Many major cities in the United States have histories dating back into the 1700s, but Tampa, along Florida’s western coast, was started in the 1820s. It began as a military fort and was soon surrounded by pioneer encampments. This occurred because the area was still home to somewhat large numbers of Native Americans who had survived the earlier visits by Spanish Conquistadors in the 1500s.
Like so many indigenous peoples, the natives of Florida succumbed to the germs and infectious diseases carried by travelers, and it took almost 200 years for the populations to recover. By that time (in the 1700s) early American settlers began arriving, and by the 1800s a small number of runaway slaves had also settled into the Tampa area too.
By 1824 the United States government was ready to establish a fort and some trade in the area, and Fort Brooke was erected. It stood until after the American Civil War, and was then abandoned. This was because the area was considered to lack the kind of resources beneficial to business or trade of any kind. In the late 1800s, however, it was discovered that the area just southeast of Tampa was rich in the phosphate necessary for the creation of fertilizers for large-scale farming. This led to the development of a massive mining industry that still exists today, and also to the building of major rail and shipping facilities to support the trade. This also led to the arrival of more laborers and business investors and the creation of a working infrastructure to support them as well.
By 1884, Tampa was connected to the national railway system, and commercial fishing was booming too. This attracted visitors to the region, and soon Tampa’s natural beauty was also creating a booming tourist trade too. This led to the construction of luxury resorts (many which still stand today), and even more settlers to the city. In 1891, the massive Tampa Bay Hotel was constructed at a cost of $2.5 million, and though it is no longer a working hotel it can still be visited on the University of Tampa campus.
In 1886, Vicente Martinez Ybor arrived; bringing his cigar manufacturing business with him and the next phase of Tampa development began. This period saw the permanent population increase substantially, and the area known as Ybor City appeared around the rapidly developing cigar industry.
It is interesting to note that it took only a decade for the city to experience a massive turnaround. Prior to the 1880s there were few prospects for the city, but between the late 1880s and the early 1890s the railroads arrived, industry boomed, and tourism became a major feature of life in Tampa.
After that period, the city continued to thrive and grow, but like other cities, the Great Depression took its toll. Cigars were considered a luxury, few people traveled for leisure, and major industries were all shaken. Interestingly enough, it was the Depression that brought some new activity to Tampa in the form of WPA projects that included the building of the airport, and the creation of some military establishments.
Following WWII, the area also experienced some growth thanks to the building of several universities and colleges in the town as well, and by the end of the century the Downtown district was becoming a vibrant site which had been revitalized with upscale residential structures, a renovated waterfront, and many cultural institutions.
Today’s Tampa still pays tribute to its unique history and culture, and the city is known as a diverse location with more than 80 “named” neighborhoods. A visit to Tampa exposes the traveler to everything from the city’s ancient past to its modern entertainment venues.