The River Through Postcards

Today, in the world of social media and instant photo sharing, postcards may seem like a quaint form of communication. Yet from the end of the 19th century and through the 20th, the postcard was the universal way of showing the folks back home what a wonderful time you were having on vacation. Thousands of postcards must have been sent from Florida, and these often idealized images paint an idyllic picture of the vacation experience. Florida and the Hillsborough River always looked perfect on the postcard!

Postcards from the collection of the Temple Terrace Preservation Society.

Sulphur Springs

In Sulphur Springs, little remains of the riverside resort that once drew visitors from around the nation. The Springs were a popular picnicking spot at the turn of the 20th century, and the town began in 1924, with the establishment of a post office. That same year, a rail station was built; like others of its era, it had two waiting rooms – one for white travelers and one for black, reflecting the lived reality of a southern, segregated community.

The community became famous for the Sulphur Springs Hotel and Arcade, constructed from 1926 to 1927 by Josiah Richardson (see video, “Josiah Richardson’s Dream.”) Considered to be the first indoor shopping “mall” in Florida, it covered a city block on the corner of Nebraska Avenue and Bird Street, capitalizing on views of the Hillsborough River.
The two-story arcade featured Mediterranean Revival architecture, with rows of columns and arches lining both floors. It offered a full range of stores from drug stores to hardware, as well as a bank, pool hall, bakery, and doctor’s office. Tourists flocked to Sulphur Springs to bathe in the supposedly healing water, shop, and boat on the river. The iconic Water Tower was built in 1927, and has become a symbol of the community.

The resort hey-day of Sulphur Springs was short-lived, but the community continued to develop, and was annexed into Tampa in 1953. In the 1950s and 60s, Sulphur Springs was a popular destination for people from all over Tampa, with two movie theatres – the art deco Springs theater, and the drive-in Tower Theater, which faced the Hillsborough River and featured a neon tower. The spring-fed swimming pool continued to draw visitors.

What the postcards do not show is that Sulphur Springs, like all of Florida, was as a strictly segregated community, with most African-Americans living in the area known as Spring Hill. While white residents swam in the pool, African-Americans had to use other spots on the river for recreation, swimming, fishing, and baptisms. Many African-Americans traveled by bus to work as maids or golf caddies in Temple Terrace, a river community where the idyllic river postcards reflect a largely white reality.

In 1976, the hotel/arcade was demolished to make room for a dog track parking lot, in spite of vociferous protests. Today, efforts are underway to reclaim the community’s history, led by the Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center, located on the banks of the Hillsborough at Mann-Wagoner Park. Visit at: Dr.  Antoinette Jackson (USF  Anthropology), has been working with her students and the museum to help document Sulphur Springs history through her Heritage Research Lab; visit the project at:

To access audiotaped oral history interviews with Sulphur Springs residents, visit:

Temple Terrace

Until the mid 18th century, Temple Terrace was the home of the Tocobaga, who became victims of colonial incursion and disease, disappearing within 100 years. Spanish explorer Don Francisco Maria Celi made his way up the Hillsborough River in 1757 seeking pine trees to use as masts for ships. He stopped at what is now Riverhills Park, where a historic marker can now be seen. The longleaf pine forest later became a rich source of turpentine manufacturing and logging.

The recent history of Temple Terrace dates back 100 years, when Chicago socialite Bertha Palmer acquired the land as part of a 19,000-acre hunting preserve called "Riverhills Ranch." She died in 1918, and new owners formed two corporations. Temple Terrace Estates, Inc., developed the unique golf course and homes, while Temple Terraces, Inc., created the largest orange groves in the world around the town.

The name came from the new hybrid Temple orange, brought to Florida from Jamaica, and from the terrain of the area; many of the first homes had lawns that sloped in tiers, or terraces, down to the banks of the Hillsborough.

Temple Terrace thrived for a few years as planned golf-course community, featuring unique Mediterranean-revival homes, many of which stand today. Northern snowbirds could play golf, socialize in the lavish country club and Club Morocco Casino.

The Great Depression put an end to the boom years, but Temple Terrace was reborn in the 1950s, and now flourishes as an independent city. For residents and visitors, the River has always been a major attraction, as the postcards here show.

Postcards courtesy of the Temple Terace Preservation Society. For more information about the city, visit:

Lowry Park

Lowry Park has long been a popular destination along the river. It was named for Sumter L. Lowry, a city commissioner who led a move to have the city of Tampa purchase the land and create a public park in 1918. The now famous Lowry Park Zoo began on the banks of the river as a small collection Florida wildlife, before relocating to its present site in 1957. Originally run by City Parks and Recreation, the zoo became a private entity in 1988.

Tampa Parks and Recreation had also run Fairyland, a children’s amusement park with a fairytale theme, and Safety Village, a scaled down replica of Tampa buildings, where police and firefighters taught traffic safety to children. Fairyland had its own pleasure boat, the Little Fairy Queen, which ran boat trips on the river.

Fairyland was later demolished; the Florida Environmental Education Center (or Zoo School), is now located where it once stood. Safety Village was modernized and became Kids City, but was demolished in 2010.

These postcards from the 1960s and 1970s recall the era of family fun before the development of giant Florida theme parks. For more information and photos on the history of Lowry Park, go to:

The Tampa Bay Hotel

The Tampa Bay Hotel has been an iconic site on the Hillsborough River for almost 150 years, and is perhaps the river’s most popular postcard subject. Railroad magnate Henry Plan began building it in 1888 to anchor his railroad line. A wonder in its time, it boasted the first elevator in Florida, as well as electric lights, telephones, and private bathrooms, while 150 acres of grounds included a bowling alley, golf course, heated pool, racetrack, and casino.

Plant chose a Moorish Revival theme for the hotel, hoping to capitalize on the Victorian fascination for the exotic, and the hotel sports six minarets, four cupolas, and three domes. It operated from 1891 to 1930, and attracted the rich, the curious, and the famous. The military used the hotel as a base during the Spanish-American War; Theodore Roosevelt kept a suite there.

Tampa’s oldest piece of public art still stands in Plant Park (once part of the hotel grounds) – a Memorial Fountain commissioned by Plant’s widow, Margaret, and featuring images of Plant’s trains and ships.

The hotel closed 1930, and in 1933, Tampa Bay Junior College moved in, eventually expanding to become University of Tampa. The city established a museum to preserve the original fabric of the hotel. Now known as the Henry B. Plant Museum, it co-exists with the university, and brings a new generation of tourists to the site.

A creek, fed from a spring rising under the hotel, empties into the Hillsborough River. A small zoo once stood along the creek, housing a bear, an alligator, and other small animals, which later moved up river to become the core of the new Lowry Park Zoo.

For more information on the Henry B. Plan Museum, visit:

Where the River Meets the Bay

Tampa today is rediscovering the beauty of its waterfront, and developing it as a visitor attraction and asset to the city. But for many years, it seemed the city had turned its back on the river, which had become polluted as a consequence of years of industry and development.

The history of Tampa’s waterfront is complex and vibrant – too rich to be encapsulated here. Many more photos of the city’s early days are elsewhere on this site, but our postcard history offers glimpses of the many river sites that were deemed worthy of capture as visitor attractions – from the several bridges that spanned the Hillsborough, to the ships that hauled cargo and people on the river and bay.

The postcards show Tampa in the early 20th century as both a tourist attraction, anchored by the iconic Tampa Bay Hotel, and a working port and fast-growing industrial city.

To see the contemporary transformation of Tampa as a riverfront city, and discover opportunities to walk a historic trail, visit