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Tampa, Florida

Florida: Empire of the Sun


Tampa—The strategic location of Tampa has resulted in its growth as the trade metropolis and distributing center for an immense surrounding territory. The tourist will find this city a convenient headquarters from which to take trips to all parts of the peninsula. Its magnificent bay attracted voyageurs from the earliest times and four hundred years ago two of the greatest military expeditions to the New World landed their forces here-the expedition of Panfilo de Narvaez in 1528 and of De Soto in 1539. "This port is the best in the world," wrote Narvaez's scribe and De Soto's chronicler was filled with wonder at the endurance of the Indians, who could "outrun even the mounted scouts."

A boulder, recording Narvaez's landing, stands in Bay Front Park, where is also the De Soto oak, one of the earliest meeting places of Indians and Spaniards. The Indians of this region were implacable in their opposition to white men, killing missionaries and soldiers alike.

Not until the American Fort Brooke was built here in 1823 were settlers able to develop the fertile shore and pleasant rolling countryside. A tablet marks the place where this historic fortification stood. During the Seminole Wars, Tampa was the port from which the captured tribes were sent west to new reservations. During the Confederacy, the harbor was several times blockaded and the city shelled by the Union gunboats, which were trying to prevent cotton-loaded ships from slipping out to Cuba. After the war, this section suffered because of lack of transportation facilities and in 1870 there were only seven hundred and eighty-six men in Tampa. When the first railroad came through from Sanford, in 1884, a new era of growth and prosperity began which has continued to the present day.

Henry Bradley Plant built the magnificent Tampa Bay Hotel in 1891, with its swimming pool, theatre and race track, while the cigar manufacturers moved in to build Ybor City, that picturesque center of the world's largest cigar industry. During the Spanish-American War a great camp of seventy-five thousand troops was established near Tampa, which then had only twenty-five thousand people.

Each spring at Tampa an entire week is devoted to the festivities celebrating the landing of the pirate crew of Gasparilla on the West Coast. This event attracts thousands of tourists annually, and is comparable to the great Mardi Gras at New Orleans.

No mention of the Tampa section would be complete without Davis Islands, a remarkable residential suburb built on islands in the bay, connected by a causeway to the mainland. Golf courses, tennis courts and recreational facilities of all kinds are available to tourists in Tampa. The new Tampa Yacht and Country Club, now under construction, will have a sea wall and concrete slips for yacht anchorage.

Excerpt from "Florida: Empire of the Sun" Published by the Florida State Hotel Commission, Tallahassee, Florida. 1930.


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Exploring Florida: A Social Studies Resource for Students and Teachers
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College of Education, University of South Florida © 2005.