Wednesday, September 28, 9707

Tampa's Streetcar History

Steam-powered streetcar, crica 1880s. TBHC collection
By 1885, Tampa had two telegraph lines and a steam-powered street railway system which carried passengers between Tampa and Ybor City.

In 1893, Tampa Street Railway and Power Company converted its steam-powered streetcar system to electric, which sparked a rate war with Tampa’s other streetcar service, Consumers Electric Light and Power Company.  Consumers temporarily lowered its fares from $.05 to $.02, driving the smaller company out of business.  The power company then took over Tampa Street Railway's business, making Consumers the sole supplier of Tampa's electricity.  Later, with the acquisition of the Tampa and Palmetto Beach Railway Company line (which ran from 7th Avenue and 22nd Street to DeSoto Park), Consumers was the only company providing electric transportation in Tampa.

circa 1940s streetcar map. TBHC collection
When Tampa Electric Company took control of Consumers Electric Light and Power in 1899, the streetcar line consisted of 21.5 miles of track, which carried passengers between Ballast Point, DeSoto Park, Ybor City, and West Tampa -- all for a nickel.

Among the most popular streetcars was the "Birney Car", named for the Stone and Webster engineer, Charles O. Birney, who designed it.  Of the 2,000 or so Birneys built between 1914 and the late 1920s, fewer than 30 survive in museums around the world.
Birney Car. TBHC Collection

TECO #163, is a single-truck (four wheeled) Birney.  When the TECO service ended in 1946, the car was sold as a vacation cottage and rested in a backyard in Sulphur Springs, until donated by its owner, Ms. Jeanne MacNeill Mydelski late in 1991.  Tampa Tank and Welding Company hauled the car to a building where it underwent extensive restoration.  The permanent carbarn for the historic Birney is in the old Florida Brewing Company building on Fifth Avenue in Ybor City.
TBHC collection

By the late 1930s, the streetcar was no longer in use in many cities and by the end of World War II, Tampa and St. Petersburg were the only Florida cities with streetcars.  On August 4, 1946, at 2:15 A.M., the last Tampa Electric Birney car retired to its carbarn.  Decades later, the overhead wires were down and the rails paved over. -- Rodney Kite-Powell, Saunders Foundation Curator of History.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Hillsborough County History: Part Six of a Series

Buffalo Soldier in Tampa, 1898
TBHC Collection
In 1898, Tampa was one of three port cities selected as the port of embarkation for troops bound for Cuba and the Spanish - American War.  During the summer months of June, July and August, Tampa's population swelled by over 40,000 temporary residents.  The small city was overwhelmed, but managed.  Although local merchants saw increased profits in the summer of 1898, there was no direct, long term, benefit to Tampa.  There were some indirect bonuses, not the least of which was the Army Corps of Engineers agreeing to dredge a shipping channel from Tampa Bay into Hillsborough Bay to downtown Tampa.

World War I would not have as drastic affect on Tampa, but World War II certainly would.  During the war years of 1939 - 1945, thousands of servicemen and women, and their families, would come to Florida.  Tampa sported three military bases:  MacDill Army Air Base, Drew Field and Henderson Field.  In addition, shipbuilding firms buzzed with activity 24 hours a day.  The two largest, Tampa Shipbuilding and Engineering Company and McCloskey Shipbuilding Company, employed hundreds and produced cargo and navy vessels for the war effort.

Franklin and Twiggs Streets,
downtown Tampa.
TBHC Collection
After the war, many of the servicemen and women would return to Hillsborough County, where they once trained, to live and start families.  The wartime growth continued, but in different areas.  Tampa's port was thriving.  MacDill Army Airfield would evolve to MacDill Air Force Base, home to the United States Central Command, while Drew Field became Tampa International Airport.  Busch Gardens occupies much of the area formerly covered by Henderson Field.

The county's population increased dramatically after World War II, from 207,844 in 1945 to approximately 958,050 in 1999.  Growth occured in all areas, but urban sprawl would dominate some parts of the county, especially those close to the City of Tampa.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Artifact Spotlight: William Stork's 1767 New Map of East Florida

TBHC Collection
Map #48 in TBHC’s map exhibition — the New Map of East Florida — is important for several reasons. First, it’s one of only two pieces in the entire exhibit that is actually part of TBHC’s own collection. But it’s also unique in that there are only three known copies of this map in the world, and the other two reside in the British Library. It was drawn in 1767 by William Stork, one of many British surveyors and cartographers at the time of the British era in Florida (1763-1783), and is likely a copper engraving because the plate marks can be seen.

You might wonder why this map’s title refers to East Florida when the west coast is plainly visible. The reason is that soon after the British took possession of Florida they split the territory into two colonies: East Florida, which encompassed only the peninsula of Florida, with its capital in St. Augustine; and West Florida, which included a Panhandle that extended all the way to the Mississippi River.
Printed four years after the transfer of Florida to England, this broad-purpose map would have been an early attempt by the British to conceptualize what they owned in East Florida. The British ultimately wanted colonists to migrate to their new possessions so this map would have served the general purpose of illustrating the new territory. “Although there are some neat notations on the map,” says Rodney Kite-Powell, “there really wasn’t much to highlight at that time. Plus, it wasn’t very accurate. There’s a mountain range in the middle of Florida, Tampa Bay is in the wrong place, and Hillsborough Bay hadn’t been named yet; Stork labeled it ‘Spirito Santo (Holy Spirit) Bay.’ But the east coast is well done. Stork did the best he could, and actually…it’s an attractive map and phenomenal that he got as much right as he did”

Like most events in history, it’s the anecdotes that pique the greatest interest. As was mentioned, cartographer William Stork drew the map and he dedicated it to The Right Honourable the Earl of Hillsborough —the first Lord Hillsborough — for whom the Hillsborough River and Bay were later named. “But here’s the thing,” notes Rodney,” Lord Hillsborough was never given any land in Florida, nor did he ever come to Florida, or to any of the colonies.” Why, then, was this map dedicated to the earl, and why were places named after him? Because at that time the Earl Lord Hillsborough, who lived in Ireland, was Secretary of State for the British colonies and mapmakers in England were always on the lookout for ways to curry favor with their higher-ups. (Another example is Egmont Key, named for the Earl of Egmont.)
And indeed, Lord Hillsborough was such an important man in his day that many locations in the U.S. were named after him (i.e. Hillsborough, N.C., Hillsborough, N.H., Hillsboro Inlet, an abbreviated version). “There are all kinds of Hillsboroughs!” declares Rodney, “but remember, there was no Hillsborough County until 1834, which was named years later after the river and the bay.”
Another interesting story about Lord Hillsborough involves Benjamin Franklin who, before the revolution in about 1762, was sent to Ireland to meet with the British Secretary of State/earl. At that time, Franklin was on the fence about whether or not the colonies should rise up against the British. However, after spending just a short time with the earl, Franklin realized that if this guy was the one in charge, there was no choice but to revolt! And that’s the message he brought back when he returned home.
Now the Hillsborough story takes a more modern turn. In the 1950s, the Sixth (or Seventh) Earl of Hillsborough and his wife visited Tampa during Gasparilla and it was then that they presented the New Map of East Florida to Hillsborough County, in appreciation of the county being named for their family. Then some 50 years later, in about 2000, the then-current Earl of Hillsborough, a 45-year-old man named Nick Downshire, was planning a trip to Florida with his family and wanted to pay a visit to Hillsborough County. “He got in touch with us,” recounts Rodney, “and we planned to show him the map, which he had never seen. But before he got here, his uncle the Marquis of Downshire had died, and that title was then conferred upon Nick. And so, Nick’s 8-year-old son became the new Earl of Hillsborough, and when the family arrived in Florida, I got to meet the new lord …a little kid! I wonder if he even remembers his visit to Hillsborough County.” -- Sara Baker, TBHC Volunteer

This article originally appeared in print in TBHC's Volunteer Voice newsletter, Issue 13, fall 2013.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Hillsborough County History: Part Four of a Series

Two years after Jackson's map was complete, Tampa received a city charter from the State of Florida.  Prosperity seemed certain, but national politics held different plans for Tampa and Hillsborough County. On January 10, 1861, Florida became the third state to secede from the Union.

The Confederate Army held Fort Brooke throughout most of the Civil War.  It was shelled by Union warships on several occasions and was captured in May 1864.  After scouting the area for a day, the victors found nothing of use and abandoned the area.  They returned until after the war as occupation troops.

Alfred Beal
Floridians, during Reconstruction, struggled with a wide variety of issues.  Most Black Floridians were experiencing freedom for the first time.  Freedman from the Hillsborough County settlements of Hopewell, Knights and Springhead founded Bealsville, a community south of Plant City.  While the Homestead Act granted the land, it did not guarantee the claimants would become landowners.  To retain title, applicants had to construct homes, clear land and procure farming implements.  Despite the overwhelming odds, the community succeeded, and still exists to this day.

Freedom, too, held no guarantee. It was tainted with the continued indignities heaped upon by whites, both southern and the new northern "carpetbaggers" who came to Florida to turn a quick profit at the expense of southerners, both white and black.  Depression, both emotional and economic, hung over Hillsborough County.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Short History of Hillsborough County: Part 2 of a Series

1710 Map of Florida, TBHC Collection
Few, if any, of Florida's indigenous people survived beyond the 1700s.  Once numbering in the hundreds of thousands, the native population was decimated by European-introduced diseases, slave raids and warfare with both explorers and the Creek and Yamassee Indians from present-day Georgia and Alabama.  Handfuls of survivors were probably taken to Cuba by the Spanish when Florida came under English control in 1763.  Archaeological evidence discovered at the southern end of the Courtney Campbell Causeway dates from this time and suggests Cuban fishermen and their Tocobaga workers left for Cuba when the Spanish government withdrew from Florida.

In the mid-1700s, Native Americans from the areas north of Florida began entering the Tampa Bay area.  These new residents had customs and traditions similar to their extinct southern neighbors, but there were also differences.  The newcomers, later dubbed Seminoles, were a composite of a number of groups, including Creek, Yamassee and Apalachee, plus Africans, both freedmen and runaway slaves from colonial (later American) plantations.

Lord Hillsborough
Despite Florida being the first site of European colonization, Americans paid it little attention.  When control of the territory transferred from Spain to England in 1763, Florida was divided into East and West Florida, becoming the 14th and 15th British Colonies.  It was during this era that Hillsborough Bay and the Hillsborough River were named in honor of Lord Hillsborough, Secretary of State of the British Colonies under King George III.  These southernmost colonies remained loyal to the crown during the American Revolution and at the end of the conflict (1783) Spain resumed ownership.

The Second Spanish Period (1783 - 1921) was marked by the growing conflict between the Seminoles and U. S. citizens living on either side of Florida's northern border.  Spain was powerless to stop the agressors on either side.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sharing Stories at the History Center

This past November, the galleries of the History Center echoed with the question, “Where were you fifty years ago?”  It was important to mark the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s visit to Tampa--the first visit of a sitting president --and it was wonderful to watch people share their stories of seeing him that day. Those who were not around at the time appeared equally riveted by the recollections of this important day in our community’s history. 

Of course, the euphoria of seeing the president was eclipsed four days later when he was assassinated in Dallas.  That day also brought back vivid memories and elicited more stories as our guests reflected on the events surrounding November 22, 1963.

While observing interactions between visitors as they discussed these historic events, our staff was once again reminded of the important role the Center plays in preserving the memory, identity and culture of our region.  The idea of documenting President Kennedy’s visit to Tampa was Lynn Marvin Dingfelder’s.  A former television reporter, producer and writer, Lynn wanted to create a documentary film chronicling JFK’s visit to Tampa.  She canvased the community, collecting stories and interviewing dignitaries, average citizens, law enforcement and even members of the President’s protection detail.  Her documentary is a wonderful piece that captures the events of the Tampa visit in a personal and powerful way. 

When Lynn approached us about producing an exhibit to complement the film, we eagerly agreed.  The film and the exhibit have served as teaching tools for preserving this important historical moment.  But perhaps more importantly, they brought the community together to reflect and share stories…exactly what well-told history should do.  My deepest thanks go to Lynn, her team and sponsors for their good work, and to the community for sharing these heartfelt stories. -- C.J. Roberts, Frank E. Duckwall President and CEO

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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