Long before Walt Disney created his Magic Kingdom out of sleepy Central Florida, railroad magnate Henry Plant built Florida’s first magic kingdom, the Tampa Bay Hotel.
The hotel was more than just rooms; it was a luxury resort where guests could play golf, swim in an indoor pool, attend concerts, gamble at the casino, and even hunt. Opened in 1891, the hotel had more than 500 guest rooms yet only operated for the winter season. In its day, this hotel with its minarets, was one of the most magnificent buildings in the country. Today it’s a National Historic Landmark and home of the University of Tampa and the Henry B. Plant Museum. Several rooms have been restored to show what life was like for those Eastern snowbirds who visited this magical place. It’s easy to imagine how guests may have relaxed, dined, and simply enjoyed the setting back in the Victorian Age.
|This is one of several minarets on the hotel built in the|
|A reminder of how to behave at the hotel!|
The citrus industry has been an important part of Florida’s commerce since the last quarter of the 19th century. We visited the Pioneer Florida Museum and Village in Dade City where a historic citrus processing line is on exhibit along with a number of posters from a bygone era. The sugar industry is also a major component of Florida’s agricultural economy. We were treated to a “show” of what the industry was like in the early 20th century at the annual Central Florida Syrup Raising Cane Tasting Contest & Cane Grinding at the Museum. We saw how the raw cane syrup was boiled down much like maple sap is turned into syrup here in Wisconsin.
|Provocative advertising is nothing new!|
Cigar making was one of Florida’s earliest industries. One of the pioneers of this industry was Vicente Martinez Ybor who moved his cigar making operation from Key West to Tampa because of the railroad that Henry Plant brought to the area. He also built a company town, Ybor City, today a National Historic Landmark District. By 1900 Ybor City, which is now part of Tampa, was known as the “Cigar Capital of the World.” Today there are cigar shops in Ybor City where you can see cigars being hand-rolled just as they were during days gone by.
|This guy was on the wall in one of the cigar shops.|
Florida is also known for the sponging industry and the center of that enterprise is in Tarpon Springs. At the end of the 19th century, Greek immigrants to the area expanded the business. Their influence is still seen in the many shops and restaurants that line the sponge docks today.