What’s in a name? A lot.
The City of Tampa is known for the Buccaneers and the Lightning. Ironically, Tampa wasn’t the original name at all.
The true original name of Tampa was really Tanpa… with an “N.”
Rodney Kite-Powell with the Tampa Bay History Center said “Tanpa” is from the Native American Floridians meaning Sticks of Fire. But settlers changed the “N” to an “M.”
“The place Tampa, that name goes back to the pre-Columbian times when the native people were here and it may have been pronounced TANPA…with an N instead of with an M by the native people,” he said.
And get this – the original Tampa may not be where we live. According to Kite-Powell, it could be a little north or perhaps further south.
“It may actually have been in Charlotte Harbor,” he said.
Tampa as it sits now was born out of an old military post – Fort Brooke. The Fort Brooke parking garage sits on what was the center of the base. It stretched along the Garrison Channel where the History Center is now located behind Amalie Arena.
It was decommissioned in 1883 and became an incorporated town in 1885. It was a place for frivolity.
“Tampa was a place that people came to misbehave. And if Tampa was too restrictive for you, then you went to Fort Brooke. So Fort Brooke was for the people who wanted the least amount of law enforcement and supervision,” said Andrew Huse, the associate librarian at the University of South Florida.
And if Fort Brooke and Tampa were the playgrounds for the common folks, Temple Terrace was a playground for the rich.
“More upper crust type people,” Huse said.
In 1911, the sprawling 6,000-acre area was a winter hunting preserve for the wealthy Potter-Palmer family from Chicago.
In 1918, after matriarch Maud Palmer died, the land was sold to developers who turned it into residential areas, a golf course and 5,000 acres of Orange Groves.
They named it after the new – at the time – and exotic hybrid Temple Orange. The groves were the largest in the world in 1922.
“It was really all about kind of fusing Florida’s love affair with citrus with well-to-do pursuits like golf. There was a golf country club. It was meant to be a community of well-financed individuals,” Huse said.
According to Temple Terrace historical records, “the original town plan for Temple Terrace, created in 1922, was a model of town planning in its day. Between 1923 and 1925 during the land boom, streets were paved, storm sewers installed and a well was drilled to tap spring water. On May 25, 1925, the City was incorporated with D. Collins Gillette, one of the founding developers, serving as the first mayor and Maude Fowler, one of the foremost women real estate operators in America, serving as vice mayor.”
Maud Fowler’s son Cody Fowler was instrumental in Tampa’s history as well. The City of Tampa says Fowler arrived in 1924 as a young lawyer who was eager to make a difference.
“Though work initially brought him to the city, his family also provided an incentive. His mother Maud Fowler was heavily involved in the development of Temple Terrace, serving as the city’s mayor in 1926,” city officials say.
Cody Fowler is credited with drafting the city’s charter and serving as its first attorney.
“Fowler made a name for himself early in his career when he defended African Americans in Tampa’s courts – something few other white lawyers were willing to do.”
He also served a term as mayor in 1928.
Busy Fowler Avenue, which runs through Temple Terrace, is named after his mother Maud Fowler.
One of the main roads in Tampa is Dale Mabry Highway. But it wasn’t always called that. It used to be a small road called Vera Avenue. When the military built MacDill Air Force Base and Drew Field, they looked for a road to connect the two. That’s where Vera Avenue came into play. So officials built out Vera, reinforced it and renamed it Dale Mabry Highway.
But who is Dale Mabry?
“That used to be the most popular question people asked at the history center. Who is Dale Mabry? And they would always ask it in a really angry way, upset with this poor guy,” Kite-Powell said.
Dale Mabry was a WWI veteran who was born in Tallahassee but lived in Tampa. He died in service to his country, but not in war.
“After the war, he was in Washington DC. He was actually at the controls of a blimp and there was a malfunction and he was actually able to steer it away from a populated area and crash it in a field and lost his life, as well as other servicemen on board.”
Another roadway people ask about is the Howard Frankland Bridge. Who is Howard Frankland?
“He was a pretty prominent citizen. He owned the Pioneer Tire Company and service stations in the area. He also served on the road board for the state,” Kite-Powell said.
And when it came to building a bridge to connect Tampa with St. Petersburg, it was named after him. But people who find themselves stuck in traffic have affectionately re-named it the Howard Frankenstein.
There’s no question the Tampa Bay area is rich with history. And many of the names of places and streets across our area reflect that, and highlight the people who made a difference.