Tampa Travel Blog› entry 1 of 4 › view all entries
Tampa's fortunes took several sudden turns for the better. First, phosphate was discovered in the Bone Valley region southeast of Tampa in 1883. The mineral, vital for the production of fertilizers and other products, was soon being shipped out from the Port of Tampa in great volume. Tampa is still a major phosphate exporter.
Henry B. Plant's railroad line reached Tampa and its port shortly thereafter, connecting the small town to the country's railroad system. Tampa finally had the overland transportation link that it needed. The railroad enabled phosphate and commercial fishing exports to go north,brought many new products into the Tampa market, as well as its first tourists.
The new railroad link enabled another important industry to come to Tampa.
Since Tampa was still a small town at the time (population less than 5000), Ybor built hundreds of small houses around his factory to accommodate the immediate influx of mainly Cuban and Spanish cigar workers. Other cigar factories soon moved in, and Ybor City (as the approximately 40 acres (16 ha) settlement was dubbed) quickly made Tampa a major cigar production center. Many Italian and a few eastern European Jewish immigrants also arrived starting in the late 1880s, operating businesses and shops that catered to the cigar workers.
In 1891, Henry B. Plant built a lavish 500+ room, quarter-mile (400 m) long, Moorish Revival style luxury resort hotel called the Tampa Bay Hotel among 150 acres (0.61 km2) of manicured gardens along the banks of the Hillsborough River. The eclectic structure cost US$2.5 million to build. Plant filled his expensive playground with exotic art collectibles from around the world and installed electric lights and the first elevator in town.
The resort did well for a few years, especially during the Spanish-American War. With Plant's death in 1899, the hotel's fortunes began to fade. It closed in 1930.
Mainly because of Henry Plant's connections in the War Department, Tampa was chosen as an embarkation center for American troops in the Spanish-American War. Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders were among the 30,000 troops who waited in Tampa for the order to ship out to Cuba during the summer of 1898, filling the town.
The founding of Ybor City, the building of Plant's railroad and hotels, and the discovery of phosphate - all within a dozen years in the late 1800s - were crucial to Tampa's development. The town expanded from a village to bustling town to small city.
Beginning in the late 1800s, illegal bolita lotteries were very popular among the Tampa working classes, especially in Ybor City.
Profits from the bolita lotteries and Prohibition-era bootlegging led to the development of several organized crime factions in the city. Charlie Wall was the first major boss, but various power struggles culminated in consolidation of control by Sicilian mafioso Santo Trafficante, Sr. and his faction in the 1950s. After his death in 1954 from cancer, control passed to his son Santo Trafficante, Jr., who established alliances with families in New York and extended his power throughout Florida and into Batista-era Cuba.
The era of rampant and open corruption ended in the 1950s, when the Senator Kefauver's traveling organized crime hearings came to town and were followed by the sensational misconduct trials of several local officials. Although many of the worst offenders in government and the mob were not charged, the trials helped to end the sense of lawlessness which had prevailed in Tampa for decades.