Travel · United States

4 museums to visit in and around Tampa for Floridian history, culture and nature

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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.

First human presence in Florida who used dug out canoes
First human presence in Florida who used dug out canoes
Objects used by the early inhabitants of Florida
Objects used by the early inhabitants of Florida

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.

Seminole costumes
Seminole costumes
Objects used by the Seminole tribe
Objects used by the Seminole tribe

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.

Early Floridian houses
Early Floridian houses

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.

Three little pigs vignette in the erstwhile Fairyland
Three little pigs vignette in the erstwhile Fairyland

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.

The opulent corridors of the Tampa Bay hotel
The opulent corridors of the Tampa Bay hotel

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.

Interiors of the Tampa Bay hotel
Interiors of the Tampa Bay hotel

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.

Reading room at the Tampa Bay hotel
Reading and writing room at the Tampa Bay 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.

Original artefacts at the hotel
Original artefacts at the hotel

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.

Display indicating the emergence of the immigrants in Tampa
Display indicating the emergence of the immigrants in Tampa

A unique place home to a melange of cuisines, languages and traditions, Ybor city’s immigrants stayed connected to their roots and founded ethnic social clubs.  The museum in Ybor city provides indepth information on all of these aspects including the life of the pioneering Vicente Martinez Ybor.

The exponential growth of Ybor city also led to the development of several ancillary businesses like restaurants, bakeries, clubs and the like.

Oven used by the bakeries in Ybor city
Oven used by the bakeries in Ybor city
Vessels and baking equipment used in Ybor city bakeries
Vessels and baking equipment used in Ybor city bakeries

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.

Cigar factory workers at Ybor city
Cigar factory workers at Ybor city

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.

Historic Atlantic Coast Line coach
Historic Atlantic Coast Line coach
Vintage clock and timetable of the Historic Atlantic Coast
Vintage clock and timetable of the Historic Atlantic Coast

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.

Model of a Seminole in a dug out canoe in Naples Depot museum
Model of a Seminole in a dug out canoe in Naples Depot museum

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.

Car on display at Naples Depot museum
Car on display at Naples Depot museum

Development of air transport in Naples

Development of air transport in Naples

Located in housee is the Naples Train Museum that has a delighful train ride for children.  To read more on the attractions is and around Tampa and Naples read my posts here and here.

To read about other attractions in Florida click here.

15 thoughts on “4 museums to visit in and around Tampa for Floridian history, culture and nature

  1. There is so much to explore in Tampa, Thank you for sharing Rashmi! Our only tryst with Florida was Orlando but as I read through your article, it looks like these museums definitely offer a unique & wonderful experience! Eloquent narration as always:)

  2. We spent a couple of nights in Ybor City and loved it there. Some great suggestions for other things to do in Tampa here – I hope some day we’ll be back and can try them out.

  3. Let me know if you head to Sarasota/Bradenton (my hometown)…. (I don’t live there anymore, but I know some great areas to check out…

  4. Your impressive post on the Tampa Bay native people goes a long way to increase the awareness of the cultural contribution and heritage of the aboriginal peoples in North America! Thank you!

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