The Tampa River Walk

Henry Bradley (H.B.) Plant

Henry Bradley (H.B.) Plant ( c. 1819 - 1899)

 

Prepared by the Historical Monument Trail Selection Committee, Friends of the Riverwalk. For further information, contact Andy Huse, ahuse@usf.edu


Henry Plant was born in Connecticut in 1819. After refusing his grandmother’s offer to send him to Yale to become a minister, in 1837 he worked as a cabin boy and deck hand on the steamer of Adams Parcel Express Company. In 1842, he married Ellen Elizabeth Blackstone.

In 1852, Plant became general superintendant for Adams Express Company. By the end of the Civil War, northern armies had destroyed most of the south’s railroad infrastructure. Plant helped to rebuild the Southern railroad system, making him well-placed to enter the railroad business.

In 1879 and 1880, he snapped up foreclosed and troubled railroad firms, soon building a transportation empire along the southeastern seaboard. In 1882, he joined forces with J.E. Ingraham to build a railroad in Florida from Sanford to Tampa.

On January 4, 1884, the South Florida Railroad reached its southern terminus of Tampa. Plant extended the railroad to Port Tampa, and made Tampa the hub of his steamship line, which ran to Havana and New Orleans, among other places.

He built two huge hotels, the Tampa Bay Hotel in Tampa and the Belleview Biltmore, across Tampa Bay in Belleair, partly because of a fierce rivalry with Henry Flagler, a rail magnate who similarly developed Florida’s east coast. He broke ground on the Tampa Bay Hotel in 1888, and the hotel opened three years later. Dignitaries from all over the world thronged to the hotel for the grand opening.

Plant’s railroad made it easier for Florida’s crops and products to make their way to northern markets. It also made Tampa the most important terminus for passengers and cargo on Florida’s west coast.