The Journey Is Complete.
Hillsborough County, Florida was 14 times its present size when it was established by the Florida Territorial Legislature in 1834. Its boundaries, extending as far north as Ocala, as far east as Orlando and as far south as Lake Okeechobee and Charlotte Harbor, included all or part of 23 present-day Central and South Florida counties. From this “Historic Hillsborough County”, Pánfilo de Narváez (1528) and Hernando De Soto (1539) led the first explorations by Europeans of what would become the United States. With these two expeditions, the Spanish initiated the great exchange of food, fiber and technology between the Eastern and Western hemispheres that forever changed culture and environment. The events reflect some of the oldest recorded history in the United States - a history that predates the Jamestown settlement and Plymouth Colony by 80 to 90 years.
The Tampa Bay History Center grew out of a Historical Museum Task Force created by Hillsborough County’s Commissioners in 1986. The History Center’s exciting mission is to educate visitors about the important history that has shaped and continues to shape the Tampa Bay area. Today, the Tampa Bay History Center provides quality historical and educational services and programs. The beneficiaries over time are the region’s three million permanent residents and more than 15 million annual visitors.
An academic partnership has been established by the History Center with the University of South Florida - funded by a $4 million endowment ($2 million from History Center private sector donors and $2 million in matching funds from the State of Florida). The endowment’s income underwrites public education programs and activities designed jointly by the History Center and the Florida Studies Center based at the USF Library. Other education partners include the Hillsborough County School District (the 8th largest in the United States), the Tampa/Hillsborough County Public Library System, the University of Tampa and Hillsborough Community College.
The permanent museum building, located near the historically important Fort Brooke reservation (the birthplace of modern Tampa), contains 60,000 square feet of exhibits depicting almost 500 years of recorded history and 12,000 years of human habitation in this region. Native Americans and Spanish conquistadors, pioneer settlers and cigar workers, immigrants and cowboys, military and sports heroes, and entrepreneurs and workers - white, black, Hispanic, Jewish, urban, rural, old, young - have all contributed to our “sense of place.” Schoolchildren, residents and Tampa Bay visitors will feel, sense and discover these life stories in ways meaningful to their families and to contemporary society.
The use of modern museum technology highlights countless artifacts. Parent-child learning opportunities abound, both on and off premises, through permanent and changing exhibitions. Over 40,000 items are already in the History Center’s collections. Undoubtedly, thousands more will be added as individuals and families become aware that, after too many decades without a community history museum, there is a respected and well-financed repository for this area’s artifacts.
The History Center will contribute significant value to our greater community through artifact preservation and the celebration of our regional heritage and national character. Dynamic and innovative exhibits and educational programs will address the national crisis in education and citizenship. Lectures, seminars, publications and research will educate and inspire across generations and cultures.
The History Center is already an important participant in a very successful public-private partnership with Hillsborough County, the City of Tampa, the local education community and the private sector. This civic coalition is successfully forging a major cultural institution that will serve the schoolchildren and other residents of the Tampa Bay region while also being a destination attraction for an active tourism industry.
The History Center obtained a $17 million commitment of Community Investment Tax (CIT) funds from Hillsborough County’s Commissioners in 1998. The City of Tampa, together with the Florida Communities Trust, made available a 2.4 acre waterfront site in downtown Tampa on which the museum now sits.
The Tampa Bay history story is “real” - the building has finally been completed and the permanent endowment funding is well on its way to completion. More area citizens, businesses and foundations will continue to give generously as their way of acknowledging its importance as well as honoring those who created the community and region which we now enjoy and from which we now benefit.
The Tampa Bay History Center is a 501(C)(3) non-profit corporation and is funded in part by: Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners, The City of Tampa and The State of Florida Division of Historic Resources.