Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Disappearing City: How Tampa was Voted Out of Existence

John T. Lesley
Though Tampa experienced growth and prosperity during the 1850s, war clouds and troubled times loomed on the horizon.  The city endured four years of strife during the American Civil War, including occupation by Federal troops in 1864, and by the end of the 1860s the city faced a bleak future.  Former Confederate officer and Tampa citizen John T. Lesley ran for mayor in Tampa’s 1869 election with a simple campaign promise:  vote for him and he would abolish the city of Tampa. 
His “No Corporation People’s Ticket” won, and the newly elected officials did not take office, thereby allowing the city’s 1855 charter to lapse, effectively eliminating the City of Tampa as a legal municipality.  Four years would pass before any sort of municipal government would take charge in Tampa, but another ten years would go by before the economic and emotional depression that had gripped Tampa was replaced by optimism.

Hope did eventually come to Tampa, and it arrived on steel rails via a steam powered engine.  Henry Plant’s decision to make Tampa the railhead for his South Florida Railroad, and Tampa Bay a main port for his steamships, revolutionized the area.  Plant’s arrival in 1883 was the first of three monumental developments for Tampa in the 1880s.  The second followed two years later when Vicente Martinez Ybor and Ignacio Haya decided to open cigar factories just outside of Tampa.  Ybor City would eventually become home to hundreds of cigar factories and tens of thousands of workers.  It was also around this time that phosphate was discovered in the area’s rivers, particularly the Hillsborough and Peace, as well as in the ground in eastern and southern Hillsborough County.

Tampa’s population exploded, from 720 people in 1880 to over 5,500 in 1890.  New neighborhoods blossomed with these new arrivals.  Preceding Ybor City were Tampa Heights (originally known as North Tampa) and Hyde Park.  Together with Ybor City and what is now downtown Tampa, these four areas formed the first four wards of the new City of Tampa, which received its charter from the state on July 15, 1887.  Tampa was finally realizing the success that had been anticipated thirty years earlier.

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