Less than a quarter mile from the worst of the US 19 construction, where Clearwater meets Largo, is a place my great-grandfather visited every time he steered his green Chevy Nova down US 1 from the Boston Post Road to Clearwater.
I called him Pop. He was my mother’s mother’s father, and all I remember is a gentle soul with round glasses and a bald-ish head who drew me doodles. He lived downstairs from my grandparents, and he loved to drive down to Florida long before my parents lived there.
What I remember much more than the man is Pop’s Road. Every time we drove down Belleair Road between Belcher and US 19, my mother would remind me, “This was Pop’s favorite road.” My grandmother used to tell me, too. Somewhere along the way it ceased to be Belleair Road and became instead Pop’s Road.
Pop liked to drive US 1 south, even though a perfectly serviceable interstate ran right alongside it. He did it because he enjoyed the drive. And cared more about enjoying the drive than making good time. Likewise, we would drive Pop’s Road because he loved the trees.
Along Pop’s Road, oak trees arch across two lanes, filtering out harsh sunlight and giving instead the illusion of cool with lacy patterns on the road. Dusky Spanish moss drips down from the gnarled branches and dusts the top of taller vehicles. West of the entrance to the Sharon Oaks subdivision, the road seems open and sparse. As sepia oaks converge on the slate ribbon of road, a symmetric veridian canopy seals in the cars. Roll down your windows, and you only hear tree and breeze. No traffic, no tires. Just unadulterated nature pushing down the road.
East of the soon-to-be-gone citrus grove, US 19 buzzes by at alternate speeds of light and construction. Progress carves itself into the road with each new Department of Transportation project. A new owner of the orange groves will likely change the eastern edge of Pop’s Road.
But between the suburbia of Sharon Oaks and the systemization of the county’s main north-south artery lies a glimpse into why people came here... and why they stayed.
It’s not a long stretch of road, just a few blocks. But it’s one of the least affected by development in the city, save for a few dinged silver guardrails protecting the massive tree trunks from those of us who traverse this piece of the past. Things alongside the road may change – houses can morph into more modern homes, convenience stores may change hands – but the road itself is still a two-lane affair, sheltered by what defines it: majestic oaks.
This is Pop’s Road. Everyone called him Pop, and I never knew different. When I, as a small child, saw “William” on his gravestone I began to cry, because I thought the engraver had gotten the name wrong. But his legal name doesn’t matter; to me, he will always be Pop.
To planners and developers, I’m writing about County Road 651, also called Belleair Road. Again, this doesn’t matter; to me, this preserved parcel of our past will forever be Pop’s Road.