The History of Alcoholics Anonymous: In Pinellas County

There are so many exciting experiences of St. Petersburg Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) history. The initial history goes back. Way back. This is how it all began. Alfred Meakin arrived in St. Pete from Baltimore in 1945. He wrote a letter dated February 6, 1945 to the Alcoholic Foundation seeking some local contacts. Back then, this is how books were obtained and meeting formed – snail mail!

He wanting to continue his AA way of life and wrote to the New York office and asked “are there any groups, or any AA members in this area?”. In response to his letter, the New York office told him of a new group in Tampa, meeting at the old De Soto Hotel. They also told him of a man in St. Pete who had just purchased an AA Big Book. It was a hand-written letter to the Alcoholic Foundation from a Jack D. Holley, ordering a big Book COD and it is dated February 13, 1945

Alfred contacted the group in Tampa where he learned Ernie King, and the “Sarge”, Roy Yeargan, had started the Tampa group. He called on another man who had purchased a book, Bob W. After talking to Bob and going to the Tampa meetings together, they decided to form their own meeting in St. Petersburg in late summer 1945.

The first Pinellas County AA meeting was held in Bob’s office at the Florida Power building. In the meantime, they heard about an active alcoholic in the St. Pete Stockade (jail). Bob talked to him and told him how the program worked for him. His name was Bennie W. and he decided he would like to try the program. Bob and the Deacon talked to the jailor and asked them if they could take him and another man out to a meeting, and return him afterwards. This first meeting 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.

“Hello.  My name is … Ernie, Roy, Sarge, Walter, Ferrell, Bob, Bennie, Jack and we are alcoholics.” The first meeting in Pinellas County began.

The next week two more alcoholics attended. One was Dick E. with 2 years of sobriety on the AA Big Book alone. The other was a snow bird from New Jersey, George S. Both George and another man visited Miesners Sanitarium to see a dentist (Dr. Fred) from Clearwater. This man was immediately impressed with AA. One of his first successful sponsees was a man named Eddie. From this humble beginning AA in Pinellas County started to grow. Bob’s office soon became too small, and they moved to the Coca Cola building on 4th Street. In 1945, Fred stated in a letter to NY that there were 27 who attended that first meeting at the Coca Cola Building. 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 1st Avenue North. Here they celebrated their first anniversary. Unfortunately, the building was torn down in the late 50’s.

During the winter months, they had as many as forty people counting the “snow birds” attending meetings. A wonderful closeness remained between the three area groups — Tampa, Clearwater (a group formed in Clearwater), & St. Pete. They held a meeting once a month from the 3 communities, which was fondly referred to as “The Golden Triangle” meeting. Once a month they would exchange meeting places and Chairmen.  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 a large group meeting. 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 2nd Avenue.

By 1951, AA was well established in Pinellas County. In addition to the St. Pete, Sunshine and Central Groups, 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. This was the beginning of what are now called women’s meetings. 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 AA. 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.

First Version 1-10-2020. Written by Leslie B-Archives Committee. The mission of the District 1 Archives Committee is to document the work of Alcoholics Anonymous by collecting and preserving historical material relating to District 1.

PINELLAS COUNTY AA HISTORY- submitted to Central Office 1-10-2020

To help alcoholics everywhere.