The rich history of Tampa, FL

Located in the first state colonized by Europeans in the 16th century, one would have expected the city of Tampa, Florida, to have been incorporated sooner. History, however, isn’t always what we expect. The city’s history is a rich tapestry of struggles, successes, and development. Still transitioning from an area that was overlooked by the first European settlers that chose Florida’s east coast to colonize to the city “where the good life gets better every day” was quite a journey and we are here to discover it.

The city of Tampa, Florida, is located on the western shore of the state, north of Tampa Bay and right at the mouth of the Hillsborough River. Its connections to the neighboring cities of St. Petersburg and Clearwater are made by the Gandy and Howard Frankland bridges as well as the Courtney Campbell Causeway. Together, these three cities encompass one of Florida’s largest metropolitan areas.

When we discuss a city’s history, we try not to dismiss major events that took place but covering every struggle encountered won’t be practical. This is why we are going to go over the main events that influenced the city of Tampa, FL to become the city we see today. The economy here is growing and the real estate market is catching up to the trends of the other metropolitan areas in the state. Real estate agents in Tampa FL can supply all the information you might need if you’re considering a real estate transaction in this area.

Pre-colonial Civilization and First European Settlement

The first time Europeans reached the western coast of what is now the state of Florida was in 1528. The so-called settlers were originally from Spain although no settlement resulted from that trip. They reached the Tampa Bay area but when they encountered native tribes (the Tocobaga, the Timucua, the Apalachee, and the Caloosa) they were told stories of riches further north. Because of that they abandoned the area in a futile venture. These tribes had inhabited the area for over 3,500 years before the Europeans discovered America, so they had a good knowledge of the available riches or lack thereof. As they wanted the Europeans off their lands, they told them lies. After a dozen years of fruitless explorations, Hernando de Soto’s expedition found one survivor of the Narváez Expedition. 

Upon encountering the native tribe, de Soto engineered a peace treaty with the natives to establish a Spanish outpost. Because the natives weren’t interested in Catholicism, were skilled in combat and the search for gold came out empty, the outpost was abandoned. The downside of these early explorations, however, is the transmission of European diseases to native inhabitants. With no immunity to these new germs, the native population was decimated in the following decades. This led to the almost complete destruction of native culture in Florida’s peninsula and this area was practically uninhabited for the next 200 years.

From the 1700s, the Europeans looked back at this area. In the late 1700s, the British settlers held the area, only to be claimed back by the Spanish after the American Revolution. Florida’s Gulf Coast was of little concern to European settlers, and in 1821, the US bought Florida from Spain for $5 million to stop the natives’ migration and use this southern refuge for slaves.

The Seminole natives and runaway slaves saw northern Florida as a haven, but the new settlers wanted to inhabit the area and grow cotton. The solution was to relocate the native Seminole further south. In order to protect the area from angry Seminoles, a fort was established east of Hillsborough River in 1824 as the first permanent settlement known throughout history as Fort Brooke.

Economic Turbulence and War Impact

The following decades were struck with recurrent conflicts between the settlers and the Seminoles recorded as the first, second, and third Seminole Wars (1830s – 1840s). The attacks between the opposing sides affected both populations. Still, after the Third Seminole War, while the natives were forced to move to territories in Oklahoma, the settlers struggled with yellow fever epidemics. This hurricane destroyed many settlements, but by 1858 the town started to experience signs of growth.

A short period of lucrative activities began through the Cuban beef trade, shipping, and shipbuilding, and by 1855, Tampa had grown enough to be incorporated as a city. However, the Civil War led to an economic struggle for the city of Tampa that was complicated by repeated outbreaks of yellow fever.

When phosphate deposits were discovered near the city’s limits in the 1880s, the dying city was rejuvenated, and economic growth began once more. The Tampa & Key West Railroad company reached the city bringing new settlers and business opportunities to the city. The Cuban cigar manufacturer Vicente Martinez Ybor transformed Tampa into the cigar city of America, this becoming its chief industry.

For a period of fifty years, Tampa’s economy flourished. With World War I, the increased demand for ships kept the city’s docks busy, and with the turn of the century, developers gave rise to Tampa’s building industry and population. This real estate growth overcame the market collapse of 1926, but the Great Depression hit the city’s economy in the 1930s. The cigar industry came crashing down as automation left many people without jobs and since then, cigar manufacturing became a trailing industry in the city’s economy.

Post War Decline and Rebirth

From a paralyzed economy, Tampa managed to overcome the struggles of its industries due to American’s growing involvement in World War II. As troops were stationed in and around the city of Tampa and the shipping industry received more and more contracts from the government, the city’s economy grew. However, the downturn of this growth was a depopulation of the downtown area as residents had the finances to relocate to the city’s suburbs. 

Businesses were suffering once again and in the early 1970s, both government and businesses collaborated to save the city’s downtown area and image. Tampa’s renewal program showed signs of success during the 1970s and 1980s through a carefully planned approach to improve the city’s downtown region. New office buildings were developed, stores, convention centers, stadiums, and residential real estate led the city’s economy to thrive again. 

The boom from business expansions and firms relocating to Tampa from the 1990s can still be seen on the city’s streets today and the growth doesn’t seem to slow in intensity. This growth will lead Tampa in tomorrow’s future and it will ensure a significant role in the ongoing history of the nation.


There are times when history is a struggle to cover and the richer it is the more difficult it is to gather information. While Tampa, Florida, doesn’t have the lengthy history of European or Asian cities, the city did endure some struggles over the years. Tampa’s ability to overcome every obstacle that was hindering its growth gives us all a taste of the city’s strength and motivation. Nothing that comes easy is worth it, but where there is struggle there are also those who overcome it. Collaboration and bridges paved the way for the city of Tampa, Florida, to become the thriving community it is today and we can all benefit from it. We see it in the military, in trading, and in the sustainable way of life implemented by the city’s leaders. Many other cities are leading the way towards a better tomorrow and Tampa should be an example considering all the struggles it endured.

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