Although it is currently the 53rd largest city in the entire United States, Tampa, Florida is also one of the most recognized place names too. This has a lot to do with its involvement in tourism, sports, and vacationing so popular along the state’s western coast. The ability for extensive outdoor living within a well-developed urban area has consistently won recognition for Tampa. For example, the New York University newspaper selected it as an ideal city for those in their 20s, and Forbes ranked it in the top five outdoor cities as well.
Interestingly enough, Tampa wasn’t officially founded until 1824, and that was when the United States Army established Fort Brooke along the nearby waterfront. The first pioneers to the area developed a small community close to the Fort in order to remain safe from the local populations of indigenous peoples, and today that entire area is covered by the modern Tampa Convention Center.
Who were the indigenous peoples? The area was home to groups of Seminole, Tocobaga, and Calusa tribes who, many believe, gave the city its name. Tampa translates to “sticks of fire” or “place to gather sticks” in the native languages, and this is believed to be the origin of the city’s naming.
Before 1824, however, the area had already been explored by Spanish Conquistadors beginning as far back as the early 1500s. No permanent settlements were established because the Spaniards were not interested in the “wealth” of this area. They were looking for gold and treasures, and the only bounty in the Tampa area was fish, shells, and other readily available natural materials. Additionally, all of the native peoples of the area were remarkably resistant to conversion to the Catholic faith as well, and the Spanish abandoned the region.
They did leave behind germs, however, and this caused a huge depopulation among the natives that lasted for, roughly, two hundred years afterward. By the 1700s early American colonists were reaching the area, and Spain sold the region to the United States government in 1821. By that time it had become a home to escaped slaves as well as small groups of remaining Native American tribes. This led to the creation of a large reservation and the need for the construction of Fort Brooke in what is now downtown Tampa.
The Fort saw a bit of action during the American Civil War, but only two brief exchanges occurred between Confederate forces inside the Fort and the victorious Union troops outside. The subsequent Reconstruction era following the war had very little impact on Tampa thanks to its lack of infrastructure and marketable goods. This was until the late 1800s; when a series of unanticipated events really turned around the city’s fortunes.
First, was the discovery of massive stores of phosphate in the regions just south of the city. This created a mineral mining industry that required the construction of railways and the development of a support network for the laborers and owners in the area. This is still an industry that is active in the city in the modern era too.
Next, the introduction of the railroad lines also allowed the massive commercial fishing industry to develop and expand too. This led to the final event, the arrival of the cigar industry in the region. This included the relocation of the Ybor Cigar manufacturing plant, the building of homes for the thousands of workers, and the arrival of many other cigar companies too.
Soon, the fine weather, beautiful waterfront, and excellent hotels and resorts began leading thousands of tourists to the region too. This leads us to the modern era in Tampa history where industry, tourism, and the beauty of the natural surroundings are still allowing the city to develop and grow.