In the Beginning
Tampa Bay - - this body of brackish water that is part and parcel of the Gulf of Mexico located on the West Central coast of Florida that we call home is surrounded by three present day counties - - Hillsborough, Manatee and Pinellas. Its watershed is comprised of rivers, lakes, streams, swamps, canals, ditches, springs and wet spots scattered throughout portions of present day Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Polk and Sarasota counties.
The first known human inhabitants to roam this region were the Tocobagan Indians. They were generally a docile, agricultural people who fished the rivers, bays and estuaries, and farmed the interior portions of these counties.
In 1528 Spaniard Panfilo deNarvaez, followed in 1539 by fellow Spaniard Hernando DeSoto, visited this subtropical and warm temperate paradise in their Queen's quest for "Gold, Glory and Gospel". In this quest they enslaved the Tocobagan people. These Conquistadors were told by the Tocobagans to head north into present day Alabama and Georgia to find the gold they were longing for - - what they found instead were the Creek Indians who were not as accommodating as their southern counterparts, who ended up slaughtering many of deNarvaez's and DeSoto's men.
We Became Americans in 1821
Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1821. The Tocobagan died and were replaced by the Seminole Indians who largely settled north and east of Tampa Bay. What is now Pinellas County remained largely uninhabited with the exception of American and Cuban fishing camps.
The Spanish Conquistadors named Pinellas County. "Punta Pinal" as it would be known in that tongue, described the extensive growth of pine trees on that peninsula, or point of land. The majority of the land mass's cover was South Florida Slash Pine (Pinus elliottii var. 'densa') in the flatwoods which predominate the interior of the county, and Longleaf (Pinus palustris) and Sand (Pinus clausa) Pines which grow in former dunes and rolling hills along the coasts, particularly near Lake Tarpon and in scattered areas near Pinellas Point.
On the east side of Tampa Bay is current day Hillsborough County, named in 1834 after Lord Wills Hill, the Irish earl of Hillsborough. At one time Hillsborough County was part of St. John's County. After it separated from St. John's, the county comprised of all of what would become Pinellas County in 1911 as well. Lord Hill's namesake is also credited to the naming of the Hillsboro Inlet, Hillsboro Canal, and Hillsboro Beach in Broward County, Florida, as well as the town of Hillsborough in Orange County, North Carolina.
Count Odet Philippe and the Florida Sunshine Tree
In 1832, Count Odet Philippe of France became the first white man to settle in Hillsborough County in the Pinellas peninsula. He brought citrus trees with him, which would result in the growth of that industry in West Central Florida. Planting his groves near present day Safety Harbor, his acreage would be known as the St. Helena Plantation. Philippe encouraged a few more settlers into the area. His daughter married Richard Booth (as in "McMullen-Booth Road" fame), another well-known settler in that western portion of Hillsborough County that would later become known as Pinellas County.
The Seminole Wars and the Civil War
The mid to late 1800's saw numerous skirmishes between the white settlers and the Seminole Indians. In order to protect the settlers, the United States government established Fort Brooke in Tampa and Fort Harrison in present day Clearwater. By 1861 the Civil War broke out with Florida being the fourth state to secede from the Union in order to join the Confederacy. Civil War battles in this region were little more than small skirmishes, with the area primarily furnishing the Confederacy with livestock for food.
1885 - - A Turning Point for Hillsborough (and later day Pinellas) County
In 1885, railroad magnate Henry Bradley Plant (name sake of Plant High School in Tampa and Plant City in Hillsborough County) completed his railroad from Sanford, Florida to the Pinellas peninsula (this same route would be used for U.S. Highway 92 - - known locally in Plant City as Baker and Reynolds Streets, in Tampa from U.S. 301 to N. Dale Mabry Highway as Hillsborough Avenue, from Hillsborough Avenue to West Gandy Boulevard as North and South Dale Mabry Highway, from South Dale Mabry Highway to 4th Street in St. Petersburg as Gandy Boulevard, and in St. Petersburg, known as 4th Street North and South.) With the railroad came unprecedented growth. Spanish and Cuban cigar workers moved their families and businesses to Tampa, while agriculture flourished in eastern Hillsborough as citrus, strawberries and winter vegetables began to replace tobacco, timbering and cotton which were the county's former chief crops.
Also in 1885, a report to the American Medical Convention stated that the "Pinellas peninsula was the Healthiest Spot on Earth". This would prompt throngs of retired, aging and ailing Union troops to move to the peninsula in droves, or migrate to the area during the winter months - - right then the stage was being set - - agriculture and industry comprised of white and black southerners, as well as relocated Spaniards and Cubans, was instrumental in the forming of their enclaves east of Tampa Bay, while northern and Midwestern elderly and convalescing were being lured in large numbers to the west side of Tampa Bay. This development would play a very crucial factor in the ultimate development of our region and the two cities we will discuss.
Thank God it's NOT Detroit, Florida
John Constantine Williams (namesake of Williams Park in St. Petersburg) was a land developer from Detroit, Michigan. He envisioned creating a city on the Pinellas peninsula's southern part. Pyotv Dementyev was a Russian immigrant who operated the Orange Belt Railroad from Central Florida to Williams's holdings. Legend has it that over a coin toss the two men wagered that Williams's development would be named after the winning toss based on the hometown of the two men. Williams banked on Detroit, while Dementyev bet on St. Petersburg in Russia.
Thank God Dementyev won.
Rough Riders to the Rescue
In 1898, war clouds gathered and on the west side of the Bay, Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders launched their assault on Cuba for the Spanish-American War first by participating in a ticker tape parade down the streets of Port Tampa and embarking on war ships near Picnic Island. Many of the Spanish-American War veterans would return to Tampa for permanent residence, a pattern that would be repeated again and again after wartime, particularly after the Second World War.
Not long after the Spanish-American War, eastern Hillsborough County started to grow rapidly in population and industry. Cigars, cattle, citrus and phosphate fertilizer became, and in large part still remain, the primary sources of income for Hillsborough County, while tourism started spiraling upward in the Pinellas peninsula.
>Let the Battles Begin
As noted earlier, the peoples of Hillsborough County, Florida, were starting to bear a striking dissimilarity from one another. Eastern Hillsborough's more organic soils, plentiful timber and wider cattle ranges drew many agrarian Southerners, while the cigar industry drew many Spaniards and Cubans. With them they took their customs, philosophies and faiths. Conversely, the western Hillsborough County area drew elderly, retired and sickly Northerners who were beginning to displace the original Southern settlers at a rapid pace. In this western portion, the beaches became a hot spot of tourism commerce, especially now that Plant's railroad was serving this heretofore remote piney woods location. To accommodate wealthy Northerners, Plant and others built many opulent hotels in the western portion, including such showcases as the Belleview Biltmore, the Vinoy and the Sorrento. Of course the largely growing Northern population also took their customs, philosophies and faiths with them, and now started bringing with them that many post Civil War Southerners were not much longer accustomed to - - money.
It Took A Full Day to get From St. Petersburg to Tampa
Before the 1920's, there was no easy way to get from western Hillsborough, where the emerging cities of St. Petersburg and Clearwater were, to the County seat in Tampa. There was no Ben T. Davis Causeway (now Courtney Campbell Causeway), Gandy Bridge, or Howard Frankland Bridge to cross Old Tampa Bay by automobile in. No, it took one full day of driving primitive roads above Old Tampa Bay to conduct any business at the County courthouse if you lived west of Old Tampa Bay.
The residents of western Hillsborough County, living on the Pinellas peninsula found this and the philosophical differences toward their brethren to the east to be insufferable and unacceptable. The County was quickly becoming a "House Divided", and by 1911, the Florida Legislature divided the County into two, deeming the portion west of Old Tampa Bay as being "Pinellas County", making Clearwater its County seat, while retaining the Hillsborough moniker and Tampa as its County seat for the remainder east of Old Tampa Bay.
But this would not be the end of our tale - - no, quite the opposite, as we review the continuing divisions between St. Petersburg and Tampa from the 1920's to the 1970's in Part Two of our series in next week's PCR!
Monitoring the Monitors
Like something out of a John Lewis "Creature's Corner" road trip, check out Cape Coral, Florida, Nile Monitor Lizard Capital of the State in the article "Monitor Lizards May Number In Thousands Around Cape Coral", which can be read in the Saturday July 19, 2003 edition of the Tampa Tribune by linking to:
The first overwater link between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties was the Gandy Bridge Toll Facility. Opened in the 1920s, the Gandy was the longest automobile bridge in the world at that time. Postcard purchased by the author from now-deceased Florida Folk Hero Lucy O'Brien who operated the Yellow Horse Antique Shop in Ybor Square in the late 1970s.
"La Floridiana" is ©2003 by William Moriaty. Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2003 by Nolan B. Canova.