Port Tampa City History

Click here for additional information regarding this historic marker.

Before there was a Port Tampa, the southwestern tip of the Interbay Peninsula was known as Black Point – a good place for fishing.  Settlement of the area began around 1885 when Henry B. Plant selected it for his system of hotels, railways and shipping lines.  Upon completion of the railway extension from Tampa in 1888, Port Tampa became a major freight and passenger railway terminus and international seaport.  Two hotels were built on pilings adjacent to the pier extending a mile into Tampa Bay.  Passengers could step from the train next to the hotels, lean out their chamber window to catch fish to be cooked and served to them, and walk across the pier to board their ship.  Leisure time could be spent at nearby Picnic Island, a recreational and amusement resort.

Port expansion led to the development of the City of Port Tampa. Quarters were built for port workers; stately residences were constructed for sea captains; wealthy merchants built grand homes; cigar factory workers built modest dwellings.

Port Tampa City became a thriving town and a charter was granted by the state legislature on June 30, 1893; a self-governed borough with elected officials, ordinances, and a marshal to keep the peace.

By the time Clara Barton sailed into Port Tampa from Cuba with injured crew members of the USS Maine in April 1898, Henry Plant was successfully lobbying the War Dept. to select Tampa as an assembly point and his docks in Port Tampa as the point of departure for the Spanish-American War – a conflict that would put Tampa on the map.  Troops camped in the port district and on Picnic Island. Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders, among other notables, rode through town on their way to the war in June 1898.

A year later Henry Plant died and his empire was dismantled; neglected wooden structures such as the Plant hotels disintegrated.  Fires destroyed most of the commercial district.  The hurricane of 1921 wreaked havoc in the port district and the beach pier.  Shipping operations outgrew Port Tampa; thus the larger Port of Tampa/Port Tampa Bay, situated on Hillsborough Bay near present-day downtown Tampa, was developed.

Loyal residents, merchants, and city officials persevered through the Great Depression, WWII, and the debate over a new firehouse that was completed in 1961.  Port Tampa City remained a chartered municipality until annexation by the city of Tampa on May 11, 1961.

Today, Port Tampa City is a community culturally, ethnically, and socio-economically diverse.  It has retained its small town fixtures including civic organizations, fraternal orders, churches, community centers, parks, a school, shops and businesses.  Port Tampa City is bordered on the south by MacDill Air Force Base, on the west by Tampa Bay, east by Manhattan Avenue, and north by the former Everett Street just north of McCoy Street.

Historic sites are repurposed: Port Tampa City Library in the former First Bank of Port Tampa City building and later known as the Commerce Bank Building, V.T. Clark’s general store in the earlier Hanks’ Corner until July 2017, American Legion Post #138 on the location of the past Municipal Pier, and West Shore Elementary School on the site of the previous Lottery Building.

Ships hauling bulk products and petroleum continue to dock at the port.  A freight train rolls along the tracks between Port Tampa and Tampa several times a week. That train whistle is a reminder that this port continues to be an international gateway.

A visit to Port Tampa City would not be complete without an outing to Picnic Island’s beach, boat launch, fishing pier, playground, and bird sanctuary; an idyllic recreational locale and a tranquil spot to just sit and watch beautiful sunsets.

Some things are constant:  Port Tampa City is still a good place for fishing.

More information on the history of Port Tampa City is included in the book Port Tampa City – A History of Changein the reference section of the Port Tampa City Library.  Library hours effective January 2018:  10:00 AM – 6:00 PM Mondays through Saturday,  closed Sundays and national holidays.


6 Responses to Port Tampa City History

  1. myaka says:

    Thanks for clearing up a few points that other websites have distorted
    This article is a very accurate account of Port Tampa’s history.

  2. Jan says:

    Carol, Jill & Sonya
    Great collaboration!

  3. Jan says:

    The former Port Tampa Inn is featured in an article in the Tampa Tribune 9.18.2011.

  4. Diana Chappelle says:

    I recall in the late 50s or so, there was a skating rink on Westshore in Port Tampa. It was on the east side of the road and was not an enclosed building but open air with some sort of roof, maybe a tent top. I saw on a website an area called ‘Pavillion in the Park’ and was wondering if that may have had something to do with its location. At some point in time the skating rink was torn down.

    Just wanted to see if anyone else remembers this!

  5. Joyce W. Reddish says:

    Thank you Rodney Milligan for sharing this information. My parents brought me to Port Tampa from Alabama in 1949. The city was so segregated that I missed learning the history.

  6. Jim Strickland says:

    Your mention of “V.T. Clark’s general store in the earlier Hanks’ Corner” spurred a memory or two. As I recall Mrs. Hanks was the Post Mistress, back then the Post Office was on that corner also, and the Hanks home was just south adjacent to the corner. My father, C. Clyde Strickland, (known as Butch for obvious reasons) owned Peninsular Grocery (Circa 1940-1960) next to Doc. Kelton’s Drug Store, until he sold it to V.T.
    I liked Doc. Kelton, and Mrs. Kelton was a sweetheart. Growing up, I enjoyed hanging out with them in the drugstore. Doc. Kelton had a penchant to take a little nip on occasion and I recall my father getting some late night phone calls from Mrs. Kelton and off he would go with a couple of quarts of our goat’s milk to help sober Doc. up.

    One block to the south of Hank’s corner was Lochary’s Garage. Mr. & Mrs. Lochary lived next door and had an outdoor screened room where their parakeets lived. I also remember the skating rink in the park with a tent roof and sides that rolled up. I skated there often.

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