Thursday, March 25, 2010

Yellow Fever and Fires, Cigar History

Yellow Fever 

The 1887-1888 epidemic would have affected the new factory town of Ybor City. 

“There are two mass graves at Oaklawn Cemetery.

Ft. Brooke, Mass Grave. 

Yellow Fever, Mass Grave.  The second mass grave contains an undetermined number of yellow fever victims.  Tampa, like many Southern coastal towns and cities, was seasonally assailed by this often-fatal form of tropical hemorrhagic fever, known throughout the South as “yellow jack,” or “bilious fever.” Tampa had five outbreaks between 1850 and 1905.  The worst was 1887-1888 and – not knowing the cause of the illness – locals hastily buried victims en masse, hoping to stem contagion.  Ironically a local doctor, John P. Wall (also buried at Oaklawn), was correct in suggesting that yellow fever was spread by the bite of the aedes aegypti mosquito, but he was widely disbelieved.
Source: Wikimedia Commons “Tampa history” ( : accessed 25 March 2010) 

John P. Wall stone:

Source of pictures:
Wikimedia Commons “Tampa history” ( : accessed 25 March 2010)

Another early challenge for Tampa was fires.   The original factories and clubs in Ybor City were made of wood, and many were rebuilt because of fires.  The 1908 fire was particularly destructive for Ybor City. 

This link is to a site that has pictures and brief information about them, including the 1886 fire which destroyed Don Vincente Ybor’s cigar factory in Key West.

Be sure to go to their main page for more cigar history and pictures.  Good site.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Article:  "The Afro-Cuban Community in Ybor City and Tampa, 1886-1910" by Nancy Raquel Mirabal

While Afro Cubans moved freely within Ybor City and worked next to white Cubans in the cigar factories, Florida’s segregation laws sharpened racial realities for Cuban immigrants elsewhere in the area and state. Schools, hospitals, certain businesses and private clubs all subscribed to Florida’s Jim Crow laws Afro Cubans often travelled to the African American section of Tampa to attend school, receive medical attention or go to the only movie theater that was open to blacks.”

What this means for the genealogist is that when looking for Afro-Cuban relatives in Tampa, look for them in the black community, as well as Ybor City. 

Book:  More Than Black : Afro-Cubans in Tampa by  SUSAN D. GREENBAUM , HENRY ALAN GREEN , and  MARCIA KERSTEIN ZERIVITZ.   Available through 

Port Tampa Cemetery, African American cemetery destroyed for MacDill Air Force Base.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Spanish American War

The Spanish American War is an important part of Tampa history.

Through the efforts of Henry B. Plant, Tampa became the “official port of embarkation for troops going to Cuba.”  The headquarters for the Army were at Plant’s Tampa Bay Hotel.  Among the notables that arrived in Tampa were Clara Barton, and Colonel Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders.[1]

Henry B. Plant’s Tampa Bay Hotel[2]

The story is told of the Rough Riders on their horses riding into Las Novedades Restaurant in Ybor City, and the owner Manuel Menendez offering them free drinks on the house. This story became known as “The Charge of the Yellow Rice Brigade.” [3]  
Las Novedades Restaurant[4]

Here's a short video on the Spanish American War:  It's about seven minutes, and is a good overview of “a splendid little war.”  It touches on Jose Martí, the “Butcher Weyler,” yellow journalism, the Maine, African American 9th Calvary, the Rough Riders, among other things.   

[1] Henry B. Plant Museum, The History, “The Spanish American War” (, accessed 14 March 2010).
[2]Wikimedia Commons, “Old Tampa Bay Hotel” (, accessed 14 March 2010).
[3] Frank Trebín Lastra, Ybor City, The Making of a Landmark Town (Tampa: University of Tampa Press, 2006), 47.
[4] Wikimedia Commons,  “Las Novedades Restaurant

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ybor City Beginnings Text/Source for Podcast

One winter night in 1884, Don Vincente Martinez Ybor sat in his Key West residence discussing business with an associate from New York.  Ignacio Haya, like Ybor, was a cigar manufacturer. Workers constantly threatened to strike and disrupt their operations.  Haya had already sent his business partner Serafin Sanchez to look for a new location to build their factories. Ybor was no less determined to move his operations out of Key West and New York, to escape organized labor unions. This would not be the first time he would start over.  For thirty years he had run a successful brokering and manufacturing cigar business in Havana.  His “El Principe de Gales” brand of clear Havanas secured him a successful U.S. market. Then a series of events took place in the 1860s resulting in Ybor leaving Cuba.  First, his wife died, then cigar workers began to strike, and the Spanish raised taxes.  Though an elite Spaniard from Valencia, Ybor changed his political views, and gave his support to the separatists.  When war broke out in 1868, an order for his arrest was issued, and Ybor left quickly for Key West. 
As Ybor and Haya discussed their plans, they did not realize that their search for a new location would be resolved that night with the visit of Ybor’s old friends, Bernardino Gargol and Gavino Gutierrez.  The two men had just come from Tampa, and their positive report so excited the interests of Ybor and Haya, they booked steamship passage, and arrived the next morning.  With the cooperation of the Tampa Board of Trade, they purchased tracts of land on the northeast outskirts of Tampa, and began building the factory town that came to be known as Ybor City.   By March 1886 production had begun with the importation of cigar workers from Key West and Cuba, and by the end of year there were 176 dwellings for the workers.[1] 

[1] L. Glenn Westfall, Don Vincente Martinez Ybor, The Man and His Empire.  (New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc. 1987), 17-79.