History Lessons…Tampa Bay Style

I consider myself a person who really likes history and whenever I travel I love finding tours, museums, whatever to visit. But in my own community, Tampa Bay, I’ve kind of taken it for granted. Then I spent a recent Friday afternoon at the Tampa Bay History Center  as well as the following day at The Ringling Museum in Sarasota and realized there is nothing about our region’s history that should ever be taken for granted.

So let’s start with the History Center…I was invited on a VIP tour with several other Ambassadors for Tampa Bay Business Owners thanks to Timothy Bennett of Armon Events . Our tour guide was Rodney Kite-Powell, who started out working for the center one summer during college when it was essentially a storefront on Harbour Island, an area adjacent to Downtown Tampa, and never really left.


That was about 20 years and several paid grades ago. He is now the Curator of History and we were so fortunate to get his take on all of the museums exhibits and artifacts.  In other words, he was awesome…and so is the museum. Seriously, I know many of you are rolling your eyes, thinking what could possibly be so interesting about Tampa Bay’s history.

Honestly, I used to roll my eyes too. I mean, I never really thought Tampa Bay or Florida, in general, had done much in terms of contributing to our nation’s history and culture other than becoming a mecca for senior citizens and Disney fans.

When  I was working for a research and marketing company almost 15 years ago and the president of the company was very much behind the development of and fundraising for what is now the Center’s permanent home…behind Amalie Arena in the Channelside District of Downtown Tampa and part of the ever expanding Tampa Riverwalk  …I just didn’t get it despite how much I happen to really like American history. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that 15 years ago I still looked upon Tampa as a whackadoodle place, but as I’ve mentioned many times before, because of how much I have connected with the business community here in recent years I have grown to appreciate all that it has to offer more than I could have ever imagined.

So here’s my history lesson of Tampa Bay in a nutshell…#BlackerStyle of course…

  • Spanish explorers came to the region in the early 1500s in search of gold and encountered the native Tocabaga Indians. They never found gold but in the process, they essentially drove the tribe to extinction because of the fighting that ensued and the disease they spread.  No bueno, Espana, no bueno. At least there are a few remnants remaining including the canoe pictured below made from a tree trunk. Not sure I’d trust it today but back then, it definitely was a clever mode of transportation for the Tocabagans.dug out canoe
  • There is, however, one thing the Spanish did bring to this region first that we kind of can’t be too mad at them about…bacon! You’re welcome Estados Unidos. (Sidenote: The America Loves Bacon Festival is this weekend at the Florida State Fairgrounds …I’m not sure the early explorers ever anticipated a festival around “jamón” but I assume you’ll thank me later  if you go)
  • Did you know that the Seminole Tribe was originally from Georgia and Alabama and known as the Creek Indians?  Sorry Creeks but FSU Seminoles does have a better ring to it.  Meanwhile, the United States government is still technically at war with the Seminoles since there was never a treaty signed after the last war between them ended in 1858. Something tells me the Seminoles aren’t too worried about it today given the success of the Hard Rock Casino here.Standing ground
  • Henry Plant was, of course, the gentleman who brought the railroad to the region after the discovery of rich phosphate deposits, giving a huge boost to the local economy. He built the Tampa Bay Hotel , the signature building on the present day  University of Tampa campus and now a National Historic Landmark, as well as several other hotels along the railroad route from the north, encouraging the growth of our tourism industry.  I’m guessing those weren’t exactly of the Motel 6 variety either.Tampa Bay Hotel
  • There is no disputing the role the cigar industry has played in our history. There is only one factory left today but in the 1920s there were 120 and more cigars were being made here than anywhere else in the world. Over 400 million a year to be exact. A few of the older Cubans in our community today apparently joke that their mothers, who worked in the factories, were “strippers”. They are, of course, referring to the fact that their mothers were responsible for stripping the tobacco leaves from the stems and not some of the first employees of a particularly famous Tampa landmark on Dale Mabry Highway.Cigars
  • And last, but certainly not least, Jose Gaspar, the pirate who we “celebrate” every year at the Gasparilla Festival (sorry, hard for me to understand why we celebrate pirates who were essentially rapists and thieves) …Totally made up. Yep, sorry, kids but Jose was part of a marketing campaign in the early 1900s that started the whole Gasparilla parade thing.  Hey, I’m just the messenger…if you want to debate it, you definitely need to hook up with Rodney at the Center.

Oh and two more things…1) Definitely do a docent tour if you go. I think you always get more out of these type of places when you have someone guiding you and 2) If you are looking for a very cool event space, you really do need to put the Center on your short list of possible venues. It has a fabulous 3 story atrium housing a Columbia Restaurant outpost and an outdoor patio overlooking the Garrison Channel.

Tampa History Center entrance 3

I think that’s enough of a history lesson for today. I’ll report on my visit to The Ringling Museum another time. But if you can’t wait, go see for yourself. I promise it will be just an equally amazing  immersion into Tampa Bay’s history.

That’s it for now…#BlackerOut !







Filed under Call Me Crazy, Florida Life, Tampa Bay, Travel

38 responses to “History Lessons…Tampa Bay Style

  1. theresarose

    Thanks for the history lesson! I’ve been to Tampa once and had a great visit. Looks like I’ll need to go back to see more of these great sights.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been to Tampa a few times (not during Gasparilla, though) and really love it. I visited a few of the sites you mentioned — including the Columbia restaurant — yummy Cuban food!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Awesome info, Beth! I just love history and try to go to museums in every city I visit. I only visited Tampa for 1 day, and I can’t remember what we did, but we may have gone to the museum.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve only recently become interested in the history of places and holidays as it relates to my blog. Between you and the other Tampa blogger, Holly Jean, i can’t wait to come to Tampa again. My only experience during a break from a morning Bat Mitzvah & evening party, was a trip to the Hard Rock Casino. You did a great description.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for the history lesson. Tampa does seem a whole lot more interesting now 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Isn’t it funny how we don’t necessarily learn the history of places that we live? Good for you for researching Tampa and passing on some of your knowledge. You make a visit very tempting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I actually can remember going to the history museum and Greenfield Village in Detroit growing up almost every year until I was 12 so I definitely had an appreciation for hometown knowledge at an early age. But for whatever reason, living here in Tampa Bay, it just too a little longer…20 years to be exact 🙂


  7. Wow, lots to learn about in Tampa. Have lots to do and see yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would definitely recommend that you take your kids Mike. And if it happens to be on a Saturday when the Lightning are in town, check out the Give And Grub food truck outside Amalie Arena to help fight hunger in Tampa Bay 🙂


  8. coacheugenemota

    Hey, Beth! I’ve just discovered your blog. Your style makes it very easy and fun 🙂 to remember the interesting info you share. I’ve learned a ton about Tampa Bay in just a few minutes, thanks! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for the beautiful introduction to Tampa, looks like a lovely place to visit one day!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Loved your historical post here about Tampa! Being a former historian, still am deep down, I of course read every line with great interest.:-) As political rituals in the late 19th Century and nationalism was my topic in my Ph.D. I wonder whether there was some political struggle in Tampa by mid 19th Century, any liberal, national, campaign, as one often used revolutionaries, in Europe, could be they used pirates here, to symbolize heroism, radical thoughts, fighting for the fatherland and similar to say something about the current political context. Anyway, a great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hmmm…I’m sure there was some logic to carrying the pirate theme forward in history. I’m not sure heroism would be the reason I would choose but radical thoughts could work 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for reading this blog. Hope you’ll come back for more history lessons in the future and provide more insight!


  11. Great post!! Our family loves to visit local museums! Have you been to the Museum of Natural History in Gainsville? So good!! #FridayShareFest

    Liked by 1 person

    • No I have not been to that museum in Gainesville Jenny. In fact, I have never spent any time there. I have an almost senior and about to start freshman at FSU and neither one wanted to go to UF so I guess there was never a reason to go??? I suppose now there is…thanks!


  12. Thanks for the great Tampa history lesson! I really appreciate it since I’m a “transPLANT” lol

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Husband

    I guess I owe a debt of gratitude to the Creek Indians because without them where would I play poker Sat. a.m.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I’ve been meaning to go here for like EVER! I will make sure to add this to our must do list this summer.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I’m just right up the road, sounds like I should come pay another visit.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Wow… you have figured out a lot about where you live. I just moved to the South Houston area and because of the business and lack of relationships, still working on getting to know the area around us, and like you found, there is a lot to get to know and learn.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Your explanation of the history lessons Tampa bay style in a nutshell really depicts the actual scenario. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. That does it. I’m gonna have to make a trip to Tampa and do all the things you suggest. Sounds like a great time!


  19. hollyjeantampa

    Why is Tampa Bay SO COOL! These are great little tidbits.. after researching and writing my Jose Gaspar blog, I’m shocked! LOL I’m going to have to take a little more time at the history center… was there a few weeks ago for a mixer but have not been able to fully explore. It’s amazing what gems are in our own backyard in Tampa Bay yet we don’t take the time to explore. Happy you got the opportunity with TBBO to make this happen. Great photos!


    • As a fellow TBBO member promotes, #TampaBayIsAwesome 🙂 But don’t beat yourself up about the Jose Gaspar thing. Most of the information out there points to him having been a real person because of stories that were told through the years.


  20. Pingback: Did You Hear The One About A Vegetarian Walking Into A Bacon Festival? | Beth Blacker...Call Me Crazy

  21. Tia

    Thanks for sharing such awesome information. I am glad you participated in the #FridaySharefest with #TBBloggers


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