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The New York Times, January 24, 1892, p. 20:




    We read of cities destroyed by earthquakes of swallowed up by floods; but no town has ever disappeared more completely than the Tampa of ten years ago. It has been wafted away by these gentle southern breezes, without violent commotion, and in its place has sprung up the brick and stone Tampa of the present.

    Old Tampa was a typical Florida town, far removed from civilization, with sand shoe-top deep in the streets, unpainted wooden houses, mule carts from the backwoods in front of the few stores, and the highest of prices charged for the inferior goods that in those days were prepared expressly for the Southern market. The only way to reach it was by semi-weekly steamer from Cedar Keys; but reaching it was not of nearly as much importance to the visitor as getting away. Now it is reached by two railroads and several lines of steamboats, and it is growing as fast as masons and carpenters can put new buildings together.

    Tampa would most likely be the same sleepy old town now that it was then, had not the Plant Investment Company felt the need for a tidewater terminus and fixed upon the Tampa region as its Southern headquarters. The most southerly railroad in the United States then was the South Florida, which ended at Kissimmee, a short distance north of the great Okeechobee Lake. The first step in the development of the new plan was the extension of this road to Tampa.

    Nothing further was looked for then by the public than the giving of rail facilities to Tampa, and perhaps an increase in the market gardening and orange raising industries in that neighborhood, for the company did not advertise its plans to the world, but went on complacently step by step, evidently with the principle in view that I heard Mr. Plant expound to one of his chief officers a few days ago: "We are not working only for the present, but for the future."

    The extension fo the railroad to Tampa was only an entering wedge. Tampa lies at the head of Tampa Bay, at the mouth of the Hillsborough River, about thirty miles from the Gulf of Mexico. The water is too shallow to admit of the entrance of large vessels, and even the larger coasting steamers were compelled to anchor some miles down the bay. But surveyors had been at work years before, and had found that the nearest deep water was about ten miles down the bay at the point which has since become Port Tampa.

    The railroad was extended to that point, and it ended at first on a white-sand beach, a mile away from the navigable channel. Then a great trestle was built out into the bay, tracks were laid upon it, and at the end of the trestle were erected warehouses, offices, stores, and a handsome hotel.

    Thus Port Tampa came into existence, with water to float any vessel, and with every necessity and convenience of a port of entry. A line of steamships was at once established to Havana, another one to Jamaica, a third to Mobile, and a little later a fourth line, running down the Gulf coast, and such a business sprung up that a neighboring town becmame a necessity for the accommodation of the hundreds of persons employed at "The Port."

    This was the beginning of "Port Tampa City," which three or four years ago was a collection of a few dozen houses at the shore end of the trestle, and which now is a growing town of considerable size, with streets, stores, and churches and schools.

    Tampa thus became an important seaport, but it was not yet a "port of entry." It was merely a "port of delivery;" that is, vessels could enter at Key West and receive permission to discharge their cargoes at Tampa. Business increased so rapidly, however, that the Government found it necessary to make Tampa a port of entry, and a Custom House was built and a Collector appointed.

    In 1881 there were no customs officers at Tampa and no receipts. It was made a port of entry in 1886, and in that year the customs receipts were $1,700. So fast did the business grow that in 1890 the customs receipts amounted to $269,000.

    Reaching deep water, however, was not the end of the gigantic plans of the company. With Tampa already become the third city of Florida, with ships constantly arriving from all parts of the world, with the cigar-making industry moving up from Key West to a point farther inland, where the tobacco would not be injured by salt air, and above all, with the improved traveling facilities bringing thousands of Northern people to the healthy Gulf coast every Winter, the need of a great hotel was felt, and the Tampa Bay Hotel was built. Here again, the company builded "not only for the present, but for the future.

    In old times the smaller steamboats ran up to a rickety wharf in Tampa, in front of a little wooden hotel, which still stands, one of the few remaining relics of old Tampa. There was no bridge then across the Hillsborough river, and no necessity for one, for all of Tampa lay on the eastern shore.

    Opposite the old steamboat landing was a large tract of partially cleared land, on one end of which was an orange grove. This land slopes gently to the river, and the summit commands a view of almost the entire city. The wildest imagination of the most optimistic citizen of old Tampa could not have pictured one of the great buildings of the world standing on this neglected spot, but there to-day stands the Tampa Bay Hotel, one of the largest and finest buildings in the country, made of brick and iron, glass and mahogany, a building to stand for centuries, designed, like the rest, "not only for the present, but for the future."

    It was a gigantic undertaking to build such a hotel in such a place, for it was begun when Tampa was still only a growing little town and before the business of the port had developed. But it was evidently part of the great plan from the beginning, and the plan unfolded and unfolded and is still unfolding. To describe the Tampa Bay Hotel is much like trying to describe the pine tree which was so tall that a man had to look twice to see the top. The hotel might be described well in sections, but hardly in one mass.

    It is built of red brick, with stone and terra cotta trimmings, and its general shape is somewhat crescentric, with the depression facing the river, and with a dozen silvered domes and minarets rising from its roof. It is 1,200 feet long, and has accommodations for a thousand guests, and they tell me that from the rotunda to the dining room is 500 feet.

    But it is the inside of a hotel that is of most importance to a visitor, and I shall try to describe some of the interior features that particularly struck my fancy. First in order and in importance is the arrangement of the rotunda.

    I call it a rotunda for want of a better name, though it is a great square hall, seventy feet by seventy. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to make this vast apartment cold and gloomy; but instead of this it is the most comfortable place in the house, the general assembly room of all the guests, men and women, and as cozy, notwithstanding its size, as a family sitting room.

    This is a new feature in American hotels, and one that I hope may soon be copied in other places. It recognizes the fact that men and women like to be together, to sit together and talk with one another as freely and as comfortably as they may in their own libraries after dinner. It recognizes the fact, too, that man is an animal who smokes, and that it is not positively necessary for him to go off by himself to the barroom or to the reading room to enjoy his cigar, but that he may with propriety sit down by his wife (or perhaps by somebody else's wife) in the comfortable chairs in the rotunda and smoke to his heart's content. An important problem in social science has been solved here: Given a man with a cigar, or no man at all, which will a woman choose? But this arrangement of a hotel's rotunda is as much an advantage to the women as to the men. It is as free to them as to their lords; and it leaves absolutely no excuse for a man's sneaking off by himself to regions where women may not go.

    Everybody enters and leaves the hotel by this rotunda, and everything that is going on may be watched from the rocking chairs and arm chairs that dot the floor. There are scores of these chairs, of all sizes, shapes, and patterns. The floor is covered with a warm red carpet, in strips five feet wides; 3,000 yards of this carpet having been used in various parts of the hotel. There are many bronze statues, and many handsome paintings, and steam heaters to be used when necessary, and open fireplaces, and big antique vases that are uncommon handy to drop cigar ashes in.

    If I could carry away one section of the Tampa Bay Hotel for my own use and gratification, I should take the rotunda without hesitation.

    In the bedrooms there are various things that are not to be found elsewhere. Here is my own, for instance, stop in and let us see what we can find. But if it is daytime, you cannot see what a joy I have in the matter of lights. Here is a circular mirror, about a foot and a half in diameter, set in the ceiling, with a cluster of three electric lights immediately under it. When these are turned on there is not merely a glitter of light in one part of the room and darkness all around, but the whole room is made brilliant from floor to ceiling.

    Here is a little brass handle, you will observe, just by the head of the bed. That handle turns on the ceiling lights, and turns them off again. It is also by the side of the door, so that at night you turn on your lights before entering the room and turn them off after you have left it. For those people who have a habit of reading in bed, and who always complain of the labor of turning out the light, this arrangement is a godsend.

    Here is a mysterious little black instrument on the wall, made of vulcanized rubber, and looking somewhat like a toy telephone. It is indeed a telephone, but not a toy one. The transmitter is smaller than the half of a cigar box, and the ear piece is about the size of three thimbles.

    When it was decided to put telephones in the rooms, Mr. Plant objected to the unsightly affairs in common use, and applied to the Bell Telephone Company for something better. These tiny instruments were the result, made especially for the Tampa Bay Hotel.

    By pressing a button on the side, "Central is called up." "Central" is the hotel office, and through it any part of the hotel can be called. We can sit here and talk with the chef, with the chief steward, with the head waiter, with the laundry, the wine room, or any one of a dozen different departments. Not only this; we can call up Port Tampa and inquire whether the Olivette is in from Havana, or how many passengers came down in the fast mail, or the state of the tide, or anything we wish to know. Still more, we can be connected in a twinkling with the Tampa telephone line, and ask Box & Sox, the stationers, to send us over a quire of paper or a family Bible. We can thus talk with any business firm in town, and order anything desired.

    We will walk down, if you please, through the 500 feet of space between the rotunda and the dining room--still walking over the soft red carpet I have mentioned before. The first half of the journey is through the broad corridor, between rows of rooms. This long hall is lighted in a curious and ingenious way--and we cannot pretend to stop long enough to look at any but the curious things.

    The ceiling is unusually high, fifteen to eighteen feet, and the space over the door leading to each room is one big sheet of plate glass, in the form of a Moorish arch. This glass part is so high that no one can possibly see through it, but the light from the rooms comes through, and makes the corridor bright.

    At the end of the corridor is the Solarium, a circular apartment full of windows, through which the sun is continually shining. Going through this, there is one more long, broad corridor, and at the further end a large orchestrion, which plays a variety of tunes while we eat our daily bread. A few feet before the orchestrion is reached are the doors leading to the great dining room.

    These things, however, are merely geographical; it is the things seen by the way that attract our attention. I say geographical rather than architectural, for when a building spreads itself out over a large part of a county its exploration pertains more to geography than to architecture.

    There are fine and fancy chairs on both sides of this long corridor, but no two alike. There are porcelain stands in every conceivable shape and color, supporting vases of flowers, but all the stands and all the vases and all the flowers different. There are rare paintings and engravings on the walls, all brought from Europe, and the centre of the Solarium is filled with flowers and plants, all growing out of fancy urns.

    At the end of the hall, in front of the dining-room doors, we come upon the Bishop. This gentleman is in reality the head waiter, ready to show us through the labyrinth of tables in the dining room; but if ever nature made the face and figure of a Bishop, she made it here, which leads me to wonder that nature so often makes waiters who look like Bishops and Bishops who look like waiters.

    Some of those gentlemen of the pen who can write a column or two about a snow-capped mountain peak and go into ten-page ecstasies over a sunrise should stand in the middle of the Tampa Bay Hotel parlor and let their immaculate English flow unrestrained. Here is a chance for the imagination to flap its wings.

    There are a dozen or twenty sets of furniture, all different in color and design. There are cabinets of ebony brought from the historical corners of Europe. There are large mirrors of beveled glass everwhere, without frames. There are statues and statuettes, reclining marble figures, and vases, and curtains, and everything that the mind can imagine, and much more.

    The number of public rooms is almost without limit. The ladies' writing room, the ladies boudoir, the gentlemen's writing room, the parlor, the rotunda, are only a few of them; and on the floor below are barber's shops, and billiard rooms, and a barroom, and a caf?, and card rooms, and many others.

    Mr. Plant took me through the lower regions on the night before the hotel was opened, by the light of a lantern, and it was like going through the Catacombs.

    What a time a fussy man would have in managing such a hotel! But there is no fuss here; everything moves along as smoothly as though it went by machinery. One never hears an order given, or any scolding or directing. The trains come up in the rear of the hotel, but we know of it only by the new faces coming in.

    Mr. J. H. King, formerly in charge of the Oglethorpe, at Brunswick, Ga., is the man who is responsible for all this good order. He is the manager of the Tampa Bay Hotel; and he has demonstrated already, although the house has been open only a few days, that he has the business completely in hand.

    Mr. King was for many years in charge of the catering for the Alexandre Line of steamers, and when the Alexandres sold out, he took charge of the Oglethorpe. What his reputation was there is evidenced by Mr. Plant's inducing him to take charge of the Tampa Bay Hotel.

    He has brought with him a staff of assistants on whom he can rely, realizing that such a place must be managed largely through the heads of departments. He told me how many separate departments there are, but the figures are too large for me to remember.

    Of one of Mr. King's assistants, and a very important one, I can speak from personal knowledge. When I first went out to Bermuda years ago, when George C. Mead was proprietor of the Hamilton Hotel there, Mrs. Mead was, of course, the chief housekeeper. When I revisited Bermuda three years ago and found the enlarged Hamilton in new hands, Mrs. Mead was still the housekeeper, and a wonderfully white and neat and clean place it was.

    When I went into the Tampa Bay Hotel this year on the night before its opening, almost the first person I met up the stairs was Mrs. Mead, now the chief housekeeper of this establishment. I should almost have known that she was there without seeing her by the wonderful cleanness of everything and the tidy way the maids were dusting the myriads of ornaments.

W.D. [William Drysdale]

    About the Tampa Bay Hotel: "The hotel was financed by [Henry Bradley] Plant personally, not investors, at a cost of $2,500,000 and an additional $500,000 was spent for furnishings. It took two years to build, covered six acres and was one-quarter mile long. The 511 rooms were the first in Florida to be electrified. Advertised as completely fireproof, the structure is built of poured concrete reinforced with steel rails and cables in between floors... After the death of Henry Plant, the building was bought by the city of Tampa in 1904. It continued to operate as a hotel until 1930. In 1933, the Tampa Municipal Museum was established... becoming the Henry B. Plant Museum in 1974.

Interactive satellite photo and street map of Tampa centered on the Henry B. Plant Museum (the Tampa Bay Hotel).

30 historic photos of Tampa from the late 19th & early 20th century; most are of the Tampa Bay Hotel and its grounds.