Henry Bradley Plant, born in Connecticut October 27, 1819, a noted railroad, steamship line and hotel entrepreneur, began development into Florida in the early 1880s. Being a visionary from a cold climate, he saw an opportunity to create a tropical paradise for winter visitors. Tampa, a natural deep water port with easy access by ship to popular Key West and Cuba, attracted him to the west coast of Florida.
The Tampa Bay Hotel opened on January 31, 1891. Anton Fiehe, a landscape architect brought from France, designed the extensive grounds. Streams, ponds, golden carp, rare and exotic plants (some 150 varieties) such as orchids, palms, ferns, bananas, citrus and bamboo were found. At night, lights twinkled in the shrubbery around one pond-fountain area known as the Jewel Box. It was a popular area for seated refreshments.
Marjorie Stoneman Douglas recalls that her first memory of Florida was being held up to pick an orange in the gardens of the Tampa Bay Hotel in 1894.
Though the hotel closed in 1930 and hunting ceased, with its bear, alligator, pigeons and squirrels, the grounds continued to be a community gathering place for strolls, conversation, concerts, sports and picnics.