History of Ybor City

Don Gavino Guiterrez, a Spanish civil engineer, came to this region in 1884 in quest of guavas. He hoped to establish a tropical fruit preserving plant. But, his investigation convinced him there was insufficient supplies of fruit available to justify the investment. He abandoned the project, but decided to return to New York by way of Key West to visit friends there. They were Don Vicente Martinez Ybor and Don Ignacio Haya, two of the most prominent cigar makers of the time.

Guiterrez discovered his friends suffered with constant labor troubles and were considering relocating their factories. Guiterrez conveyed to them his impressions of the Tampa Bay area and encouraged them to investigate the area. They did and both were delighted with what they found. The Tampa Board of Trade offered them $4,000 in cash and land as an inducement. They decided to move here.

Thousands of acres of land were bought, and plans laid out for the establishment of Ybor City. On October 8, 1885, a force of woodcutters moved into the area and began clearing the wilderness. The first Cuban cigarmakers arrived in 1886 on the Hutchinson sidewheeler. The village was located 2 miles east of Tampa. The 2 communities were separated by thick palmetto scrub. In 1887, Ybor established a railway connecting Ybor City with Tampa. "El tren urbano" ran on a schedule of "once in a while."

Other cigar manufacturers were induced to move their factories to Ybor City. As a result, many plants from Havana, Key West and the northern United States began to relocate here. Within 5 years, Ybor City was known as "Little Havana". The population had grown to 15,000 compared to Tampa's approximate 3,000 citizens. It had become a melting pot for 4 distinct cultures; Spanish, Cuban, Italian and Florida "Cracker". Even today, many of its residents are tri-lingual.

In 1887, Ybor City was incorporated into the city of Tampa and become the 4th district. However, its name and identity was never lost. Ybor City had its own first stations, social club houses, Spanish and Italian newspapers.

In the late 1880's Italians from the New Orleans and St. Cloud area began migrating to Ybor City. Most farmed or established grocery operations before becoming a part of the cigar industry.

Today, most, if not all the cigar factories are closed. Ybor City fell into a state of disrepair several years ago. Most of the natives relocated. The Ybor City of today is not unlike the French Quarter of New Orleans. Restaurants, bars and artist studios populate the area. Original architecture is preserved and protected by the Barrio Latino, Hillsborough County Preservation Board and Ybor City Chamber of Commerce to name a few.

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George T. Chamberlin

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