Overview of Tampa Heights History
Tampa Heights is a beautiful community. It is a picturesque neighborhood where stately oak trees, brick streets, and dedicated residents create a small-town feeling. b The convenience of being close to downtown and Ybor City, as well as easy access to both I-4 and I-275, affords Tampa Heights a uniquely central location.
Its glorious past sets the stage for the renaissance now taking place. Established in the early 1880's, notable 'Heights' residents included Judge Joseph Robles, W.B. Henderson, and Wallace Stoval, founder of the Tampa Tribune. Thomas Puch Kennedy, the son of one of Tampa's earliest pioneers is credited with naming Tampa Heights when he moved just one mile north of downtown to the "Highlands". Thus began downtown residents' first flight into the suburbs. One hundred years ago, Tampa Heights was developed as the first suburb of Tampa. One hundred years later, the neighborhood is experiencing resurgence as downtown's newest/oldest suburb.
While the economic boom gave rise to Tampa Heights in 1883, the yellow fever epidemic of 1887 prompted even more people to move into the area. Many believed the elevation of "The Heights" made the neighborhood a healthier place to live and to raise families. Primarily businessmen and professionals built stately homes in the area south of 7th Avenue. Working-class residents constructed simple framed homes in the area of Palm Avenue to Columbus Drive. The element common to the "Heights" home was the front porch. Wealthy or working class, conversing on the front porch in the evening, was common to all. The 1900 winter real estate issue of the Tampa Tribune evidenced the neighborhood's popularity. Nearly half of the featured residences were located in Tampa Heights.
Tampa Heights' location, and its access to transportation, has always been a central feature of the area. The Tampa Street Railway Company line located its midway point in the "Heights". The trolley from Ybor City, and its cigar-making industry, wound it way out to the suburbs of west Tampa. The advent of the automobile pushed the development of Florida and Nebraska Avenues into major commercial arteries heading into and out of downtown. The community prospered, benefiting businesses and residents alike.
Along with business development, another indicator of Tampa Heights' prosperity was the construction of many beautiful churches and schools. The First Congregational Church relocated from downtown Tampa in 1885 and constructed a massive building at 2201 North Florida Avenue, dedicating the building in 1906 to early pioneer Obadiah H. Platt. When the congregation relocated in the 1950's, the church stood vacant for many years and was badly damaged by fire in the1990's. It was in 1900, that a group of First Baptist Church members founded the Palm Avenue Baptist Church. The massive, three-story, brick church still stands at the corner of Palm and Florida Avenues. A distinctive Tampa Heights structure is The Saint James House of Prayer, constructed in 1922 from rocks dredged from the nearby Hillsborough River. The 'Rock Church' on the corner of Central and Columbus Avenues is easily identifiable. The existing church building that housed Tampa Heights Methodist Church was built in 1910; it was remodeled after a serious fire in 1948.
There were many schools built in the area to serve the growing population. The Michigan Residence (305 East Columbus Drive) built in 1906, now the Lee Elementary School of Technology; Brewster Technical Center (2222 North Tampa Street) built in 1925, was known as the "opportunity school" because of its vocational and career training. Alicia Neve, a prominent Tampa Heights resident, willed her home to the Salesian Sisters in 1938 who founded Villa Madonna School (315 West Columbus Drive). Sacred Heart Academy, at (3515 North Florida Avenue) opened its doors in 1931. Jefferson High School (2704 North Highland Avenue) graduated many Tampa dignitaries, one of which went on to become Florida's Governor Bob Martinez.
Residents, business owners and government officials, who appreciated the history of the area, are investing in its future. The Mayor's Office has worked with the Preservation Board and Tampa Preservation, Inc. to restore the area by creating the Tampa Heights Historic District. A new development is being planned along the Hillsborough River. The "Community Redevelopment Area" will include multi-family and single-family residences along with office and retail space. Its design is to be in keeping with the architecture of the surrounding neighborhood.
Realizing the value of being close to downtown has sparked the redevelopment of Tampa Heights. The prominence of the Mayor's Heights project and the dedication of its Civic Association, has created an atmosphere that has brought renewed interest in the neighborhood, creating opportunities for the future.