Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Henry B. Plant was born in 1819

Ebyabe | Wikipedia
When Plant opened the Tampa Bay Hotel, he invited Henry Flagler attend. Flagler responded, "Where is Tampa." Plant answered, "Just follow the crowds, Henry, just follow the crowds."

Today is the birthday of railroad magnate Henry B. Plant, who built a system of steamships and railroads that ran from Jacksonville to Havana, Cuba. He built the Moorish-style Tampa Bay Hotel that eventually became the University of Tampa and the Belleview Biltmore near Clearwater.

Henry B. Plant
Plant was born in 1819 in Branford, Conn., to Anderson Plant, a well-to-do farmer, and Betsey Bradley Plant. His father died when he was six years old but his mother remarried and the family moved to New York and, eventually, to New Haven, Conn. He attended private school.

His grandmother wanted him to become a clergyman and offered to pay for him to go to Yale College but  the impatient young man became a captain's boy and, eventually, a deck hand on a steamship instead.

Plant married Ellen Elizabeth Blackstone in 1842, and he worked for the Adams Express Company, handling express parcels. He ran the company's New York office. In 1853, Ellen was told she needed to move to the South for her health. They visited the then-tiny town of Jacksonville, where Plant saw the possibilities for future development. In fact, a rugged trip to St. Augustine convinced him transportation was needed in the area. To get to the ancient city, he had paddle a dugout canoe up the St. Johns River and hike through the forest. The guide lost his way and they had to spend the night out under the stars. Only a few years later, Plant made such a rustic trip unnecessary.

During the Civil War, the owners of the express company transferred the company to him, fearful they would lose it to the Confederacy if they remained in control. Plant organized the Southern Express Company in 1861 with southern stockholders. The company collected tariffs and transferred funds as an agent for the Confederacy.

After the war, southern railroad were ruined and many railroads were in bankruptcy. Plant bought railroads at foreclosure sales and began building a transportation system. In 1882, with Henry Flagler's help, he organized the Plant Investment Company, resurrected several small railroads, and provided service across Florida.

The line ended in Tampa, where he established a new steamship line to Havana. For $2.5 million, he built the Tampa Bay Hotel in the style of a Moorish palace, with distinctive minarets. He also built the Victorian style Belleview Biltmore near Clearwater. He built eight hotels in all, but his favorite with the Tampa Bay Hotel.

Plant City in eastern Hillsborough County is named for him as is Henry B. Plant High School in Tampa. Bradley Junction in Polk County is named for his mother.

The Henry B. Plant Museum at the University of Tampa is dedicated to his life.

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