Friday, October 20, 2006

Tampa Bay Hotel

Recently I took a class (USF St. Petersburg Honors Program) on a field trip to the Henry B. Plant Museum in Tampa. The museum is in one wing of what was originally the Tampa Bay Hotel.

The Tampa Bay Hotel was part of an elaborate 1880s resort built by Henry B. Plant, a Connecticut native who made a fortune building railroad networks throughout the South and Florida. Tampa was the southern terminus of his South Florida Railroad. From Tampa, passengers could travel to Key West, Havana, or other Caribbean ports on a Plant steamship.

Whether inspired by the great northern resorts, or by the success of Henry Flager's hotels and railroads on the east coast of Florida, Plant built an elaborate and massive Moorish Revival hotel on the shore of the Hillsborough River. The hotel was much more of a destination than the town itself, but Plant put Tampa on the world scene.

The Tampa Bay Hotel was never a complete success, but thousands of people came to see it. In 1898, when Tampa became the Army's port of embarkation for the Spanish-American War, the hotel was packed to the rafters with officers and journalists. The hotel was eventually sold in the early 20th century, and in the 1930s became part of the
University of Tampa

The Henry B. Plant Museum is a good field trip experience for grade school through college age students. It is also a good family-oriented cultural site near downtown Tampa. Check their website for directions and a calendar of events.

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