Established in the early 1880’s, notable ‘Heights’ residents included Judge Joseph Robles, W.B. Henderson, and Wallace Stoval, founders 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.
Yellow Fever Epidemic
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. 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 its 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.
Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders
The Rough Riders is the name bestowed on the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry, one of three such regiments raised in 1898 for the Spanish–American War and the only one of the three to see action. The United States Army was small and understaffed in comparison to its status during the American Civil War roughly thirty years prior. On May 29, 1898, 1060 Rough Riders and 1258 of their horses and mules made their way to the Southern Pacific railroad to travel to Tampa, Florida where they would set off for Cuba. These various regiments were situated in various areas from Port Tampa to Ybor City with principal encampment being in the two hundred and fifty acres of pine forest specially designated military grounds at Tampa Heights.
African-Americans were not permitted to enlist as army regulars until after the Civil War. Organized into separate infantry and cavalry units, the black regiments were assigned to protect settlers in the American West. Native Americans, in honor of the fighting spirit of the African-American troops, called them “Buffalo Soldiers.” In April 1898, the United States declared war against Spain. Thousands of U.S. soldiers arrived in Tampa to prepare for an invasion of Cuba. Ten regiments, including two black units, camped on the fringes of the elegant Tampa Heights neighborhood. The Twenty-fourth Infantry was located just north of this marker, while the Twenty-fifth camped to the southeast. The Buffalo Soldiers fostered pride among local blacks while encountering hostility in Tampa. On the eve of the army’s embarkation for Cuba, Tampa was the scene of a serious clash between the black and white troops. Overcoming racial obstacles, the Buffalo Soldiers distinguished themselves on the battlefield in Cuba and the Philippines, earning five medals of honor for valor at San Juan and El Caney.
Our community prospered, benefiting businesses and early 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 at 305 East Columbus Drive was built in 1906, now known as Lee Elementary School of Technology. The Brewster Technical Center located at 2222 North Tampa Street was built in 1925, was known as the “opportunity school” because of its vocational and career training. Alicia Neve, a prominent Tampa Heights resident, bequeathed her home to the Salesian Sisters in 1938 who founded Villa Madonna School at 315 West Columbus Drive. Sacred Heart Academy, now closed, at 3515 North Florida Avenue opened its doors in 1931. Jefferson High School located at 2704 North Highland Avenue graduated many Tampa dignitaries, one of whom went on to become Florida’s Governor Bob Martinez.
In the 1960s with affordability and access, the automobile brought significant change to urban centers across the United States, including Tampa. With existing prevalent racial bias and increased urban crime, residents began to seek new areas in which to build homes and raise families. Many of the homes of early settlers were purchased by savvy investors intent on turning them into rental properties. Many beautiful old homes were dissected into multiple rental units for the purpose of increasing profitability. A large number of homes throughout the area fell into significant disrepair. Businesses closed and moved to areas of newer development and profitability. The area became widely known as a hotbed of criminal activity.
Return to the City’s Core
The early 1970s ushered in the country’s first fuel crisis, and successive decades saw a steady increase in gasoline prices. What had been a fairly insignificant portion of a family’s budget in the 1960’s became a significant part of ongoing expense in commuting between jobs and homes. The $.31 cent price per-gallon cost in 1962, over the next three decades, rose to $2.00 by the end of the century. Lengthy commutes and additional gasoline price increases bought with it individuals and families seeking to return to and rebuild the urban core. Slowly at first but increasing in subsequent years many began returning to Tampa Heights and surrounding areas seeking shorter job commutes related costs. Thus began the task of re-shining the urban jewel known as Tampa Heights.