Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hillsborough County History: Part Five of a Series

Captian James McKay
TBHC Collection
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 Interbay Peninsula.  McKay was joined in this endeavor by other Hillsborough County 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 -- Ybor City.  The railroad and cigars would shape Tampa like nothing else had.  Plant improved the fledgling port at the southwestern tip of the Interbay Peninsula, and soon Port Tampa was shipping goods and people throughout ports along the Gulf of Mexico.

Hillsborough County's population grew, as did its prosperity.  Immigrants from Cuba, Spain and Italy came to work in the cigar factories of Ybor City and West Tampa. 

Ignacio Haya
TBHC Collection
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
TBHC Collection
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 Hillsborough River and in the largely undeveloped southern portion of Hillsborough County.  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.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry but what the writer is communicating here is either misleading or i'm misunderstanding, "Florida, and Tampa, however, remained destitute for almost two decades." Tell me, what year does this period of two decades of destitution begin and end? As you know, Florida and Tampa enjoyed extreme prosperity during the decades before the Civil War. Florida was young but had over 140,000 residents and was growing just as vigorously as Tampa. Tampa was the fastest growing port on the gulf coast and served a highly productive cotton region of Hillsborough County. However, if your referring to the destitution resulting in years following the Civil War and horrors of Reconstruction, then you would be right.



Share |