida.

After moving to Clearwater in 1923 to go into the insurance business with his brother-in-law, Alfred P. Marshall, a lawyer, he managed the Clearwater Municipal Auditorium and the Clearwater Yacht Club before winning election to the County Commission. He served a district stretching from Ozona to Seminole.

Mr. Chesnut was a founder and senior member of Chesnut & Chesnut, one of Clearwater's oldest insurance and real estate firms.

JULY 26, 1949

Blades, files found in cell of prisoner

CLEARWATER - Jailer Harvey Nash reported the discovery of three new hacksaw blades, two specially constructed files and a pair of pliers in a cell occupied by a safe robber early last night. The jailer's presence of mind may have thwarted an attempted county jail break.

It would have taken the inmate at least a week, even with the tools, to saw his way out of the cell-block where he was confined with four others. But Nash believes the prisoner, facing a life sentence plus in state prison, might have been able to remove a bar or two before his plot would have been discovered.

"I noticed a lot of activity in the cell block," Nash said. "Upon examination, I found cuts had been made on two of the bars. We made a thorough search of the cell block and found the equipment."

The prisoner was promptly put in solitary confinement pending the arrival of the state prison van.

Pinellas History is compiled by Times staff writer Theresa Blackwell. You can reach her at tblackwell@sptimes.com.

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