Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tampa Bay Hotel: Henry B. Plant's Magical 1890s Florida Resort

In previous posts I have featured the exterior and minarets of the almost startling and unbelievable Tampa Bay Hotel. When it first opened in 1891 on the west bank of the Hillsborough River in Tampa, Henry B. Plant's creation was unlike anything Florida or the nation had seen before. Its location, immense size, lush Florida landscaping and Moorish architecture were certain to overwhelm and over-deliver on Plant's promises as hotel guests stepped from his railroad cars from the Northeast. This was an ultra-luxurious hotel experience and the owners spared no expense in treating their guests to the finest accommodations, food, entertainment and modern amenities. The 511 rooms, many consisting of three-to-seven room suites, were the first in Florida to have electric lights and telephones. Most also had a private bath. The hotel elevator is still used today making it one of the oldest operational elevators in the United States. The Henry B. Plant Museum (visit online HERE), situated within the south wing of the original hotel, shares the 1/4 mile long building with the University of Tampa. It is on the National Register of Historic Places. The museum, accredited by the American Association of Museums, has restored the rooms to their original appearance. From paint to lighting to floor coverings, it's as though you are stepping back in time. The couple shown above in period clothing are preparing to dine in their suite; the bedroom's sleeping alcove is shown at left. Each of the museum's rooms is filled with authentic and original furnishings, artwork and even the hotel's china and silverware.

Mr. Plant and his wife traveled throughout the world in search of fine art and furniture to fill their magnificent hotel and museum-goers can step into period rooms and really sense what it was like to stay here. Although there are exhibit cases, most of the collection surrounds you are as you move down hallways and into rooms, dimly lit by bare bulbs just as they were over a century ago. A staff of museum professionals takes great care to recreate and maintain the rooms just as they were when guests enjoyed their tropical vacations. The long and illustrious list of famous guests and grand events held here, plus the fact that the hotel was headquarters for the U.S. Army during the Spanish American War, make this a must see place on any visit to Florida.

The museum is evidence of Plant's vision to build the ultimate resort hotel; we can today relive that experience in our city's most recognizable architectural and historic treasure, the Tampa Bay Hotel and the Henry B. Plant Museum.


  1. Oh to be immensely rich and travel picking up beautiful items. Actually, maybe not.

    Tbh, I'm not sure these collectors had very good taste, although I suppose looking at items from today is a little unfair.

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