The oldest home in Tampa’s Hyde Park neighborhood dates back to the early 1870s, but the area’s history stretches much further into the past. That section of Tampa, south and west of the Hillsborough River, likely had been settled for thousands of years by American Indians, and since the 1700s by a variety of other groups.
By the middle of the 18th century, a small settlement known as Spanishtown, home to Cuban fishermen and women, formed on the shores of Hillsborough Bay. The creek that bisected it, Spanishtown Creek, emptied into the bay near the present-day intersection of Swann Avenue and Bayshore Boulevard.
Massachusetts-born Levi Collar and his family also established a settlement on the west bank of the Hillsborough River in the early 1820s, to become the first Anglo residents of the Hyde Park area. One of Collar’s daughters, Nancy, married Robert Jackson. Their homestead sat along the west bank at the mouth of the river at a place known as Jackson Point, near what is now the intersection of Platt Street and Bayshore Boulevard.
Within a few years of the founding of Fort Brooke in 1824, a small village sprang from its northern boundary. The first post office (1831) officially named the village Tampa Bay, but the name was soon shortened to Tampa. The meaning and origin of the name has been debated for years, with no consensus, but a strong theory is it was the name of a native village on Tampa Bay.
Settlement in and around Tampa grew during the years following the end of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), then came to a stop during the Civil War. Florida, and Tampa, remained destitute for almost two decades after the war.
Finally, in 1881, relief was on the northern horizon. Henry Bradley Plant was bringing his new railroad south, and he picked Tampa as his railhead. The railroad arrived in 1884, and the following year construction began on Tampa’s first two cigar factories, Sanchez y Haya and V. M. Ybor and Co., in a new suburb — Ybor City.
The same year that Ybor and Haya opened their factories, 1886, pebble phosphate was discovered in the Peace River in Polk County. Phosphate was later discovered in the Hillsborough River and in the largely undeveloped southern portion of Hillsborough County. Though not mentioned as much as the cigar industry and the railroad, the phosphate industry outlasted both. Daily, trains traverse the tracks through downtown Tampa, as they have since 1889, carrying their loads of phosphate to the docks at Port Tampa.
Once those phosphate trains crossed the river at Cass Street and started their journey south, they rumbled past another new Tampa suburb founded in the mid-1880s: Hyde Park. O. H. Platt moved to Tampa in 1886, purchased land, subdivided it and named the development after his hometown of Hyde Park, Ill.
Platt received some unexpected assistance in 1888, when plans were revealed for Henry Plant’s Tampa Bay Hotel. One of the conditions for construction of “Plant’s Palace” was that the city and county build a bridge over the Hillsborough River, the first modern bridge to span the waterway. The bridge was built at Lafayette Street (Kennedy Boulevard), displacing the outdated ferry, and Plant built his hotel.
Growth around the hotel soon followed, but the city’s affluent citizens at first chose to live in Tampa Heights rather than across the river in Hyde Park. It would take other developers, notably Morrison, Swann and Holtsinger, to draw Tampa’s elite to the west side of the Hillsborough. Morrison’s house is among the city’s oldest, and Swann and Holtsinger are credited with designing their section of Hyde Park to include a roadway along the water — Bayshore Boulevard.
After the turn of the 20th century, Hyde Park also became home to Tampa’s growing middle class. Bungalows began to outnumber the larger Victorian-style homes, and the neighborhood’s population blossomed.
Tampa’s white upper and middle class residents were not the only people to find a home in Hyde Park. Many of Tampa’s black residents lived in the Dobyville section of the neighborhood. Dobyville, named for Richard Doby, was located in the northwest side of Hyde Park, bounded roughly by Grand Central (Kennedy Boulevard) on the north, Swann Avenue on the south, Newport Avenue on the east and Albany Avenue on the west.
The building boom experienced in Hyde Park in the 1910s and 1920s fizzled out by the early 1930s. The Great Depression had a profound effect on Florida, and Tampa’s Hyde Park was not immune. Many of the neighborhood’s grand homes served as boarding houses. World War II continued this trend, and many returning service men used their GI Bill money to buy a home in the “newer” suburbs rather than the “old” neighborhood of Hyde Park.
Decline continued in the 1950s and 1960s, furthered by the construction of the Crosstown Expressway, now the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, which cut through the center of Hyde Park, taking dozens of old homes with it.
When the city of Tampa recognized Hyde Park as a local historic district, following the lead of the federal government, new life began to stir in the old suburb. Guidelines were established to ensure the original architecture would be preserved and that new construction would conform to the old styles. Although this is sometimes ignored or appealed, the guidelines have worked in most cases, and Hyde Park and Tampa have benefited. Hyde Park is considered one of the most sought-after neighborhoods in the city.
Rodney Kite-Powell is the Saunders Foundation Curator of History at the Tampa Bay History Center. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached by phone at (813) 228-0097 or by email at [email protected]