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Florida Matters Looks At How Henry Plant Put Tampa On The Map

Historian Canter Brown takes a look at the man who literally put Tampa on the map. He has written a new book, Henry Bradley Plant: Gilded Age Dreams for Florida and the New South." 

In it, he details Plant's friendship with fellow Florida pioneer Henry Flagler, and why he felt compelled to build a railroad in the late 19th Century from St. Augustine to the backwater hamlet of Tampa. In this excerpt from tonight's Florida Matters, host Robin Sussingham gets the back story on Plant from Canter Brown.

Canter Brown, Jr. is a historian, professor and author. He was born in Fort Meade, in Polk County, and earned his degrees at Florida State University. He has taught at Florida A&M University and has worked at Fort Valley State University in Fort Valley, Ga.

Brown says he's unearthed one secret: Plant saw the tiny village of Tampa mostly as a stepping stone to his grand ambition, establishing a sailing link to Cuba. Brown says Plant loved Havana, and wanted to extend his trading empire to the Caribbean, and ultimately, South America. But Plant never lived long enough to see those plans become reality, and instead built a grand hotel near the mouth of the Hillsborough River that today houses the University of Tampa.

Here's an excerpt from the sleeve of the book:

Henry Bradley Plant: Gilded Age Dreams for Florida and a New South carefully examines the complicated years of adventure and activity that marked Plant’s existence, from his birth in Connecticut in 1819 to his somewhat mysterious death in New York City in 1899. Brown illuminates Plant’s vision and perspectives for the state of Florida and the country as a whole and traces many of his influences back to events from his childhood and early adulthood. The book also elaborates on Plant’s controversial Civil War relationships and his utilization of wartime earnings in the postwar era to invest in the bankrupt Southern rail lines. With the success of his businesses such as the Southern Express Company and the Tampa Bay Hotel, Plant transformed Florida into a hub for trade and tourism—traits we still recognize in the Florida of today.

Book cover

Robin Sussingham was Senior Editor at WUSF until September 2020.
Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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