Touring Tampa – The Tampa Bay Hotel

It’s 1913, a week before the New Year; the deep chill of the winter season has swept through the streets of New York City. Although the snow is beautiful when it’s untouched, heavy footprints and carriages will grind it into brown slush before the day is over. “Only one more day,” you think to yourself. You can’t stand the thought of hovering over a fireplace to keep warm for another winter.  You close your eyes, trying to imagine hearing the tall evergreen trees rusting with cool, humid air. Instead, you hear the clash of a city waking up for another day. 

There is a swirl of activity happening around you. The city house is in preparation for your winter away. A few housekeepers will tend to it while you spend months in Florida with your new husband. He spared no expense for your first trip as a married couple. Final fittings for your new wardrobe have been approved and packed into trunks; they will ship ahead of time with your staff to prepare for your arrival. Last season’s dresses would be much too warm for the tropical winter you will enjoy. Plus, the itinerary at The Tampa Bay Hotel is full of activities. Canoeing, sailing, tennis, croquet, and themed balls, are all on your to-do list of new pursuits you are willing to try. You also can’t pass up an opportunity to change outfits with each passing activity. After all, this is how you caught your new husband’s eye. You still have the lavender ball gown with white embroidery lace you wore to the Summer Solstice Ball the night you met. You could never have imagined you would be married five months later and packing for your first adventure together. 

As you board the train, you hold a small pencil drawing of the Tampa Bay Hotel. Having not traveled this distance before, you let your mind daydream in anticipation of seeing the towering hotel adorned with Turkish-inspired spires and elaborate lace-like archways. You’ve seen a lot of extravagant things in your short 18 years of life (you’ve worn diamonds since you were a baby), but it’s hard for your mind to believe such an exotic and colorful place can exist outside of the confines of New York.


Traveling by train has become common place to get out of the city. The railway has cracked open the world, allowing people to travel further and faster than ever before. Your train car has all the comforts of home, a private bathroom and bedroom, a parlor for entertaining, and a dining area. It’s hard to imagine travel becoming faster and more efficient since the advent of the train cars. But you also heard rumors of a flying ship making an appearance on New Year’s Day. “Would people really be willing to travel through the air to get to their destinations?” you think watching cattle fields pass by the window. 

The landscape rises as the train makes its way through the Appalachian Mountains and falls away the further the train chugs South. You must have dozed off while watching the world pass by your window. Henry softly shakes you awake, “We’ll be arriving at the Tampa Bay Hotel in an hour.” You shoot out of your seat to run to the bathroom. This will be your debut and first impression with the vacationing high society. It’s time to change into a new dress, fix the flat hair from your nap, and spritz on a bit of perfume. 

Outside the Tampa Bay Hotel, now the Henry B. Plant museum at the University of Tampa

Arrival into a New Land

Your excitement grows with every squeal of the train whistle. You take Henry’s arm and step off the train onto the platform. The Tampa Bay Hotel is more magnificent than any picture could capture. The silver minarets glimmer in the bright Florida sun. Not a single cloud dared cast a shadow over the vibrant red bricks reaching into the deep cobalt sky above. You feel like you’ve been color blind for months from the winter’s heavy gray clouds. 

As you walk into the entrance of the Tampa Bay Hotel, your eyes jump from place to place; a velvet chaise accompanied by a porcelain swan, a dark oak cabinet with floral gold leaf, and plush crimson carpets. The concierge shows you to your room on the first floor. As distinguished guests at the Tampa Bay Hotel, you and Henry stay in the hotel’s best suite. Yellow sunlight fills the room through the arched entryway as you enter, and the sixteen-foot ceilings make you feel as if you’ve shrunk. Leaning your head upwards, you notice an electric light hanging above the bed. In fact, all the lights within the hotel are electric. Candelabras along the walls weren’t filled with melted candles but delicate glass light bulbs. The bed is heavily adorned with an intricately carved floral headboard, filling the circular alcove where it has been placed. 


When Henry is out hunting in the afternoon, the adjoining parlor is where you plan to host afternoon teas and play bridge with the other ladies staying at the hotel. The parlor is staged with the finest French furniture. A mixture of dark velvet and cream silk fabric covers a small couch and matching chairs. Small spaces are filled with brawn statues and decorative cobalt porcelain vases. You are self-assured that an invite into your parlor will be the envy of all the ladies. 

Everything is at Your Disposal

There is so much more to do while staying at the Tampa Bay Hotel. Henry has asked you to join him for an afternoon promenade around the hotel grounds to get a better lay of the land. Without hesitation, you jump from your chair to link your elbow around one another and set off to explore everything the Tampa Bay Hotel has to offer. The river runs along the front entrance. As you step outside the hotel, you notice the stacks of candy-colored canoes and small sailboats waiting to be taken down the river into the bay. You’ve never been a fan of participating in water activities; you enjoy keeping your feet on solid ground. The flower conservatory and stables are where you plan to spend much of your time. You learned to ride horses at a very young age and tend to prefer the company of animals more than people. This would also make getting around the 150-acre resort much faster than walking. 

You have a competitive streak that resides within you when it comes to playing sports. Tennis and shuffleboard are your go-to games of choice. Henry and yourself are quite the pair for a mixed double team. Many friends have dared to challenge the two of you in a friendly competition, resulting in countless free drinks on the tab of the opposing team. A more unfamiliar game you’ve wanted to try is the game of golf. It seems to be a leisurely game of walking the palatial grounds while hitting a small ball down the manicured lawn. A perfect mixture of competition and socializing. 


“We better start making our way back to the room to prepare for tonight’s New Years’ Eve Ball. I know how you like to take your time getting ready, dear.” Henry was always good at mixing a thoughtful remark with a slight truthful jab. However, he was right; you do not like rushing the preparation for any social event, especially one hosted at the Tampa Bay Hotel. Your ladies maid Mary had your dress laid out on the bed when you arrived. She also acquired a collection of records to play on the phonograph. Champaign and berries were delivered to the room as the melodies of piano music drifted through the air. A night of dining and dancing was the perfect way to celebrate your first night on holiday. 

No Expenses Spared

You emerge from your dressing room in a silk periwinkle blue evening gown with clear glass beads coving the shoulders and front bodice. Your needly curled hair was adorned with a sapphire and diamond hairpin, one of the first gifts Henry gave to you during your courtship. You place a white-gloved hand around Henry’s bicep as he escorts you down the hall towards the ballroom. The walls glow in a warm pink as the light from the setting sun reflects from the baroque mirrors lining the hall. The piercing squeal of a violin can be faintly heard over the sound of your heart beating in your ears. 

The double doors open to the ballroom, revealing a crowded dance floor of couples dancing the waltz to a full orchestra. Everyone is dressed in their best suits and gowns. 

As couples twirl around in a synchronized dance, silver trays with glasses of champaign and hors d’oeuvres float around to their own melody. You take a glass of champagne but know to pace yourself for a ten-course meal that will soon begin. 

The orchestra finishes their set, and the crowd claps and cheers for providing such grand entertainment. The circular tables were elaborately decorated with fresh flowers resembling the shades of the winter setting sun. Tall silver candlestick holders gleamed against the amber lights warming the room around us. The conductor thanked everyone for the beautiful dancing and requested the guest to find their name cards for the seating arrangements; dinner service will begin shortly. 


Several notable couples are seated at your table, including Wallace and Doris Stovall, publishers of the Tampa Tribune. Dinner plates were placed before each person in a synchronized dance. The wine was poured, and stories from the day’s activities were shared. Doris confirmed the rumor of a pilot attempting to fly across the bay in the morning. She knew the reporters covering the story and invited you and Henry to join her for the arrival. You hadn’t planned on staying up until sunrise, but this felt like this historic opportunity was not to be missed. Plus, being a social butterfly, this would be the most captivating story to tell during tomorrow night’s dinner; your personal experience of watching the flying boat sail across the water. 

The stroke of midnight was just the beginning of the night! You rang in 1914 with a kiss from Henry and a small bowl of melon sorbet held over from the marathon dinner service. While your dance card only had space for Henry’s name, watching the young girls of the season society proudly present their dance card to the eligible bachelors brought back a rush of memories from courting with Henry. The sparkle and energy radiating from each hopeful young lady make you grab Henry by the arm to join in on the next dance. He doesn’t mind joining in on the fun, as he has always preferred to be a part of the party rather than taking business in the gentlemen’s lounge. 

The night slips away like trying to hold sand through a closed fist. You couldn’t pick a favorite moment from the night. The endless entertainment of music and singing, dancing under the opalescent chandler or watching the fireworks light up the sky from the front porch of the Tampa Bay Hotel. 

The New Dawn of Travel

Still in your evening dress, you are lightly shaken awake by your lady’s maid, Mary. “Mrs. Stovall is having her carriage brought around the front of the Hotel to take you to the pier for the arrival of the Benoist flying boat,” she says. Mary already had a tray of cookies and coffee brought to the room and a day dress to change into quickly. Without speaking, you pick up the porcelain coffee cup and gulp the warm coffee while Mary unbuttons the back of your dress. Like a snake shedding its skin, you step out of the heavy party dress and into a simple shell-pink cotton day dress and rush to the lobby. Worried you would be left behind, you and Henry managed to make it downstairs before Doris. 

Moments later, Doris appeared from down the hall, looking as if she had a full night’s sleep. Knowing full well she stayed up late into the evening like yourself. “Wallace has already left for the pier; we will meet him there,” Doris informed us as we walked towards the carriage. The roads were much bumpier than the paved streets of New York. As the carriage bounced down the street, you aim your focus on the buildings and shops that reside outside the confines of the Tampa Bay Hotel. Cigar factories seemed to be on every corner, with dry goods stores and a bakery filling the streets with freshly baked bread. You wondered if this is what New York looked like at the beginning of its development. Would Tampa one day have the same tall buildings, bustling city streets, and grand family homes? 


The carriage arrives at the pier to a sea of thousands of people awaiting the arrival of the Benoist flying boat. Doris had anticipated this immense fanfare. Wallace was awaiting our arrival in the press bleachers, which provided separation between the crowd and an elevated view of the arriving flying boat. Everyone’s eyes were locked on the horizon of the bay. Each person eager to be the first to see any sign of the Benoist. Henry checks his pocket watch; “any minute now,” he mumbles. You squint as a tiny dot appears, hovering above the water. In the same instance, a reporter jumps up and points out, “there it is!”. In a synchronized wave, the crowd begins to cheer and wave as the Benoist draws closer and closer. The yellow wings glide just above the blue bay water. The aircraft hull touches down, forcefully moving the water from its path. 

Doris exclaims, “we’ve just entered a new era of travel! The world will forever be changed after today.” Just days earlier, you thought traveling by train was the new way of the world. Here you are bearing witness to a faster mode of transportation. You sit and wait as the reporters flock to the Benoist to get the first interviews and take pictures for tomorrows headlining story. You smile and think, “the world has just gotten a bit smaller. Very soon, travel between places will take hours, not days, and you can’t wait to see it all”. 

Outside the Tampa Bay Hotel, now the Henry B. Plant museum at the University of Tampa
Window looking out of the University of Tampa.

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