WHAT'S IN A NAME? - Page 2 - FORTUNE STREET & BRIDGE (a.k.a. The Laurel Street Bridge)

Completed in 1927 by UGI Contracting Company of Philadelphia as the Fortune Street Bridge, it is the second bridge across the Hillsborough River at this location.  Now named the Laurel Street bridge, it is a pony truss single-leaf trunnion bascule bridge; using a large counterweight which is lowered to lift the end of a large metal arm that supports the roadway (leaf.) This type of bridge was more often used for railroads rather than vehicles.  It has a total length of about 366 feet with the largest span being nearly 100 feet long, with a deck width of 40 feet.  The bridge was rehabilitated in 1969.   [Photos taken Feb. 26, 2011]  Hillsborough County Bridge Inspection Data


Fortune Street and Bridge Namesake
Fortune Street downtown and the Fortune Street Bridge (now named the Laurel St. Bridge) across the Hillsborough River, were named for Fortune Taylor, a former slave and wife of former Hernando County slave, Benjamin Taylor.  Together, the Taylors tended orchards of oranges, guavas, and peaches on the eastern shore of the Hillsborough River in the late 1800s.  After Benjamin's death in 1869, Fortune was granted homestead to their 33 acres along the east bank of the Hillsborough River, on July 1, 1875. Three years later, Tampa mayor Edward A. Clarke bought some of her land for $252.

Above, Fortune Taylor's homestead claim document.  She is "Fortune Taylor widow of Benjamin Taylor deceased."  Her property is the south half of lot numbered four, of section 13, in township 29 south, range 18 east.  Below, the lower half of the same document, dated 1st day of July, 1875, by President U.S. Grant.

At left: Close up of Fortune Taylor's 32.69 acre property today, outlined in green.  It included land from the riverbank, eastward to Tampa Street, and southward almost to today's intersection of Tampa Street and Tyler.


Wall Street Becomes Fortune Street
Thomas and Ellen Jackson were also freed persons living just north of Tampa, which today is the northern part of downtown.  In 1871, the Jacksons sold eight acres of their homestead to Bartholomew Leonardi, a Reconstruction-era Republican.

Leonardi resold this property as home sites for African Americans. The development included new streets, one of which Leonardi named in honor of Judge Perry G. Wall. Soon, however, Wall Street became Fortune Street, since the road led to Taylor’s homestead on the river.





In 1885, Florida took a state census.  Ned & Fortune Ranson were listed in Tampa.  Ned was 35*, born in Georgia, and worked as a mill watchman.  Fortune was 60, putting her birth year at about 1825.  She was born in South Carolina and her parents were born in Virginia. *Ned's age may be fairly accurate.  The 1880 census of Waresboro, GA, shows a Ned Ranson who may be the same person.  He was age 33, widower, and working at a sawmill.
















Place your cursor on the map above to see this area today. The above map shows a portion of an 1852 survey of Hillsborough County.  For the purpose of this article, the large yellow border has been added to mark section 13 of Township 29 south, Range 18 east.  Original survey markings indicate lots 1 through 6 with the acreage also marked.  Lot 4 was 65.38 acres, marked by a red border which has been added.  The added blue line divides lot 4 into a north and south half, of which Fortune Taylor was granted the south half. Note the bottom right corner shows "Reduced Military Fort Brooke."  Above it, the area surveyed by John Jackson which became downtown Tampa.


At right:  All that remains of the original Fortune Street today, westward from Franklin Street looking toward the end at the Ashley St. exit ramp. 

In the 1960s, the I-275 exit ramps at Ashley St. severed Fortune Street's path to the river.





At right:  Fortune Street today, looking east from Franklin St.  The stop sign at the right is Tampa St., where Fortune's property ended and where Thomas Jackson's homestead began and extended to Oaklawn Cemetery, seen at the wall in the distance.


"Madam Fortune" Taylor Ranson
By 1885, Fortune Taylor had married Ned Ranson but everyone knew her as "Madame Fortune" or "Aunt Fortune," a successful businesswoman who sold baked goods.  She left Tampa for a few years, but by the 1890s she returned and worked as a maid for Mayor Ed Clarke’s widow, Sarah.  Fortune was remembered by Dr. Robert W. Saunders Sr.'s mother as a “short, stout woman." She was especially loved by children. On the streets, she gave peanuts and pies to the poor neighborhood children.  "She lived in one of the houses with the slabs up and down. My mother says that she asked my grandmother, why did Madame Fortune live in this house when she was rich? Of course, thinking she was rich because of the Fortune Street Bridge."


The north side of the Laurel Street bridge, as seen from the downtown end (east bank of Hillsborough River)




The 1852 survey above has been marked with the Hooper homestead in purple, Fortune Taylor's homestead in green, and Thomas Jackson's homestead in orange.  The north half of Lot 4, (red outline) on the north side of Fortune Taylor's land, was homesteaded to Constance Bourquardez in Feb. of 1877.  See all these land patent documents at the Bureau of Land Management Gov. Land Office website



Hooper's Ferry

On June 15, 1877, Matthew Hooper--a northerner, and county commissioner--claimed a 65 acre homestead in Lot 3 of Section, 13, on the west side of the river, opposite the Taylor’s place. Here his son Jim ran a dairy and grew oranges. In the early 1900s, this area was known as Roberts City.

The Hoopers worked with Scottish businessman Hugh Macfarlane to create a new cigar factory town across the river from Tampa. Macfarlane accumulated acreage and investors, and in 1892, the development of West Tampa got underway.

The only way across the river to West Tampa was on Jim Hooper’s ferry, which was just a small boat or skiff. The ferryman would pull passengers and goods across the river in his boat using a rope strung across the river. This mode of transportation did nothing to promote West Tampa, and soon the only cigar factory in town was sinking into bankruptcy. Macfarlane tried to convince other factory owners to come to this new town, but the lack of a bridge made West Tampa a hard thing to sell.

At that time Tampa had only two bridges over the Hillsborough River, and one of those belonged to the railroad company, which was at Cass Street,  It had a wooden footpath, but the swaying and shaking kept many people from using it. Another bridge, further south at Lafayette Street, connected Hyde Park and downtown, but there were no paved roads between Hyde Park and West Tampa until the 1910s.

In September 1892, Jones & Cooper (acting for Macfarlane), along with L.B. Skinner, petitioned the city council for permission to build a bridge over the Hillsborough River, connecting Fortune Street to the east and Arch Street to the west. This bridge was to be strong enough to carry a fifteen-ton load, and be wide enough for both streetcars and vehicles. Passage over the bridge would always be free, without expense to the City of Tampa, although the right to charge street railways or omnibus lines was reserved. Macfarlane and his fellow West Tampa investors were able to persuade the Tampa city council to let them build a privately-financed bridge over the Hillsborough River and the petition was granted.  Developers immediately began advertising land for sale on the west side of the river, near the new bridge. Since a street railway would run over the bridge to West Tampa, these developers anticipated that more cigar factories would locate in West Tampa once the bridge opened. The commercial-civic elite saw the bridge, paid for with private funds, as a good business strategy, and supporting the city’s economy was equivalent to good citizenship.

In October 1892, the American Bridge Company of Roanoke, Virginia, began construction of the Fortune Street Bridge, a 500-foot long, 88-foot wide swing span bridge completed in less than three months. With the bridge in place, many factories were built in West Tampa, and Macfarlane’s project was a success.

Looking downriver from Mirabella's fish company dock, a view of the north side of the Fortune St. Bridge, 1924
Burgert Bros. photo from the Tampa-Hillsborough Co. Public Library


This photo shows the old 1892 bridge in the process of being dismantled.  Notice the swing span section at right, in open position.  A bridge tender opened the bridge by turning a hand-held metal crank, walking in circles to turn the gears that opened the bridge. This was a fascinating spectacle for local boys, but wearisome for workers wanting to go home after a day of rolling cigars.


Look up--the part you hate to drive under.

Look down--the part you hate  to drive on.



Close ups of the axis (trunnion) where the counterweight and draw span pivot and the drive gear on the draw span


On the 1900 census in Tampa, Fortune Ranson was living in a small boarding house with other apparently unrelated persons on Spring Street.  This was close to Fortune Street, which was the next street enumerated on this page.  Fortune's age is shown as "unknown" and her marital status is single.  She may have been away at the time the enumerator visited and someone else in the house gave the info about her.


Bridge Accident Causes Cigar Makers Strike

As West Tampa grew, the Fortune Street Bridge quickly became a victim of its own success. The bridge closed for repairs every few months because of repeated openings and closings, rickety streetcar crossings, and numerous boat collisions. In May 1901, a tugboat knocked the Fortune Street Bridge off its foundation. The bridge was open when the boat hit it, and the resulting mechanical damage was enough to freeze the swing span in the open position. Travelers between West Tampa and Ybor City or Tampa were forced to cross the river in rowboats. Many female cigar factory workers refused to use the boats after some passengers fell overboard. However, the dangerously overcrowded rowboats remained.

On May 15, 1901 workers who were reprimanded for being late for work voiced grievances which soon turned into a strike of 6,000 workers and a march by over 500 workers across the railroad bridge into Ybor City.  By the time they reached Palmetto Beach, the crowd, which numbered 2,000, demanded a better bridge into West Tampa. The city quickly built a pontoon bridge for everyone to use until the Fortune Street span was repaired, ending that particular strike.

Labor issues, war, and other demands on public funds delayed construction of a new bridge at Fortune Street for more than two decades after that strike. However, the 1920s brought prosperity and growth to Tampa, and the city went went into a bridge-building frenzy. Real estate was once more a hot investment, and large tracts of land were available on the west side of the river.


Article from the Youngstown Vindicator, Ohio

The bridge-tender house and the trunnion where the counterweight pivots.  In photo above, top left, you can see the beam that pushes down from the overhead counterweight (out of frame.)  At lower left, the curved gears that are driven by the motor under the bridge.  The the driving action of the motor on the gears causes the counterweight assembly to lower and whole assembly to rotate round the trunnion, thus causing the truss which supports the roadway to the right of the trunnion to raise up (like a see-saw.)  See this illustrated in the photo below by placing your cursor over it.





Rowers have left their mark on the motor house, see "Rowers Are Great Artists, Too."








This 1915 map shows the complete length of Fortune Street, with Oaklawn Cemetery on the east end.  Streets west of Tampa Street (Ashley, Highland, Spring and Lozano) were wiped out in the 1960s by the I-275 downtown exit and subsequent development. The larger, pink building at upper left between Lozano, Constant, Spring & Cuba streets was the Val. M. Antuono cigar factory.  This area was known as "Little Havana."  Constant St. became Laurel Street and at the bottom, Hillsboro became Royal St.  Place your cursor on the image to see the area today and how the bridge was connected to Laurel St., north of Fortune St.

In 1924, Tampa voters approved $3 million in public improvement projects, including several new routes over the river. By January 1927, four Hillsborough River bridges were in various stages of completion: a new bridge at Michigan Avenue (now Columbus Avenue), a new bridge at Florida Avenue, a replacement bridge at Fortune Street, and a new bridge at Sligh Avenue that used the old iron from the Fortune Street Bridge. UGI Contracting Company of Philadelphia built the second Fortune Street Bridge, a trunnion bascule, with a large weight dropping to lift the end of a large metal arm. This was, and still is, an unusual type of bridge for automobiles, being more commonly used for trains. The new Fortune Street Bridge opened at midnight, May 14, 1927. No public ceremony marked the event, although some boats blew their whistles at the flag-festooned bridge. This was the last of the bridges built over the Hillsborough River in the 1920s, with a final cost of $402,000.

Last remains of the old 1892 bridge, the piling that the pivot of the swing span rested on. Burgert Bros. photo from the Tampa-Hillsborough Co. Public Library

Construction on the concrete T-trusses for the new bridge, 1926
Burgert Bros. photo from the Tampa-Hillsborough Co. Public Library


The 200 block of Fortune Street, looking east, Oct. 1926
Burgert Bros. photo from the Tampa-Hillsborough Co. Public Library

  The 200 block of Fortune Street, looking west to bridge, 1928
Burgert Bros. photo from the Tampa-Hillsborough Co. Public Library


       Fortune St. Bridge approach from the west, 1935

International Bank at 300 W. Fortune St., 1946              

In its early days, Fortune Street lived up to its name, being a valuable commercial connection between West Tampa and the Franklin Street business district in downtown Tampa. By 1967, its fortune had reversed. A Tribune reporter described Fortune Street as being “in the midst of Tampa’s Skid row, with the city’s only tattoo shop, three bars, a mission, a barber shop, and a couple of less-than-first-class hotels….” The street was also now quite short, only eight blocks or so, the result of interstate highway construction and urban renewal. Tampa’s urban renewal projects also rerouted and renamed streets, and so the bridge became the Laurel Street Bridge. The bridge underwent major renovations in 1969, when glass towers replaced the original wooden bridge tender houses. New plain concrete parapets and tubular metal handrails reflected the stark modernism of the times. 

Although her name has been erased from the bridge, Taylor is still recognized on a short sliver of roadway known as Fortune Street between Doyle Carlton and North Ashley drives.  In Feb. of 2010, Fred Hearns tried to get the city of Tampa to change the name of the bridge back to the Fortune Street Bridge, but the City would not, claiming that a bridge with such a name but connecting on each end to Laurel Street would be confusing.  See: Man Wants Name Change for Laurel Street Bridge  and A Historic Tour Through Tampa Trivia

Information from "The Bridge of Fortune in Tampa", by Lucy Jones, Tampa's Cigar City Magazine and 2002 interview of Dr. Robert W. Saunders, Sr. by Dr. Canter Brown, Bridgetender.com, and various newspaper articles.

Fortune St. Bridge and a view of Fortune Taylor's former property on the east bank of the Hillsborough River, 1957

               Burgert Bros. photo from the Tampa-Hillsborough Co. Public Library

A view of the Hillsborough River looking south from the Laurel St. bridge


A view of Interstate 275 looking north from the west end of the Laurel St. bridge

The west end of the bridge at the Boys and Girls Clubs of America soccer field
In the 1890s, this area was known as Ellinger City, then in the early 1900s, Roberts City and part of West Tampa.

A view looking east towards downtown

See inside the bridge control room and watch the Laurel St. Bridge in operation in the video below.

Scenes from a video showing the Laurel Street bridge in operation.  See the video


In 2003, film crews spent three months in Tampa filming "The Punisher," a high-profile Hollywood production made entirely in the Tampa Bay area. For one scene, the bridge-tender was directed to raise the Laurel Street Bridge to a 15-degree incline to accommodate a car chase in which a car sped over the partially open span. Cameras capturing the moment included some affixed to the underside of the bridge.



As Frank Castle waits at the west side of the bridge for the draw bridge to lower, hit man Harry Heck approaches from behind.  Castle sees him and speeds through the barricade to the draw span.  There they collide and Heck commences shooting at Castle's car.  The draw span having lowered considerably, Castle floors it as Heck continues shooting.  Castle's car speeds off the end of the draw span when it's at a 15 degree incline, crashing through the barricade on the other side, and on to their final encounter.  See the scene filmed in the Goody Goody Restaurant.

The Laurel Street bridge and I-275 beyond it, as seen from Julian B. Lane Park
See full size


A view of the Cass St. bridge and raised railroad bridge, looking south from the Laurel St. bridge



Oct. 19, 2017
Tampa moves to put freed slave Fortune Taylor's name back on historic bridge - Tampa Bay Times (TBO)

By Richard Danielson, Times Staff Writer  

City Hall has agreed to return a long-lost honor to the memory of Fortune Taylor, a freed slave who amassed more than 30 acres near downtown Tampa after the Civil War. "A woman who history has forgotten," said resident Gloria Jean Royster, who encouraged the City Council to restore Taylor's name to what is now the Laurel Street bridge. In response, the council voted Thursday to take down two signs along the Riverwalk that identify the 91-year-old bridge as the Laurel Street bridge. In their place will go two signs naming the bridge as the Fortune Taylor Bridge.

Council members said someone also should put up a historical marker telling Taylor's story. A former slave, Fortune Taylor ran a successful business selling baked goods and married her longtime partner, Benjamin Taylor, in 1866. A woman with presence, she was known to neighbors as Madame Fortune Taylor. Historical accounts are unclear how she ended up with the title to 33 acres on the eastern bank of the Hillsborough River, though one possibility is that the land might have been confiscated from the Confederacy and deeded to her during Reconstruction.

In 1967, however, the construction of Interstate 275 caused the realignment of streets that included Fortune Street, and the bridge ended up along Laurel Street, for which is has since been named. Council member Frank Reddick said the issue was not renaming a bridge, but restoring an honor. "Someone stole that from her," he said. The council did not move to rename Laurel Street — a change with implications for 911 emergencies — but merely to put Taylor's name on signs posted along the Riverwalk. "It's historical," council member Guido Maniscalco said, "without having to complicate the situation."

See the whole article here at TBO.com


Tampa bridge will likely be renamed for female business woman who was a freed slave Fortune Taylor was by all accounts a remarkable person at a time when people like her were often overlooked.

KATE BRADSHAW OCT 19, 2017 (Creative Loafing) - Tampa City Council is taking steps to honor the memory of someone who defied the odds at a time when women and minorities were excluded from many aspects of public life, but whose legacy was lost among the region's 20th Century sprawl.

The council on Thursday voted to rename the Laurel Street Bridge after Fortune Taylor, a black woman who, after being freed from slavery, managed to acquire her own land, run a business and remain active in city affairs. She became known for the baked goods she sold, which were made with guava and other fruit grown on her land. The land she owned comprised 33 acres on the eastern bank of the Hillsborough River. She later sold land to the city, which allowed the bridge to get built.

Fortune Street in downtown Tampa once connected to what is now the Laurel Street Bridge (which had at the time also been named for Taylor). But when the city's streets were overhauled to make way for the interstate, the bridge was instead renamed for the species of tree. Councilmen Guido Maniscalco and Frank Reddick were the measure's champions.

Thursday's vote helps lay the groundwork for restoring recognition of a remarkable character to whom Tampa activist and writer Gloria Jean Royster referred as a "woman who history has forgotten," the Tampa Bay Times reported Thursday. The Times also notes how, while the council would also have moved to rename Laurel Street in its entirety in Taylor's honor, potential issues with emergency management would have complicated the process. Renaming the bridge and posting appropriate signage, Maniscalco said, accomplishes the restoration of her memory without having to deal with potentially lengthy bureaucratic rigmarole.

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