During the civil war, Union gunboats repeatedly raided the city's supplies as most of the able-bodied men were away fighting for the Confederate States of America army. The city began booming in late 19th century, prompted by Henry B. Plant building the first passenger railroad line into the city 1888. Clearwater was incorporated as a town in 1891 and James E. Crane became the town's first mayor . The town's reputation as a tourist destination grew in popularity when Plant built the Belleview Biltmore in 1897.
By the early 1900's, Clearwater's population had grown to around 400 - ballooning to nearly 1,000 in the winter. Clearwater was reincorporated, this time as a city, on May 27, 1915, and made the county seat for Pinellas County, which broke from Hillsborough County in 1912. Also in 1915, a bridge was built across Clearwater Harbor, joining the city with modern-day Clearwater Beach. Remnants of the original bridge still remain as boating hazards in the harbor's shallows.
During World War II, Clearwater became a major training base for U.S. troops destined for Europe and the Pacific. Virtually every hotel in the area, including the historic Belleview Biltmore and Fort Harrison Hotel, became luxury barracks for new recruits. Vehicle traffic regularly stopped for companies of soldiers marching through downtown, and nighttime blackouts to confuse potential enemy bombers were common practice. The remote and isolated Dan's Island, now Sand Key, was used as a target for US Army Air Corps fighter-bombers for straffing and bombing practice.
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