Beginning in 2021, the West Tampa Chamber is initiating an effort to share West Tampa’s history with members. Our area is set for tremendous growth and dynamic changes, and we want West Tampa’s important history to be remembered.
Tampa town was a small, sleepy fishing village in its early years. In 1885 Henry Plant built his railroad, connecting Florida’s west coast to New York City and Vincente Martinez Ybor established the first cigar factory, initiating the cigar industry.
At that same time, Lawyer Hugh Campbell McFarlane saw an opportunity on the west side of the Hillsborough River. He offered free land to bring cigar factories to West Tampa. He and other business leaders built the Fortune Street bridge to connect West Tampa, to downtown and Ybor City.
In 1892, the first cigar factory was built in WT by A Del Pino. While that factory failed, in two years there were 20 factories in West Tampa and 3000 residents. West Tampa was incorporated as a city in 1895, and rapid progress began - streets were paved, railroad service connected, and a volunteer fire dept was established. By 1902 there was electric and phone service, 100 cigar factories and the population topped 7,000.
Thereafter Garcia Ave Bridge was constructed where Armature Works is today. MacFarlane Park was created and Cuesta Elementary School opened. By 1911 there were 187 cigar companies in West Tampa, including the smaller buckeye factories known as “chinchales.” A year later, West Tampa was the 5th largest city in Florida.
In 1913 the West Tampa Chamber was established. The residential and business communities flourished, and West Tampa was annexed by the City of Tampa in 1925. And today we are on the cusp of a grander future.
Reference: Armando Mendez and Arcenio Sanchez gathered info about West Tampa’s history, published a few books and led the effort to celebrate West Tampa’s Centennial in 1992.