Hillsborough County History: Part Five of a Series
Captian James McKay
The only profitable (legal) ventures [in the Tampa Bay area] were cattle and timber.As early as the 1850s, cattle traders established a route from Florida to Cuba.This trade resumed shortly after the conclusion of the Civil War.Cubans were able to pay in gold for cattle, so area ranchers soon were back on their feet.The trade was pioneered by Tampan James McKay.He shipped his cattle to Cuba from Gadsden Point, at the lower end of the InterbayPeninsula.McKay was joined in this endeavor by other HillsboroughCounty residents, notably the Lesleys, Lykes and Hookers.
Florida, and Tampa, however, remained destitute for almost two decades.Finally, in 1881, relief was on the northern horizon.Henry Plant was bringing his new railroad south, and he picked Tampa as his railhead.
The railroad arrived in 1884, and the following year construction began on Tampa's first two cigar factories, Sanchez y Haya and V. M. Ybor and Co., in a new suburb -- YborCity.The railroad and cigars would shape Tampa like nothing else had.Plant improved the fledgling port at the southwestern tip of the InterbayPeninsula, and soon Port Tampa was shipping goods and people throughout ports along the Gulf of Mexico.
HillsboroughCounty's population grew, as did its prosperity.Immigrants from Cuba, Spain and Italy came to work in the cigar factories of YborCity and West Tampa.
Tens, and later hundreds, of millions of hand rolled cigars were produced in Tampa factories.The industry enjoyed its status as Tampa's biggest money-maker until the 1930s, when the Great Depression, mechanization and cigarette smoking began to take their toll.
Loading phosphate at Port Tampa
The same year that Ybor and Haya opened their factories, 1886, pebble phosphate was discovered in the Peace River in Polk County, Florida.Phosphate was later discovered in the HillsboroughRiver and in the largely undeveloped southern portion of HillsboroughCounty.Though not mentioned as much as the cigar industry and the railroad, the phosphate industry outlasted both.Daily, trains traverse the tracks through downtown Tampa, as they have done since 1889, carrying their loads of phosphate to the docks at Port Tampa.