The oldest house in the Tampa area at its previous location at 3210 E. 8th Avenue as seen Nov. 29, 2016.
Photo by Chris Urso, Tampa Bay Times.

Page 4

Did Tampa carpenter John T. Givens build the historic Stringer house?

Warren Addison Givens

Darwin Branch Givens

The life of Tampa pioneer John T. Givens, his arrival and contributions

The "Breaker courthouse," development of the Stringer house block,  and courthouse square

The City of Tampa is established and organized in 1887, holds its first election

Tampa plans its first real city hall, Stringer property selected, 1889

Construction bidding, awarded, interior design descriptions

Lamont Bailey, the first city clerk of Tampa's new incorporation

Tampa's new fire alarm system by Gamewell

City Hall contractor James Bullivant skips town

August C. Wuerpel, City of Tampa's first Fire Chief

Progress resumes on interior, project completed, August activity of Mayor's court & police arrests, description of interior layout

Tampa's prospects for the future

1900 and 1905 photos of City Hall, 1902 cupola issue, evolution of City Hall from 1892 to 1903, close ups of 1905 photo details,

Planning for new county courthouse begins in 1891, old Breaker courthouse is sold and moved

Contract awarded to W. H. Kendrick to build new county courthouse and Knight & Wall building, terms of contract


Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 5

Sources for the historic house build date

Untangling the Stringers
When was Dr. Stringer born?

Dr. Sheldon Stringer, Sr. timeline and bio

Tampa/Brooksville  Stringers censuses

Tampa/Brooksville Stringers family tree

The Stalnaker years
 Rescue by Stalnaker Bros. Imboden Stalnaker

Judge Leo Stalnaker

Family photos from Gianna Russo, Imboden's great-granddaughter

 Judge Stalnaker courtroom scene

Tampa before 1850
Who was here and when did they arrive?

The Spanish land grants and the Hackleys

Spain cedes Florida to the U.S. - Adams/Onis Treaty

The Fort Brooke years

Judge Augustus Steele

Tampa's revival, surveying and platting

Surveyor John Jackson

Conclusions for the Stringer house thus far


The 1848 hurricane - Could the Stringer house have survived it?

Were the Stringers in Tampa before the "Great Gale of 1848"

Descriptions of the hurricane from various sources:
C.A. Winchell,
Thomas E. Jackson,
W.G. Ferris and son Josiah,
James McKay, Jr.,
E.L. Robinson, 
Canter Brown Jr.,

Who was Dr. Sheldon Stringer Sr's father? What was Mary Stringer's maiden name?

Did Mr. Stringer make it to Tampa?

The Edgecombe County Stringers - could Dr. Stringer's parents come from there?

Other related Stringers: Texas, Missouri & Wyoming


Crucial to determining the construction date of the Stringer house, who built it and who it was built for, is to determine when John T. Givens came to Tampa.

"This building...was originally built for Dr. Sheldon Stringer, father of the present city physician who was named after his father.  It was built in the fifties by contractor John T. Givens, who built a number of houses of this type and class about that time." 
 THE TAMPA TIMES, "Mayor Has Sold Old House to Stalnaker Bros; Was Landmark." June 13, 1914

Could early Tampa carpenter John Givens have built the historic Stringer house and was it before or after the great hurricane of 1848? (Continued below after W. A. Givens.)

H.C. Ferris & Co. Gent's Furnishings and W. A. Givens drugstore on the southeast corner of Washington St. & Franklin, 1881.

Burgert Bros. collection at the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library

Tampa City Clerk from June 19, 1896 to June 9, 1898

A Tampa native, Warren Addison Givens was born in 1857. He was the son of former City Council member John T. Givens, and the brother-in-law of Robert Brenham Thomas, who had also served as Tampa’s City Clerk. Givens worked primarily as a clerk and a bookkeeper and in 1881, he was elected as a member of Tampa’s City Council, where he served for about five months. In 1885, he was one of the founding members of Tampa’s Board of Trade. He was also elected three times as Clerk of the Circuit Court for Hillsborough County. Warren Addison Givens died in Tampa on April 11, 1907.

From: The City Clerks of Tampa, 2nd Edition, 2017, by Shirley Foxx-Knowles and many other contributors.




Listed immediately before the Stringers on the 1850 census was carpenter John Givens and his family.  The John T. Givens homestead was described as being on the southeast corner of Lafayette and Morgan Streets* which was 2 blocks east and 1 block north of the Stringers house.

*See note on Karl Grismer's history of the Givens home below.

Street names and addresses were not used on this census but the neighboring names indicate they were in the heart of what is now our downtown.  Relationship to head of house was also not recorded on this census.


Would the Stringers and the Givenses have been listed consecutively on the census if they lived 3 blocks apart?

This 1847 survey updated with structures as late as 1853 shows that walking the most direct route, there were 3 or 4 very small structures between the Stringers and the Givenses.  Whether or not these were dwellings would depend on if there was any effort made to  draw them  to scale.  In 1927, the Givens house property became the Hillsb. Lodge 25.  Caddy-corner from there is where the Knights of Pythias lodge was built in 1913.* The relative size of the courthouse and the surrounding circular picket fence indicates this is the McKay courthouse which was replaced by the Breaker courthouse in 1854.  This is why the structures on this survey are believed to be not later than 1953.

**Karl Grismer, in his History of Tampa, wrote concerning the construction of the Knights of Pythias building in 1913, that the Pythians lodge was built at the former homestead site of John T. Givens; the southeast corner of Lafayette and Morgan.  We know that the Hillsb. Lodge #25 was built in 1927 on the site of the Givens home, and this map is showing a home at that location but not at the K.o.P. location Could Grismer be confused about which lodge was built where the Givens home once stood?

From Karl Grismer's "A History of the City of Tampa and the Tampa Bay Region," 1950, Edited by D. B. McKay, 1950.

John T. Givens (originally Given) was born in S. Carolina on September 15, 1815, of Scotch and English descent. He enlisted in the army during the Seminole War of 1835 and was stationed 6 months at Fort Brooke. He then returned to South Carolina where he was married to Nancy Cunningham Walker.

In 1843 Mr. Givens moved to Madison County, Florida, and five years later came to Tampa, arriving on Christmas day. The town had started to grow and he engaged in building. He also started an undertaking establishment, making his own coffins. He erected a home on the southeast corner of Morgan and Lafayette. 


Karl Grismer, reporter, editor, historian.

Karl H. Grismer was a newspaperman, magazine editor and historian who wrote histories of St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Fort Myers, Tampa in Florida, and Akron and Kent in Ohio.

Karl Grismer came to Florida with his wife in 1921, when he was 26 years old. He became managing editor of the Tourist News, a weekly magazine that was distributed to travelers nationwide. About a month after Grismer arrived, a hurricane struck Tarpon Springs, the first such storm to make recorded landfall in the Tampa Bay area. It became known as the Tampa Bay Hurricane. The hurricane resulted in widespread damage but it wasn’t nearly as bad as newspaper accounts throughout the country suggested.

Recovery began quickly and before long, the land boom was back in full swing.  Grismer’s reports in the Tourist News helped convince tourists to return.  Apparently Grimmer grew fond of the area and began working on a history.

He spent more than a year researching the files of the St. Petersburg Times and the Evening Independent for his history of St. Pete. His wife, Delores, also a journalist, worked on the project.  The book was published in 1924 by the Tourist News Publishing Company. It contains numerous photos of the early days of the city and is packed with details.

By all accounts, Grismer was a careful researcher who produced a highly respected account of the city's histories.  Grismer would  interview pioneers who were still living and even traveled to other cities for research when needed. 

Grismer left the Tourist News in 1928 and went back to Ohio, returning to work at the Akron Beacon Journal and writing histories. In 1945, he moved to Sarasota and produced a history of that city.  By 1947, he was back in St. Petersburg, working on a second history of the city. The next year he did a history of Fort Myers. In 1950, he wrote a history of Tampa. In the archives at the St. Petersburg Museum of History, there’s a photograph of Grismer looking gaunt and gray in a pinstriped suit and holding a cigarette between his fingers. He’d spent more than 30 years writing city histories.

Work on an extensive history of Akron and Summit County was interrupted by lung surgery in Miami (Ohio).  After the surgery, Grismer returned to Sarasota. He died at home on March 13, 1952 at the age of 56. His wife finished work on his book and died of a stroke about a month after it went to press. (Photo and bio by Lighthouse Books, ABAA blog page.)



From E. L. Robinson's History of Hillsborough County, 1928

The reminiscences of his early life,  by Mr. D. B. Givens, have helped to add to the human interest of the narrative. The biographies in the biographical section of the book have been carefully prepared from information furnished by the subjects themselves, or in the cases of those who are deceased, by members of their families.


DARWIN BRANCH GIVENS was born at Tampa, Florida, on September 28, 1858, a son of John T. and Nancy Cunningham (Walker) Givens. His paternal Ancestors (seven brothers) came from Scotland, and settled in New York, Virginia and in Illinois. His father, John T. Givens, was from South Carolina, and he first saw Florida as a volunteer soldier in the service of the United States during the Seminole Indian War, which commenced in 1835, and camped at the corner of Franklin and Krause Streets. His father also engaged in Indian warfare in Florida, for which he drew a pension from the United States, and came to the present site of the city in 1848, and was camped on what is now the lot on which stands Hillsborough Lodge No. 25. His maternal and paternal ancestors go back to the Revolutionary days in the United States, and one ancestor in his mother's family was Lord Mayor of London, England. Early in life, Mr. Givens worked with his father, who was a carpenter, a shoemaker and a coffin-maker.




Historical accounts of locations of structures describe them in different ways. 
1.  By which corner of the intersection they were located, "On the southwest corner of Lafayette St. and Fla. Ave."
2.  By which corner of the block they were located. "On the northeast corner of the Stringer house block..."

As you can see at right, the above two locations describe the same property:





From Genealogical Records of the Pioneers of Tampa and of Some Who Came After Them. 1915.
This work is the joint product in their several capacities of the labors of Charles E. Harrison, Author, E. N. B. Willey, Publisher, and Carl W. Hill., Printer.


John Given first saw Florida as a volunteer soldier in the U.S. Service in the Seminole Indian war which commenced in 1835.  He was a member of the mounted regiment commanded by Col. Childs.  This regiment came by sea to St. Augustine, and thence marched overland to Tampa Bay which was Fort. Brooke, the government post. After the expiration of the term, which was 6 months, its members disbanded and returned home.

In the same year that he returned from Florida, in 1836, John Given was married to Nancy C. Walker, then but 15 years of age, being himself 21.  Seven years after, in 1843, he moved with his family, with 3 sons, to Madison County, Florida.  There he remained 5 years, during which time 2 other children, daughters, were born.

About the time he moved to Florida, or just before, John Given started writing his surname with a final "s," and this has been kept up by all of his descendants.  He also thought that his signature would look more symmetric by adding an extra letter and wrote it John T. Givens, adding the middle initial.

The family reached Tampa on Christmas day, 1848, just after [about 3 months] the famous storm known as "The gale of 1848."  Many houses in the then rising village were destroyed by the storm, and there was much work to be done in rebuilding the old and erecting new houses for the settlers that were then beginning to come in large numbers. Mr. Givens engaged in the business of architect and builder, which he followed as his principal occupation during the remainder of his stirring life.





Portion of the 1853 Jackson combination  survey with property owners added after April 5, 1847.

Properties outlined in red clearly show "J.T. Givens" as property owner. Three sources indicate Givens arrived in Tampa on Christmas of 1848, so he may have bought the property when it went on sale on April 11, 1847, or added to this survey whenever he bought it. 

Of importance here is that the large Givens property is not the southeast corner of Morgan and Lafayette as Harrison states, it is the northwest corner.  In "Genealogical Records" where Harrison states "...being built directly opposite his residence..." I seems to fail to consider that "opposite" is also what was across Morgan St, and not just across Lafayette St.  The Baptist property located across Morgan St. from the Givens property and the Methodist church property on the southeast corner may have been arbitrary placements by Jackson and later maps show it was't what was built.  That is also the same corner the Knights of Pythias built their lodge in 1913.



John T. Givens's son, D.B. Givens, says his father came to Tampa in 1848 and "was camped on what is now the lot on which stands Hillsborough Lodge No. 25."  The statement seems to imply that J.T. Givens lived on his property even before his house was built, and the Masonic Lodge which still stands today, on the northwest corner of Kennedy Blvd. (Lafayette St.) and Morgan Street.  This is the same property owned by J. T. Givens on the 1853 Jackson survey of Tampa.  (This lodge was built in 1927.)  Harrison assumes that the K.o.P lodge was built on the site of the Givens house because he thinks the Givens house was built SOUTH of the actual corner the Methodist church was built and didn't consider that "across" meant WEST of the actual corner where the Methodist church was built (the location on the map above indicated as "Baptist church.)


It is apparent from the above sources that John T. Givens could not have constructed the Stringer home in 1842 because he wasn't in Tampa from 1836 through Dec. 25, 1848.  It also wasn't built for Dr. Sheldon Stringer in those times.


It should be kept in mind when viewing the street plat surveys in this feature, that Tampa's streets in the 1840s were a far cry from what you see in these 1880s maps.  The stories you read here reference locations on streets that existed when the story was written, but were nothing much more than rough trails in the 1840s.  See the Winchell article of Oct. 11, 1924 further down.



The Stringer house in relation to the county courthouse in 1884.

The courthouse at left was built in 1854 and is the one in the photo below in 1889. Known unofficially as the "Breaker courthouse." it was built at a cost of $5,000 and was used until 1891. Of course, it also had a picket fence to keep the animals out of the courtyard.  The entrance faced Lafayette St (on the right of the photo below.) 

It replaced the previous one which was built by James McKay, Sr. in 1848.  No photos exist of the McKay courthouse, which was quite a bit smaller, 20 ft x 45 ft. and cost the taxpayers $1,358. The McKay courthouse is the one most refer to as the "First courthouse" although it was really the 2nd one. The actual first structure used as a courthouse, a log building, was burned by Seminole Indians in 1836, and possibly stood in "Courthouse Square" the northeast corner of Lafayette St. and Franklin St.




This 1889 Sanborn map from the UF digital maps collection is the earliest that shows the area along Morgan Street.  The Stringer property is outlined in yellow. The Methodist Church can be seen in red at the northeast corner of Lafayette and Morgan.  Compare to Jackson's plan of Tampa which showed a Baptist church planned for there and the Methodist property across Lafayette to the south.  Evidently, the plan wasn't followed for the placement of these churches. But the Givens home isn't shown on this map, not even on the southeast corner where the Knights of Pythias lodge was built in 1913, the location specified by Grismer in his 1950 "History of Tampa..."  A viable explanation would be that John T. Givens built his house where indicated in blue on the above map, then by 1889 it had been razed.  In 1913 the Knights of Pythias lodge was built where you see vacant property at the southeast corner, and then in 1927 the Hillsborough Lodge No. 25 was built where the Givens house stood.  D.B. Givens's story of the Hillsb. Lodge No.25 being built where his father's house was doesn't necessarily mean that the house was still there when that lodge was built.  Perhaps he built a new home which we see on the southwest corner of the intersection.



Burgert Brothers photo from University of South Florida Digital Collection
Looking east on Lafayette Street from Franklin St.  The first intersection is Florida Avenue, originally named Monroe St.

TAMPA, FLORIDA. WEDNESDAY, JUNE 7. 1854. Our Court House.
Through the kindness of Mr. [John H.] Breaker, contractor and builder of this magnificent Court House, we are enabled to furnish our readers with a full description of its order, size, various offices, etcc. etc. The building is 76 ft. long, by 45 wide, and two stories high. The 1st story is 12 ft. between joints; the second is 14 1/2 ft. On the 1st floor is the City Hall, Judge of Probates, Clerks’, and Sheriff Offices, and Grand Jurors’ room. A spacious Hall extends from the Southern entrance of the building, between the four offices to the City Hall.

On the 2nd floor is the Court Room, 42 by 45 ft., and two spacious Jury rooms, with a passage extending from the south entrance, between the jury rooms to the Court-room. A projecting Portico, an each end, the whole width of the building supported by heavy Grecian Columns. A double flight of stairs ascends from each end of the building, landing - on the 2nd floor of the porticos. The roof is mounted with a dome and tower, 18 ft in diameter, and 24 ft high, covered with tin, or zinc.

Hillsborough County Courthouse seen from Lafayette St. and Franklin Street, circa 1880s. Image from Florida Memory State Archives and Library collection.

The extreme height of the building, from the pinnacle of the tower to the ground is 68 feet; and the whole is being beautifully finished in a combination of the Grecian, Ionic, and Corinthian orders. The plan was drawn by the contractor, Mr. Breaker, who has engaged to erect the building, for a sum less than $5000. The execution of this contract, we are satisfied, will be attended with considerable loss to the builder, unless the generosity and liberality of the County Commissioner’s shall interpose to prevent it, for the credit of our Town and County, we hope they will, and not in any stingy manner.

Development of the Stringer-Stalnaker house block and courthouse block through the years.

1884 - The "Breaker courthouse" on the block north of the Stringer house. It consisted of the 2 1/2 story county courthouse and the 2-story jail, both were wood frame buildings. 

1884 - The Stringer house shared the block with various other wood frame businesses: grocer, general store, barber, billiards, bakery, restaurant, a small stable, and two smaller dwellings.  Notice the creek that ran down the middle of Jackson St., "dry in summer."

Dr. Stringer had been living in Brooksville since the end of the Civil war, late 1860s.  Mary Stringer was living here with her children in 1860 but appears to have moved to Brooksville with her son and daughter by 1870.  Mary died in 1874 and was buried in the Stringer plot at Oaklawn.  The house was still part of the Stringer Estate in the 1880s.


(Continued after City Organization section below.)



1887 - June 2 - The City of Tampa is established, its first city mayor elected July 12
The City of Tampa was established on Jun 2, 1887 when under special act of the state legislature, the Governor approved a bill that granted the city of Tampa a new charter, abolishing the town governments of Tampa and North Tampa.  Section 5 of the charter provided for a city-wide election for mayor, eleven councilmen and other city officials, to be held on the 2nd Tuesday in July.  The new charter also greatly expanded the corporate limits of the city.  Tampa now took in North Tampa, Ybor City and some land on the west side of the Hillsborough River.  The first city election under the new charter was held July 12, 1887, and the new mayor took office on July 15, 1887, the date considered to be when Tampa was organized. 

What Happened in Tampa on July 15, 1887 or Thereabouts, by Joseph Hipp

In a hotly contested race, George Bascom Sparkman was elected mayor for his 4th term, defeating Henry C. Ferris, 283 to 269.   

Elected under provision of the new city charter on July 12,1887 were George B. Sparkman-Mayor; J. Lamont Bailey-Clerk and Treasurer; W.T. Haskins-City Marshal; J. C. Robbins-Tax Assessor and A. M. Fleming-Tax Collector. City Council members included:  Charles E. Harrison-President, William Benton Henderson , President pro tempore, William A. Honaker, Isben S. Giddens, Henry Laurens Knight, Frederick M. Meyer, Silas L. Biglow, Candido Angel Martinez-Ybor, Joseph A. Walker, Charles N. Brigham, and James E. Mitchell (died 11/26/1887, and apparently his vacancy was not filled.)  Source: Council Minute Book 2, page 59.

After his 4th term as Mayor, Sparkman served on the City Council again, from March 4, 1891, to March 4, 1892. Both of his terms on City Council were served under the administration of Mayor Duff Post.

George B. Sparkman
First Mayor elected for City of Tampa, 1887
Photo and info  from Biographical Sketches of Circuit Judges, 10th Jud. Cir. website




Council Chambers
City of Tampa, Fla.
July 15, 1887

The newly elected council of the city of Tampa convened this afternoon at 3 o'clock whereupon the members were duly qualified by His Honor George B. Sparkman, Mayor.  The first business in order being the election of a President.  Councilmen Harrison and Biglow were placed in  nomination for that position.  A vote was taken, and Councilman Harrison having received a majority of votes cast was declared duly elected.  The Council then adjourned until 7:30 o'clock Monday evening, July 18th.

Approved July 18th, 1887
H. L. Knight
President pro. tem.

[signed] Lamont S. Bailey
City Clerk


Archives, Tampa City Council Member Jan 1849-Jun 1904
City of Tampa past Mayors, George Bascom Sparkman - 19th And 22nd Mayor Of Tampa
The Mayors of Tampa 1856 - 2015,  A project of the City of Tampa


Chapter 3779 [No. 99]
AN ACT to abolish the corporations of the Towns of Tampa and North Tampa, to provide
a municipal government for the City of Tampa and to define the boundaries thereof. 

Under the provisions of the act, the city's boundaries were extended to include North Tampa and Ybor City. The City of Tampa's government was also to be administered by a mayor and eleven councilmen, two elected from each of the four wards and three elected from the city at large. Elections were to be held on the second Tuesday of each year and other officials such as the city marshal, city clerk, treasurer, tax assessor and tax collector were to be elected at the same time as the mayor and City Council. The charter also allowed ordinances to be passed by the City Council over the mayor's veto.

Click each image below to see larger, then click larger image to see full size.

City of Tampa established, former charters abolished.

Mayor & councilmen, first election, annual election

Compensation, powers


Taxes, loans, bonds, veto, fire limit

Existing indebtedness provided for, Act to take effect AT ONCE.

1887 - July 12
The City of Tampa's first election
"...a disgrace to an intelligent and civilized community..."

Tampa had 895 registered voters in 1887 and the Tampa Journal reported that only 575 of these men exercised their opinion - only 64%.   Mr. Sparkman was elected as the new Mayor by 14 votes.

The Journal reported on the election as follows:

As a public servant, the Journal would be derelict in its duty if it passed over some of the irregularities and disgraceful occurrences of Tuesday’s election without calling attention to them. It was such an election as we hope never again to see in Tampa. For two or three days before the election, whiskey was dispensed free by some of the saloons. On election day the streets were lined with drunken men; the most obscene, vulgar and profane language could be heard, not only in the streets, but in the room in which the election was held. Frequent rows and fights occurred, and during the entire day and night a drunken and riotous mob held possession of the town. Such a state of affairs are a disgrace to an intelligent and civilized community, and the Journal desires to place itself on record as being opposed to any such proceedings. We denounce the buying of votes by any man, either with money or whiskey; we do not believe in coercion or intimidation, and we call upon the respectable, law-abiding and intelligent citizens of Tampa to see to it that the like does not happen again.

Mayor Sparkman didn't need to concern himself with a job description. The Journal did this for him and for his officers as well:

Many things have been promised by the newly elected Mayor - and many reforms are hoped for. There are two or three things to which the Journal desires to direct His Honor’s special attention. One is the closing of the saloons on Sundays - back and side doors as well as the front doors. There can be no disproving the assertation that the law has been shamefully violated in this matter.  All that is necessary to close these places effectually on Sunday is for the policemen to do their duty.

Another important matter that demands prompt and aggressive attention to the city’s officials is the houses of ill-fame and their occupants. There are several of these vile dens within the corporate limits of the city; that they are exerting a most demoralizing and pernicious influence on the community, there can be no question; young men - often mere boys, are being enticed from the path of virtue and started on the downward road to shame, disgrace, disease and hell; their very life-blood is being sapped by these degraded and fallen creatures. The boldness and brazen effrontery exhibited by these women is already notorious and shameful.  Almost any hour of the day or night they can be seen either walking or driving through the streets, visiting the saloons and making themselves generally conspicuous. Something must be done to check this growing evil for the sake of the boys as well as the girls.

The police whose duty it is to look after violations and report the same to the proper officials simply do nothing. You can find the whole work force lounging along the saloon block at any time half asleep.

THE SUNLAND TRIBUNE Volume VI Number 1 November, 1980 Journal of the TAMPA HISTORICAL SOCIETY - What Happened in Tampa on July 15, 1887, by Joseph Hipp

Historian Karl Grismer differentiates the date of the act of the Florida Legislature and the election of Mayor Sparkman., in Tampa, A History of the City and the Tampa Bay Region of Florida, by Karl H. Grismer, edited by D. B. McKay, 1950.
The Mayors of Tampa 1856 - 2015,  A project of the City of Tampa, City of Tampa:  Incorporation Timeline


Development of Courthouse Square and the Stringer block (cont.)

1887 - The Breaker courthouse at the block just north of the Stringer house, an armory had been added by 1887. The jail is still there.





1887 - Four saloons had opened along Franklin Street.  Two cement/stone structures are situated along Jackson St. -- a tin shop and paints & oils shop. 

The house still belonged to Sheldon Stringer as the Stringer Estate.  Dr. Stringer married in 1874 had been living in Brooksville since the end of the Civil war, late 1860s.





1889 - At the courthouse block in 1889, no major changes were done to the building, but the armory and jail are no longer there.  Ladders can be seen propped up against the building as seen in the previous photo.  This would be the time period of the Burgert Bros. photo which showed ladders, one of only two known existing photos.




1889 - The great fire of Aug. 1887 wiped out the entire east side of Franklin St.  In 1889, all brick structures occupied the block (at far left.) The Stringer house, the only wood frame dwelling left, was miraculously spared.  It still belonged to Sheldon Stringer and was called the Stringer Estate.  Dr. Stringer had been living in Brooksville since the end of the Civil war, late 1860s.

This is the time period of the famous "Tibbetts Corner" photo, but the corner was on the west side of Franklin St., not seen on this map.





On April 23, 1889 a bond election was held for the issuance of $100,000 of 7% bonds for internal improvements which included the construction of a city hall, fire station and street paving work.  The result of the election was that 489 votes were cast in favor of the bonds, 7 against, and 6 marked "no bonds."  The election was ratified on April 26 by the city council and the bonds sold to W. N. Coler & Co. of New York on May 15, 1889, and delivered through T. C. Taliaferro on June 17th.

On May 5, 1889, the city council chose Augustus "Gus" C. Wuerpel as Fire Chief with A. J. Harris and Manuel Rodriguez serving as first and second assistants, respectively.



In early July, 1889, the site was selected to build a brick city hall.  The Stringer property was chosen at a sale price of $2,000.  Apparently the Stringer property extended the entire length of the block along Florida Ave, from Jackson St. to Lafayette St., because the house itself was at the corner of Florida and Jackson.









On Aug. 19, 1889, the city purchased from Dr. Sheldon Stringer and wife Margaret, the property on which their house was located, from Jackson St to Lafayette St. along Florida Avenue.  The deed transferring the property indicated $2,000 was paid along with an agreement that the property would be used for building the new city hall.




The new city hall was to be built on the north half of the property and no mention is made of the Stringer house itself which occupied the south half of the lot.  The house would remain to be later used as offices/living quarters for police and/or fire personnel.








On Oct. 2, 1889, the council passed a resolution ordering $10,000 of the $100,000 fund appropriated to the building of City Hall.  City council records during the construction phase are virtually non-existent until nearly a year later, Sept. 3, 1890, when a resolution was passed ordering estimates be obtained for the lighting of the building.  This was probably due to the Board of Public Works handling the matter.


In 1915 when the Tampa Times wrote about a new city hall replacing this one, they had to rely on memories of W. H. Beckwith, a jeweler and watchmaker/clockmaker, to provide some details, because they couldn't find anyone else who could even remember when it was built.










The first bids received by Dec. 12, 1889 were all too high.



No article was found as to when the bid was awarded, but from the Jan. 31, 1890 article at left, it is apparent that the contract was awarded to James Bullivant, a leading successful local contractor, who at this point had a full crew at work.






A reporter for the Tampa Daily Journal published an extremely lengthy article portraying an interview with the city clerk, Lamont Bailey, in which the clerk  provided extravagant accounts of exotic materials and furnishings being imported from all over the world, for the furnishing of certain offices such as the Mayor's, and other rooms in the new city hall, creating an impression that the interior design was going to be luxurious.  But he also exaggerated the lack of furnishings for other areas, such as the firemen's quarters and Chief Wuerpel's office.  The article was all in jest.  Below, selected excerpts from that article.

Below, the exaggerated lack of furnishings for Fire Chief Wuerpel.

Below, the conclusion of the clerk's description for his own office, and the conclusion of the article.

Tampa City Clerk from August 13, 1886 – March 4, 1891

The first City Clerk to serve under Tampa’s new City Charter in 1887, Lamont Bailey came to Florida from North Carolina, where he was born in 1861. He was the editor of the Tampa Tribune and also contributed to other local newspapers. He was a member of the Citizens Relief Committee which tried to address the yellow fever outbreak in 1887.

While others assigned to this committee failed to complete their duties, Bailey was committed and saw through his entire assignment. After serving as Tampa’s City Clerk, Lamont Bailey went on to serve on Tampa’s City Council from September 9, 1891 until March 4, 1892.   

From: The City Clerks of Tampa, 2nd Edition, 2017, by Shirley Foxx-Knowles and many other contributors.




In mid-May, 1890, James Bullivant, the contractor who was awarded the contract to build city hall, skipped town without a trace, leaving several projects unfinished. Prior to this, he had been a prominent contractor and builder in the city for the past 5 years; in fact, he was the leading contractor, having built the Lykes block, all of the Campbell block, the Sparkman and Gould blocks, and several others.  He was described as a "pushing, energetic and hard-working man" and was regarded as an honest and reliable builder.  At his point, Bullivant had drawn out all but about $1,100 of the approximate price of $10,000.  He owned a fine home in Highland Park but had mortgaged it for $3,000 a few days before his departure, taking most of the money with him.  It was thought that he did not make much out of the contracts he left and that he really lost money on them.  It seems to be a case of too many underbids.  It was also noted that for the past two months he had been drinking too much and it was believed that he had gone west.







1890, June 5 - The owner and editor of the Tampa Journal, H. J. Cooper, took the Bullivant disappearance as an opportunity to criticize the Board of Public Works by stating the "unfinished City Hall and the Jackson Street ditch are both monuments to the stupidity and incompetency of the Board" and "We believe that it is the unanimous sentiment of the business men and tax payers of Tampa that the members of the Board should tender their resignations."






















In late June of 1890, the city contracted with J.C. McNeill to complete the construction of city hall.  It would appear that the structural part of the project was complete, as McNeill was owner of "The Novelty Wood Works" specializing in turned and scroll work, mantels, doors and sashes.  McNeill would likely have completed the other tasks for which bids were submitted; steel partitions, plastering, painting, doors, blinds, and sashes.





In those days, the mayor served as judge in the municipal court. 
Below are the cases that came before Mayor Herman Glogowski in August of 1890.








The Sep. 4 article below was part of a much longer story which began with the reporter's fictional version of the city hall officials' wailing disappointment and lamenting that the furnishings weren't as extravagant as they previously described in an April 24 of the same style, where he interviewed the City Clerk asking how the place was going to be furnished (excerpts of which appear earlier in this feature above.) 




Synopsis of Sept. 11, 1890 article in the Tampa Journal, "The Immediate Future"

Tampa's "dull season" has ended, business is picking up, and none have failed. Retail and wholesale is up and on the increase. A number of buildings are getting ready for occupation, and many more under way or just starting. Residences of a "better class" and a number of "tasteful cottages" were just completed or under way.  The city is spreading out in all directions, real estate values are up, and the S. Fla. railroad is expanding facilities for freight and passenger purposes. The deepening of the channel has increased business at the port considerably and will bring in millions to Tampa's wealth.  The magnificent Tampa Bay Hotel is getting ready for occupancy and will attract thousands of tourists from all over the world, and be a "source of pride and profit to Tampa's citizens."  The crematory will promote cleanliness and health, and the water works system, electric light facilities and fire alarm all contribute to the general satisfaction.  The deepening of the channel, establishment of a weather bureau, and a bonded warehouse for the U.S. Customs service will prove Tampa's importance to the National Government.  Plans for a new respectable courthouse are under way, and the ramshackle eyesore will be done away (the old "Breaker courthouse.")  Other towns in the county have kept up with the building, sowing, planting and trading on a gradual increase, and "Tampa may well feel satisfactory with her present prosperity."  See the whole article here.



On Sept.17, 1890, another resolution was passed to purchase furniture not to exceed $1,000.  On Oct. 8, 1890, bids were advertised for the provision of jail cells for the city hall. 




City Hall scenes


Circa late 1890s

Photo courtesy of Tampa's Bravest/Tampa Firefighters Museum


Circa 1900

The above is a Burgert Brothers re-photograph of one that appeared in the mid-winter special edition of the Jan. 21, 1900 Tampa Tribune.  The tower is often referred to as a "cupola" and it housed the fire alarm bell for this district.  At the far left edge can be seen a small portion of the Stringer house.  The horses and wagons on the left appear to be the Tampa fire department or this may be a funeral procession.



It would appear that the cupola was repaired in Dec. 1902 or early 1903, but finally had to be removed in 1906 and seems to have been something worth documenting by photo.  A portion of the roof missing at this time might be an indication that the repairs had not yet been completed.


By late 1902, the cupola was causing leaks which led to more problems, such as plaster falling from the ceiling.  "It is rotten, in fact, the entire building is in danger of tumbling when the dynamiting begins in the channel."  The problem had apparently existed by 1899 at which time Chief A. J. Harris condemned it, but it was patched up.  The floor had sunk 3 inches.


An estimated 2 to 3 tons of books, ballot boxes and booths in the attic was putting too much strain on the floor joists.


The following week, they changed their mind.


Circa 1911 - Tampa City Hall and Tampa Police Headquarters built in 1890 at 315 Lafayette.

When the Fire Dept. moved to its new headquarters on Zack St. in summer 1911, this old City Hall was remodeled to accommodate
Police Headquarters with more space and the signage would probably have been changed at that time to no longer show Fire HQ.
   Most all of the City offices had moved out into other rental spaces in the area. This is why this photo was very likely not taken in 1905.
Florida Avenue is on the left, Lafayette St. is on the right. 
Photo courtesy of the Burgert Bros. collection at the Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative

Below right:  The 1892 Sanborn map from the Univ. of Fla. digital map collection shows the building two years after the description below. 

From the above Sep. 4, 1890 description in the Tampa Journal:  The corner room downstairs will be occupied by the City Assessor and Collector, and the next room behind will be the headquarters of the Board of Public Works.  The main entrance to the first floor on Lafayette St. opens into a wide hall.  The view within is cut off by heavy swinging doors that turn easily either way.   Across the hall from the Assessor and Collector's office is the office of the City Marshal.  (The police quarters are just beyond.)  The main his main hall opens into a cross hall which will form the city prison.   Six steel cages will be put there.  A private stairway leads from the prison to the courtroom on the second floor. At the rear of the prison, opening on Florida Ave., are the rooms of the fire department.  The reel room which is closed by rolling steel shutters is occupied by the Alert and Invincible hose company's reels; also, the old fire engine and hook and ladder truck, and the firemen's hall just beyond will be the headquarters for the companies stationed in the building.   The Chief of the fire department has a pleasant room at the rear of the hall.  The battery room for the Gamewell electric fire alarm system and a general store room are at the rear of the reel room.  Convenient toilet rooms and closets are arranged about the building.  The Mayor's court room and council chamber occupy the rear half of the second story and open on the platform at the head of the main stairway.  (Probably those visible in the center of the side at Florida Ave.) The two rooms are in reality one, but are divided by rolling wood shutters.  The stairway to the tower opens on the platform at the head of the stairs as do the private prison stairs, the janitors closet and the hallway to the offices on the second floor.  The City Clerk's office is on the corner overlooking Lafayette street and Florida Ave., a private office, the Mayor's private office, and a private entry into the court room are all on the east side of the hall.  On the west are the city engineer's room and the city attorney and treasurer's office.


Conclusions drawn from map and photo evidence
The map transition from 1892 to 1903 shows a small bell tower at lower left (assuming overlooked in 1895).  The news accounts state that when Chief Wuerpel had the alarm bell first installed in the cupola in 1890 and tested it, the mechanism broke causing a delay for parts and repairs to the system.

Due to...the natural stiffness of the new machinery and owing to the weakness of the timbers in the City Hall cupola, a part of the striking machine broke and caused further delay until it could be fixed.


...All was in working order, with exception of the bell and striker in the City Hall cupola which could not be fixed until the broken part was obtained and the timbers supporting it were strengthened. 

The Chief resigned shortly thereafter when supervision and maintenance of the system was removed from him and given to someone else, and no further news has been located about reinstallation of the alarm bell.  By the time of the 1895 map, wood structures were added on the south end for hoses and hook & a hook and ladder truck.  Assume the lack of the small bell tower was an oversight.

The Dec. 12, 1902 article "Down Comes Cupola" describes its poor condition and problems it was causing, but does not mention the presence of an alarm bell. In fact, "The entire building was in danger of tumbling when dynamiting begins in the channel."   The alarm bell surely would have been an issue at this point had it still been in there and would have been mentioned. One week later, another article shows it was decided to repair the cupola, again, no mention of an alarm bell.  

It would appear that in 1890 when the parts to repair the mechanism arrived, a new bell tower was likely built at the southwest corner as seen on the 1892 and future maps, and they probably didn't even strengthen the timbers since it wouldn't be supporting the bell.. The wooden cupola at the center is never marked as a bell tower on any of the maps,   By the time of the 1905 Burgert photo, the cupola has been removed. 

A March 22, 1906 article describes the city electrician taking photos of the "City Hall as it looks devoid of the cupola and a portion of the roof."  If this is an indicator that the cupola has been recently removed along with part of the roof for repairs, the Burgert photo was taken after March 22, 1906.  Why would it have been such a novelty to see at this time if it had been removed in 1905?

The wood structures at the south end of the building also appear to have been removed by the time of the Burgert photo.  The room marked as the "Chief's Stable" on the 1903 map was probably always there but omitted on previous maps. (An X was used by Sanborn to indicate a stable.)  This area can be seen behind the newspaper boy with a vehicle parked in it in the 1905 Burgert photo.

Photos courtesy of the Burgert Bros. collection at the Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative

A portion of the Stringer house is visible at far left.  Below "Headquarters" can be seen the entrance to Municipal Court.  By 1903, the two double doorways were for parking of fire vehicles.



Newspaper boy at the former stable doorway.

Fire alarm call box.

Hanging out at City Hall.

Horse and buggy parked in front of City Hall.  Notice the elaborate street lamp in the background.  The dark globes may have been colored blue, red or green.


On Jan. 7, 1891, the council invited the county commissioners to use the city hall during the process of building the new county courthouse, provided that the commissioners would pay half of the lighting expenses.





Terms of new courthouse contract with builder W.H. Kendrick







Jury being sworn in at the old 1892 county courthouse, Nov. 1920.
Photo courtesy of Burgert Bros collection at the USF Digital Library.

The Judge
Notice the Nov. 1920 calendar and Dan Ackroyd doppelganger.

The Jury

Primary sources for pre-1850 Tampa history:
**See bottom of page as to why these links don't work.


Historic photos courtesy of
USF Special Collections Digital Archives
University of Florida Digital Collections, George Smathers Library
Florida Memory Project Photograph Collection, State Archives
Burgert Brothers Collection, HCPLC

Library of Congress Digital Collections


**USF has once again changed their URLs.  You'll need to locate these resources on your own.  Good luck.