Florida's Founding Fathers
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H.B. Plant Hotel, built in 1883.




Henry B. Plant


The Sunshine State's business climate would not be what is today without the contribution of this investors. Like Vicente Martinez Ybor they saw a promise land and a future in the peninsula.

...Florida's maps and history books are heavy references to business icons either captains of industry or robber barons, depending on which historian you favor who have invested their capital & realized their visions to make the Sunshine State what it is today.

...Where would Tampa be without Henry B. Plant (1819-1899), the Branford, Connecticut, born developer and railroad builder whose rail and steamship companies linked the city to the rest of the world, allowing the nascent cigar industry here to import tobacco and ship products to customers.

...Plant's legacy lives on here: His massive Tampa Bay Hotel, red brick and silver minaret tribute to Moorish architecture, is now Plant Hall, the cornerstone of the University of Tampa on the Hillsborogh River. He's also the namesake for Plant City, which is east of Tampa in Hillsborough County.

...Business leaders such as Plant, came to Florida because the state welcomed them with open arms. When Florida became a state in 1845, its first constitution recognized the need to entice capital investment, according to local historian Bob Kerstein, a professor at the University of Tampa and author of "Politics and Growth in the 20th Century Tampa".

..."Florida from the very beginning, had economic development in mind", he said."It was pretty clear that it was going to need to attract private investment".

...In 1851, Florida legislators passed the Internal Improvement Fund Act, promising free land and loan guarantees to any developer wanting to build railroads in the state, Kerstain said. There weren't many takers at first: The Civil War was a bit impediment, and then a lawsuit in the 1870's led to an injection that froze the Internal Improvement Fund.

...It was in 1881, a Philadelphia businessman cut a deal with the governor to buy a million acres of land near Lake Okeechobee for $4 million dollars. The deal refilled the fund's coffers, allowing it to pay the money it owes and begin offering free land to railroads builders again. Plant aware of this land deal extended the railways through much of central and west Florida and later to the east too. The Plant System of Railways cover most of the west coast extending as far as Key West.



Henry M. Flagler




...After a trip to St. Augustine and Jacksonville in the 1870's and 1880's, businessman Henry M. Flagler (1830-1913), saw an opportunity to attract tourist and built the Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine (now Flagler College) and bought the local railways systems, which renamed the Florida East Coast Railway. He extended the railway to Palm Beach and invested heavily there, creating a winter haven for Northern industrialist. He later extended the railroad to Key West. Flagler County which sits south of St. Augustine is named for Flagler.

Ransom Eli Olds




...For the other hand we have Ransom Eli Olds (1864-1950), Oldsmobile's founder and namesake, bought land at the north west end of Tampa Bay in 1913 and began developing a town there. The original name, R.E. Olds On the Bay, was change in 1917 to Olsdmar, then to Tampa Shores and back to Oldsmar again in 1919.



John & Mable Ringling


John Ringling (1866-1936), Mable Ringling (1875-1929) This singular couple built the Ringling Bros.Circus into an entertainment juggernaut and invested heavily in Sarasota Keys property in the 1920's. The couple entertained out of town guest at Ca d'Zan, a waterfront mansion that combines Venetian and Gothic architectural styles with the couple's own eclectic aesthetic. The Ringling envisioned Sarasota as a winter retreat for rich Northerners, and they encouraged their house guest to buy property in the area. ( And how was selling that property? - The Ringlings.) The Ringling's art museum and Ca d'Zan mansion still stand, part of Florida State University art complex. The Ringling name also lives on at the Ringling School of Art & Design and Ringling Boulevard. Still today Sarasota is the headquarters of the "Greatest Show on Earth" - the Ringling, Barnum & Bayle Circus.



John Cash Penney




John Cash Penney (1875-1971) - the Hamilton, Montana born, businessman who transformed a single dry goods store in to J.C.Penney Co. department store chain, founded Penney Farms in Clay County, near Jacksonville. It was designed as an experimental 120,000 acres farming community for small farmers. Penney also established a home for retired ministers, missionaries and other church workers. Penney Farms never became as popular or well known as the department store, but the Penney Retirement Community is still in business. In most recent census, Penney farm had 580 residents; more than three fourths were older than 65.


Walt Disney



In Orlando, Florida, Walt Disney Productions, headed by entertainment mogul Walt Disney - (1901-1966), quietly began buying land near Orlando in 1964, but the company was interested more in Tampa. Years later they unveiled its plans for a massive theme park complex, Disney World in 1966 near Lake Buena Vista. Just a few months before Disney died. The complex today's is called Walt Disney World Resort, now boasts four theme parks, and dozen of other attractions with same amount of resorts around it. This has make Orlando one of the most visited places in the world.




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Last uptdate: 11 - 07 - 2015