Newsletter | September 2018
Good News (and a little history)
First the Good News…
Fundraising is Complete!
The Harborwalk Mural Project
And now some History…
Henry Plant – The “King of Florida”
(Picture from the Henry B. Plant Museum)
If you’ve joined us on a mural tour or attended one of our history classes you’ve heard about Henry Plant and his role in southwest Florida’s railroad industry and specifically his impact on the development of Punta Gorda. He’s featured in our “End of the Line” mural on the corner of US 41 N and Marion Avenue.
You may have also heard of another Henry, Henry Flagler, whose focus was developing the east coast’s rail system. But did you know there was a connection between the two men? Flagler was one of the initial investors in Plant’s Investment Company started in Sanford, Florida in 1882.
Henry Bradley Plant was a Connecticut businessman who began building his empire throughout the war-torn south by purchasing rail lines left in rubble and mostly bankrupt after the Civil War. He converted narrow-gauge track to standard gauge, allowing trains to run throughout his growing network without switching cars. This resulted in a boom in business and travel in the former states of the Confederacy. His hub cities were Waycross, Georgia and Sanford, Florida.
To connect Sanford to the Gulf Coast, Plant’s initial plan was to run his railroad system to the island of Cedar Key northwest of Tampa. It already had a rail station as part of the Florida Transit and Peninsula line. In the deal to purchase the line, the owners left out the Cedar Key station in the contract, a detail that Plant missed until the deal was complete.
Failing to capitalize on the existing station, he decided to purchase a rail company that was already approved to connect Jacksonville to the tiny town of Tampa (population of about 700 at the time). The Sanford to Tampa line was completed in 1884, resulting in a boom in population to 3000 by 1885.
He expanded his business adding the Plant Steamship Line in 1886, running between Port Tampa, Key West and Havana. The line expanded to include cities like New Orleans, Bermuda, Boston, Halifax, and Nova Scotia. This extensive network caught the eye of cigar maker Vicente Martinez Ybor who was running his operations in Key West. He purchased 40 acres near Tampa establishing the “cigar town” of Ybor. Two other manufacturers soon followed and Ybor was eventually annexed into Tampa.
Like Flagler, Plant also invested heavily in Florida hotels. Over time he built or bought 8 hotels: The Inn at Port Tampa (1888), Hotel Kissimmee (1890), Tampa Bay Hotel (1891), The Seminole Hotel in Winter Park (1891), Hotel Punta Gorda (1894), Ocala House (1895), Hotel Belleview in Belleair (1897), and Fort Myers Hotel (1898). He built The Inn at Port Tampa on stilts allowing guests to fish from their hotel windows. Staff would prepare their catch and serve it for dinner.
The Tampa Bay Hotel stood out from all the rest and is the only one left standing today. Plant invested close to $3m of his own money to build and furnish it. Started just after Flagler’s luxurious Hotel Ponce de Leon opened in 1888 in St. Augustine, it is thought that Plant was motivated to build something much grander in scale.
Completed in 1891, the 511 room structure included furnishing and decorations Plant collected from Europe and Asia. In 1898, the hotel was used as the officers’ headquarters during the Spanish-American War when some thirty thousand troops, including Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders, stayed and trained in Tampa before heading to Cuba.
He continued to expand his empire south from Tampa acquiring the Florida Southern Railroad in 1892. It controlled the line from Bartow to Punta Gorda and had built the Hotel Punta Gorda.
Plant branded his network of railroads and steamship lines “The Plant System”, and by 1895 it employed 12,639 people and contained 13 rail lines, 9 steamship lines and 6 hotels. Dubbed the “King of Florida” in an 1898 article in Success Magazine, Henry Plant built and operated the most profitable transportation network in Florida during the 1880’s and 1890’s.
To learn more about Plant’s impact on our little town, join us for our History Class on October 22nd (Part 1) and October 24th(Part 2).
References: “Florida Made – The 25 Most Important Who Shaped the State” by George S. Lemieux & Laura E. Mize, and Henry B. Plant Museum)
Did you know?
– Plant City, Florida, the “Winter Strawberry Capital of the World”, is not named after the plant but after Henry Plant who connected the then little town of Ichepucksassa to his rail system in 1884. This put the town on the map and, in appreciation, the citizens renamed the town after him.
“HISTORY OF PUNTA GORDA IN ITS MURALS”
Join us as we present the history of the area as told through the murals throughout our beautiful City. Visit all 30 murals from the comfort of your Air Conditioned classroom seat while we present 450 years of history using the murals as a guide. Hear about the Mural Society and get a sneak peek of upcoming projects. Presented in 2 parts:
Monday, October 22nd 10am – Noon $18
“Part 1 – The Early Years” – from pre-Spanish Exploration to pre-WWI.
Wednesday October 24th 10am – Noon $18
“Part 2 – Post World War I” – picks up where the Part 1 leaves off continuing the story of our local history from WWI through modern day.
FGCU Renaissance Academy
Herald Center Ct, Punta Gorda
To Register call (941) 505-0130
In Our Community
Sharing a little of what’s happening with other organizations
devoted to history in our area
The Charlotte County Historical Society Auxiliary
18th Annual Live Maine Lobster Bake
Saturday, September 15th
Cocktails 5:00pm, Dinner 6:00pm
Port Charlotte Beach Complex – 4500 Harbor Blvd, Port Charlotte
$85 for Twin Lobsters (each 1 1/4 lb.)
$60 for One Lobster
$75 for Steak & Lobster
$50 for Steamer Pot, Sirloin Steak, Chicken Breast, or Vegetarian Stuffed Zucchini
All Served with New England Clam Chowder, steamed clams & mussels, baked potato, corn on the cob, hard-boiled egg, coleslaw, rolls, & strawberry shortcake.
Great Auction Prizes with Phil WIlson, Auctioneer
Trivia by The Golden Hippo
Raffle Baskets & “Mystery Gift”
Tickets MUST BE Purchased by Sept. 11th
Buy Online at www.charlotecountylobsterbake.com
Benefits the Charlotte County Historical Center programs