The land of sunshine, sand and sea, Florida in the United states has a rich history going back thousands of years. Human presence in this south eastern tropical state dates back at least 10000 to 12000 years. The state boasts of a rich fauna and flora and even today is synonymous with alligators, crocodiles and manatees apart from being home to about 4,700 species of native or naturalized plants. The culture of the state is a reflection of the multiple influences of native Americans including the Seminole, European Americans, Spanish and African American heritages. There are several insightful museums in and around Tampa that are a treasure house of valuable information pertaining to the evolution of Florida and Tampa Bay. A quick look at some of them:
Tampa Bay History centre
Located in downtown Tampa close to the waterfront, the History centre is an ode to 12000 years of Floridian history with a special focus on the Tampa Bay region. Spanning three floors, it traces the origin of the first people of Florida i.e the American Indians who thrived in the naturally gifted Tampa bay area. The displays of dug out canoes, pots, vessels and weapons used by these early inhabitants are noteworthy.
The museum also covers the history of the Seminole tribe who were known for their resourcefulness and perseverance. The objects used by them including their traditional attire, baskets and miscellaneous craft items are on display.
Details on the natural history, evolution of housing, farming and trade in the state can be obtained in the form of information boards, interactive displays and even movies. The one on Tampa port is truly informative.
The museum has a special focus on Tampa and covers several interesting aspects related to the city including the main points of interest and of course the entire history related to the Cigar industry that was first established in the 1880s. Several bygone landmarks like the erstwhile Fairy Land on Sligh Avenue have been showcased and vignettes from the park have been preserved here.
Spread over an area of about 60000 square feet, it forms for a great day visit by taking you back in time and linking today’s culture with eternal icons of the past.
Henry B Plant Museum
Situated in the southern part of Plant Hall or Tampa Bay hotel on the campus of University of Tampa, this museum focuses on the life and times of the railroad magnet, Henry B Plant. A pioneer, who is many a time referred to as the ‘King of Florida‘, Henry B Plant was responsible for building key infrastructure projects in the state mainly in the form of railroads laying the foundation for an ‘industrious’ Florida and Tampa . As the owner of the Plant System of railway and steamer lines, he also had a keen interest in hospitality and owned 8 hotels along the west coast of Florida, with the Tampa Bay hotel being the grandest of them hall.
Often referred to as ‘Florida’s first magic kingdom‘, the museum offers a peek into the life of luxury in old Florida. A Victorian railroad resort that was completed in 1891 by Henry B. Plant, the hotel costed close to a whopping 3 million USD during that time. With 500 people working simultaneously, this 511 room resort was the epitome of all opulence and magnificence. Most rooms had their own baths, electricity and telephones, quintessential symbols of luxury at the time.
The audio tour is highly useful and a walk through the majestic property transports you into the world of the Grand Salon, music room, reading and writing room of the hotel.
The original furniture, furnishings, artifacts, newspapers, writing pads, cutlery etc have been well preserved giving a chance for visitors to relive the grandeur of the yesteryears.
The hotel’s invaluable contribution during time of the Spanish-American war and its connection with Tampa is also outlined in detail.
Ybor City Museum State Park
Ybor city is the Latin quarter of Tampa which was home to the 30,000 odd immigrants who laid the foundation of the Cigar industry. This moved on to grow into the largest cigar industry in the world, famous for the production of “clear Havana” cigars. The history, culture and heritage of various immigrants like the Spaniards, Italians, Jews and the Germans made Ybor city an eclectic and vibrant neighborhood.
The exponential growth of Ybor city also led to the development of several ancillary businesses like restaurants, bakeries, clubs and the like.
The museum has several displays pertaining to the manufacture of cigars, step by step process of rolling cigars and the life and times of factory workers.
Naples Depot museum
Situated in the restored Seaboard Air Line Railway passenger station in Naples downtown, the Depot museum takes visitors to the days of the rail road boom that played a prominent role in transforming Florida into a booming trade and tourist centre. The journey of the historic Atlantic Coast line that took 23.5 hours from New York to Florida during those times is incredibly traced.
Vignettes of the train including the vintage time table, station master trivia, type writers, notice boards etc are some of the priceless items on display.
Apart from the Seminole and Calusa tribes, the museum focuses specifically on the city of Naples and its development.
There are specific displays pertaining to the evolution of fishing, trade and transport in Naples apart from details on the history of the Naples Depot and Naples Pier.
Located in house is the Naples Train Museum that has a delighful train ride for children.