Tampa – A Masterful Blend of Past and Present

by Brandon Watts, RS&H


A city with a rich past and a bright future. In Tampa, the past and the present are blended almost seamlessly together, fusing buildings that are decades old, remodeled with a 21st century charm.

When you visit Tampa, be sure to take time and explore the bay and Ybor City. You will not be disappointed. Step into history by visiting a nearby authentic cigar shop like the Long Ash Cigar, located in the center of Ybor on 7th Ave, Tampa. Here, and at similar places, the cigars are hand rolled in the front of the store by tabaqueros (cigar rollers) and a pairing of wine, liquor, beer or coffee is recommended by your bartender.

My personal favorite is a glass of raspberry/chocolate wine port with a hazelnut cigar.

To help you understand Tampa’s charm, you will have to know the history of Tampa’s biggest markets. Hand rolled cigars, breweries and phosphates contributed to the rapid growth and therefore the creation, of the Tampa we see today.


The History of Tampa and its Phosphates

Before the 1880s, Tampa and Ybor City were both separate and struggling towns failing to keep residents. Faced with a lack of citizens, and therefore, no one to offer any valuable trades or services, Tampa - and what would soon be called Ybor City - were both slowly becoming abandoned. In 1880, the two poverty-stricken towns would soon be changed forever with the help of a discovered deposit of phosphates.

Though the exact day is not known, a man by the name of Captain Bill Kendrick discovered phosphate in the Bone Valley region. This area in Central Florida encompassed portions of present-day Hardee, Hillsborough, Manatee, and Polk counties.

Soon after finding the phosphate deposits, mining and shipping the resource became the road to riches — literally. Six years after phosphate was found, there was a railroad built to transport it.

Henry Plant, who previously acquired the Jacksonville and Key West Railroad, expanded it into Tampa as an investment in the phosphate industry. The South Express Co. would connect its tracks from the Tampa Charlotte Harbor Railroad after acquiring the company in 1884, and the connection was completed in 1886. This decision cost Henry Plant $3 million in 1880, inflating to $65-70 million today.

To this day, Tampa's port still ships millions of tons of phosphate and has been given the nickname "the phosphate capital," since it contains the largest deposit of phosphate in the United States.

Phosphate is a mineral used to make fertilizers, additives, preservatives and other products. Because phosphates play such a valuable role in helping soil stay healthy and feeds the growing crops, adding phosphates allowed the crop and swamp land in Tampa and Ybor to flourish. This brought in American and immigrant farmers to tend the fields to sell and transport the goods to nearby towns.

Along with its role in helping the local crops, phosphates were discovered to provide a steady resource for yeast, and has since been used in the creation of alcohol. Residents began brewing beer in their homes and selling it locally. Soon after, the state's first brewery, the Florida Brewing Company, opened in 1896. Today, Florida has nearly 250 breweries, ranking number 10 on a list of the most independent breweries by state. And do you know what they found to pair well with beer, wine and alcohol? Cigars.


The Rise of Cigars

Another rise that took place alongside of phosphates was cigars. Business owners in neighboring towns saw a great opportunity with the growth in Tampa and Ybor City. Due to the steady work that helped revitalize the farmland and supplied jobs in mining, there became a demand for these services again.

Skilled service men and women that arrived included: blacksmiths to repair the tools, cooks to feed the workers, carpenters to build homes, salesmen to manage shipment, doctors to provide health treatment and any other duties it took to build the city and supply the workers. Between farming, mining, carpeting and assisting the business boom, there was a quick growth in both Tampa and Ybor City. This brought a large influx of Cubans, Spanish, Italians and other immigrants to restore and rebuild the previously poor, small southern towns.

Amongst these immigrants was someone named Vicente Martinez-Ybor, originally from Spain. Vicente immigrated to Cuba to start his cigar company in the 1850s. As his company grew, his business reached a point that expanding in Cuba was getting more difficult. Vincent received word from a friend to move his company to the up and coming town of what was going to be later known as Ybor City - named after his legacy.

Leveraging the growth opportunity, he moved his company in 1886. The industry grew rapidly to over 200 cigar factories in Ybor City, which produced 600 million cigars per year. Present day, there is only one cigar factory currently open and operating in Ybor at a rate of 22 million per year. In total, adding another few million cigars that the local tabaqueros produce, Ybor now produces on average 23-25 million cigars per year.

Visiting Tampa is an experience of seeing a new town with old stories whispered between its locals. You will have the opportunity to experience Ybor City’s history for yourself. The locals know the stories. Some have been here for generations after their great grandparents immigrated to Ybor City. Some of the buildings built in the 1800s and 1900s still stand today. Walking down 7th Street in Ybor City, you will see that the newer surrounding buildings took inspiration from the past in the creation of the future - almost seamlessly.

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