We Finally Make Time for Some Fun
Bushnell, FL - Events of Tuesday, February 17 to Friday, February 21, 2015
As we mentioned in our last post, the weather forecast was calling for rain followed by cool, windy weather. We were trying to plan an outing, but the weather wasn't very conducive to doing anything outdoors. Therefore, we found a couple of fun things we could do indoors.
We have been wanting to see the movie "American Sniper," so we made plans to do that on Wednesday with our friends, Pat and Mike. We headed to the theater in Brownwood Commons in The Villages on Wednesday afternoon. What an intense movie!
Friday was finally a little warmer, but it still wasn't a great day for outdoor sightseeing because of wind. Therefore, we decided to visit the Henry B. Plant Museum in Tampa for some sightseeing that would be mostly indoors.
The Henry B. Plant Museum is located in the south wing of the old Tampa Bay Hotel. Henry B. Plant was a railroad and steamship magnate who built the hotel as a destination to encourage passengers to ride his rail line. Tampa was a sleepy little fishing village with 700 residents when construction of the hotel was started in 1888.
Admission to the museum, which is $10 for adults and $7 for seniors, includes an audio tour. Free guided tours are offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1:00 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays.
There are a few parking spaces in front of the museum, but those are hard to come by - especially for a long bed dually pickup truck. Fortunately, we found free, on-street parking (two hour limit) within a couple of blocks of the museum. There is also free parking at the Thomas Parking Garage about 4 blocks away.
The hotel is built in a Moorish style of architecture and cost over $3 million, which was a LOT of money back then.
The hotel opened in 1891. It was furnished with antiques collected by Mr. and Mrs. Plant on their travels through Europe. It was one of the first buildings in Tampa to be electrified, and it had the first elevator ever installed in Florida. The grounds covered over 150 acres and included lush tropical gardens, a heated indoor swimming pool, a golf course, a bowling alley, a casino and a race track.
Antiques, sculptures and paintings from the hotel are displayed along the first floor hallway.
Many of the guest rooms contain displays showing the life of leisure enjoyed by the early guests during their stay. Hunting, fishing, tennis, and golf were just a few of the activities.
The audio tour gives information about Henry Plant, his rail and steamship empires, and the history of the hotel. It also gives descriptions of many of the items on display in the hallway and in many of the guest rooms.
Unlike today where penthouses and suites on the upper floors command the highest prices, the best hotel rooms back in the late 1800s were on the first and second floors because these rooms were the most conveniently located. Some suites on the first floor, like the three-room parlor suite shown in the next photos, even had a private entrance.
Henry Plant convinced the U.S. military to use his hotel as a base of operations during the Spanish-American war in 1898. Tampa was a deep water port, so men and materiel could arrive by train and then could easily be sent to Cuba by boat. Not only would Plant make money with his rail and steamship lines, but many officers stayed at the hotel while awaiting deployment. Enlisted men were also encamped on the grounds of the hotel. Teddy Roosevelt maintained a suite in the hotel and conducted drills with his Rough Riders on the grounds during the day.
The Tampa Bay Hotel had a relatively short heyday. Following the death of Henry Plant in 1899, his wife and son had little interest in continuing in the hotel business. The hotel was sold to the city of Tampa in 1905 for the paltry sum of $125,000.
Tampa continued to operate the hotel at a loss until the hotel was finally closed in 1930. In 1933, Tampa Bay Junior College was allowed to use the then-vacant hotel suites as classrooms, dorm rooms and offices. Because of the large amount of space in and around the hotel, the college eventually grew to become the University of Tampa. An agreement between the city of Tampa and the university preserves the south wing of the hotel as a museum while allowing the university to use the rest of the building.
In addition to seeing the museum, visitors can also enter the student entrance to the building (previously the main entrance to the hotel) to see the hotel's ballroom and dining room.
The ballroom and dining room are now devoted to student activities, but one can still sense the grandeur of the old hotel.
By the time we finished seeing the museum, the wind had died down, so we walked across the street to Plant Park, which was part of the hotel's gardens. At the entrance to the park is a fountain commissioned by Henry Plant's wife following his death.
Since Tampa is about half way to Anna Maria Oyster Bar in Bradenton and since we both love the fried clam strips at Anna Maria, we planned to drive about an hour farther south to have clams after seeing the museum and park. Going to a seafood restaurant on the first Friday in Lent probably wasn't the best idea because the place was packed when we arrived at 2:30. We always go to Anna Maria in the middle of the afternoon when it is less crowded, and this was the first time we ever had to wait for a table. Fortunately, the wait was only about 20 minutes.
While we waited, we sat in the sun on a couple of chairs behind the restaurant overlooking a small lake where there was a 4-foot alligator sunning himself at the edge of the water just on the other side of the fence.
In spite of having to wait for a table, our food came out surprisingly quickly. We both had fried clam strip baskets. Margery had onion straws and cole slaw for her sides, and Paul had red potatoes and cole slaw. Everything was yummy!
With our bellies full, we headed back to Blueberry Hill to relax for the evening. We were planning more sightseeing for the following week, but the weather forecast was predicting clouds and a chance of rain almost every day. We'll have to wait to see if the sightseeing plans work out or not.