HISTORY REWRITTEN - Tampa's Old City Hall Clock: How, When, and Why It Was Named Hortense

Chapter II      Chapter III            Chapter IV      Chapter V

Chapter I - 1900 to 1911, Tampa Needs A New City Hall

You've probably encountered the following stories, or a similar one, about Hortense Oppenheimer,
Ye Towne Cryers, and their 1914 efforts to fund a clock for Tampa's new City Hall.

    Dr. Oppenheimer, the Final Years


 The City Council of Tampa and        
Celebration of Old City Hall's Centennial

"The Oppenheimer children, five daughters and a son, were no less vigorous or gifted than their father. Growing up in a world filled with fine books, music and sober industry they found it easy to share and to emulate their father’s accomplishments. Daughter Hortense became incensed at the city fathers in 1914 because the City Hall had no tower clock to give the proper time. Yielding under the pressure of  Hortense and her irate band of ladies the mayor erected a large clock in the City Hall tower with four faces. Inevitably, it was named "Hortense" and it still keeps accurate time today.

You may have even found it right here on TampaPix, because it's what Dr. James M. Ingram wrote in 1977 in the Journal of the Florida Medical Association about Dr. Louis S. Oppenheimer in "Culture among the Sandspurs" reprinted in the Sunland Tribune, Journal of the Tampa Historical Society, Vol. 3, No. 1, Nov. 1977.











At the time, the Tampa Tribune described the new building as “Tampa’s City Hall Layer Cake.”   City Council, however, did not find the funds for the clockworks. Hortense Oppenheimer, the daughter of prominent Tampa physician Louis Sims Oppenheimer, led the campaign by the “Town Cryers” that raised $1,200 to help pay for the clock. W. H. Beckwith Jewelry Company donated the remainder necessary to provide the 2,840 pound, four-faced clock, which was built by the Seth Thomas Company of Vermont.  Prior to the completion of City Hall, the clock was nicknamed “Hortense the Beautiful” in honor of its benefactor, and it retains this name today.

Click the cover to see this publication online. Then scroll to Page 4..

Over the years, these two stories, or some similar combination of the two, have made their way into every telling  of how Tampa got its City Hall Clock, who it was named for, and why.  Its even part of the Historic American Buildings Survey report of 1981 when City Hall was awarded historic building status in 1974, along with other incorrect historical information. Some accounts combine both stories into one.  But they just don't fit together sensibly.

The image above was created from a Burgert Bros. photo courtesy of the Tampa Hillsborough Co. Public Library System.




As Ernest L. Robinson appropriately wrote in his 1928 book, The History of Hillsborough County:

The City Hall, finished in 1915, rises eight stories, the last five forming a tower that is topped by a balcony and another, smaller tower containing a clock.  The clock, known affectionately to city officials and newspapermen as "Hortense," has had many fantastic and romantic tales woven about it..."


THROUGHOUT THIS FEATURE, "old City Hall" will refer to the one built in 1890, "new City Hall" will refer to the one built in 1915.



This courthouse was built by John H. Breaker in 1854 at Court House Square to replace the 20 ft. x 45 ft. courthouse built by James McKay in 1847.
It would be 28 years later that a tower clock was installed in the old Breaker courthouse.

Photo is circa mid to late 1880s, courtesy of Florida Memory, State Library & Archives of Florida.

As seen in the 1880s photo above, the Breaker courthouse faced south, with Lafayette St. running across the front and Franklin St. on the west (left), Florida Ave. on the east side, and Madison St. behind it (North.)  HOWEVER, the white sandy areas seen just outside the picket fence are NOT the streets.  The fence enclosed a small area creating a yard for the building, but there was much more property enclosed by the streets.   The structure has a four-faced clock in this photo, but it wasn't built with the clock.  An early detailed description of the building in 1854 mentions the tower, but not a clock:


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, etc. etc. The building is 76 ft. long, by 45 wide, and two stories high. ...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. 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..."

This Burgert Bros. photo from the USF Library shows the courthouse from 1882 to 1892 looking east along Lafayette St. towards Fla. Ave.



The clock was added during a repair and renovation of the building in June/July 1882. 
















In 1891 this courthouse was sold and moved to make way for a new brick county courthouse.


The "Town Clock," as the courthouse clock was referred to, had an interesting life after this courthouse was sold to wagon maker J. J. Kinsman for $345.  Today that would be like $9,938.    He had the building moved north on Florida Avenue across from the Palmetto Hotel in 1891.  But the clock didn't remain in this building.




Find out who ordered the clock, where it came from, and where it was used later (seen at right) here at  
"The Great Ybor City Fire of 1908" at TampaPix.





J. J. Kinsman remodeled the old courthouse and turned it into an apartment house.




The old courthouse started a new life as the Magnolia House.


Sanford fire insurance maps courtesy of the Univ. of Fla. George Smathers Library digital maps collection.


By 1899 the former courthouse became the Avenue Hotel owned by M.J. Morales and caught on fire on Dec. 4.  The fire started at the cottage next to it  and spread to the roof of the hotel.   Chief A. J. Harris and five firemen worked six hoses and doused the fire in a heroic effort, saving Kinsman's nearby carriage house and wagon works.  All twenty hotel guests escaped unharmed but the top floor was gutted and the first floor drenched.  The article describes the building as three stories but they are counting the space under the roof--the attic.  The Sanborn maps show "2 ½" stories which is how attic space was indicated.  Evidently the building was repaired because in 1903 it appears on the Sanborn maps as the Tampa Sanitarium (a hospital.)







When the first brick Hillsborough County Courthouse was built at Court House Square in 1891, it marked the end of Tampa's only town clock. The old courthouse clock was probably in storage until 1893 when it was installed in a new Ybor City cigar factory.)

The new courthouse, designed by J.A. Wood (architect of the Tampa Bay hotel), had a beautiful onion-dome topped tower atop a large, ornate dome, 35 feet in diameter, in the style he used for the Tampa Bay Hotel.  This new building replaced the old wood frame 1854 structure built by John H. Breaker.


Not only did this 1891 courthouse not have a clock, the design of the dome and the minaret topper made it extremely difficult to fly a flag from its topper and maintain it properly.  Raising and lowering it was a dangerous task, even when the halyard was working properly.  By Jan. of 1918, the flag was a dirty, tattered and torn old rag, and the Board of County Commissioners got an earful about it from plenty of Tampans.

It was described as "...the dilapidated piece of bunting floating over the courthouse dome, which has been of late nothing but an unrecognizable rag.  The winds and storms and Florida sun have beat upon it and whipped and faded it, until it has become too disreputable for further use."

In mid-January, 1918, a new 7-ft-long flag was purchased and a 62-ft. tall flagpole consisting of galvanized iron pipe was set solidly in cement eight feet deep on the courthouse lawn.  The flag was to be raised at sunrise and lowered at sunset by "old Jacobson" the courthouse janitor.




The earliest photos of this courthouse show the weather vane, but no photo has been located showing a flag flying from the spire.  Learn more about this courthouse and see more photos of it.












The civic improvements planned for Tampa in the first fifteen years of the 20th Century had a great deal to do with how Tampa got its City Hall Clock and why it was named Hortense.  Looking only at those plans it can be seen that most of  the Hortense tale we have today couldn't have happened or just didn't happen. 







This Tribune reader in 1909 thinks Tampa needs a town clock and suggests one for the YMCA building at Twiggs & Fla. Avenue.  The reader suggested if donations were needed it would be easy to raise the amount.  He/she ends with, "Please start the ball rolling."


Could this be from Hortense Oppenheimer?
She would have been around 20 years old
at the time.











City Hall in Jan. 1900, from a Tampa Tribune mid-winter edition on Jan. 20, 1900.

As far back as 1900, it was obvious that a new City Hall was needed.  The building was only ten years old at the time.  By 1911, Tampa was in the midst of a lot of talk about needing a new City Hall.


This article below expresses the typical frustration and cynicism that the people of Tampa felt when it came to City government coming to agreement on building a new City Hall.  The building that needed replacing, the first brick City Hall which was built in 1890, was a perfect example of how long it took the City to take action.  Talks of a new City Hall had dragged on for five years by 1911--five years of all talk and no steps taken toward financing or building a new City Hall.




By Nov. 1, 1911, a rumor was circulating that a group of young society ladies were going to organize to raise funds for a town clock.  The writer says that the clock should go into a new City Hall, and the way things were going, that would be about twenty years before one was built.




As you can see from the photos above and below, the City Hall that was around in in the first decade of the 1900s wasn't exactly a scenic spot for a clock.  This is why the needed clock is referred to as a "town clock."


The box-shaped tower on the roof of City Hall was supposed to house the city's first electric fire alarm system and bell.  But even when the interior of the building was not yet complete, there was a structural a problem with the tower.   Fire Chief A.C. Wuerpel  believed the tower to be too weak to support the new alarm bell system, warning the Board of Public Works with his concerns before he tried to install the system. Having been given the complete authority over installing and maintaining the new system, he began to build a separate tower for it behind the building at the southwest corner.  But the Chief was overruled on the new tower, the Board was more concerned with the new building's appearance.  When Wuerpel tried to install the system in the rooftop enclosure, a support beam gave way and broke a part of the system, which then had to be reordered thus delaying its installation. 


By 1900, the building was already falling apart.  The second floor was sagging due to the massive amount of books and equipment stored there.  The tower was leaking, adding to the problem, so around 1905 the box tower was removed and the roof repaired accordingly.


The contractor who was awarded the first City Hall construction bid was James Bullivant.  During the interior construction phase, Mr. Bullivant ran out of funds due to seriously underbidding the job.  When he realized his mistake, he disappeared; left town, and the job was finished by another contractor. It's probable that the rooftop structure was inferior in design, material strength and workmanship.





Thanks to the quick thinking of Fire Chief A. J. Harris, a disaster was avoided in March 1906.  Some Tampans may have thought it would have been a blessing, as "Tampa came very near being assured a new City Hall...Chief Harris is responsible for the fact that we still have the old building."  With the fire department housed in the building, it would have been rather embarrassing if the blaze had consumed the place.





In 1911, City Hall looked as seen below, more or less, up until Feb. 1915 when it was demolished. This is the City Hall that was in existence when the young society ladies organized in 1911 to raise funds for a town clock.



Circa late 1911 Burgert Bros. photo courtesy of the Tampa-Hillsborough Co. Public Library System

The signage on the building is an indication that the photo was taken after Oct. 1911.  When the Fire Department moved out and into its new building on Zack Street in late 1911, the old City Hall building was then repaired and renovated in Oct. of that year.  The remodeling was done to  accommodate almost entirely the Police Headquarters.  (These  events are detailed in this feature.)  Originally when built, the signage showed "Head Quarters Tampa Fire Department."  The Burgerts were commercial photographers and a newly completed repair/ renovation would have been a good reason to hire them to photograph the building at this time.





The rest of this page covers the events of the various mayoral terms as they related to the need of building a new City Hall.  The struggle was on as early as 1900.   It establishes an important fact that helps dispel part of the long-accepted "Hortense story"-- the harassment of Tampa's mayor to install a City Hall clock and the availability of funding.

SKIP to the next page if you wish to skip the politics.



Term: June 8, 1906 - June 4, 1908
May 1852, New Brunswick, Canada
Died Apr. 22, 1914 (age 61)
Photo is one of two used for his obituaries.

William married Canadian Barbara Tait, daughter  in Escuminac, New Brunswick.  

The Freckers had three sons in Canada before they immigrated to the U.S. in 1879:   George T. Frecker was born in 1875, William around 1876-77; and in October 1878 their son Charles Tupper Frecker was born.




See a history of the mayoral terms of this period as they related to other matters including the Mayors' personal lives:

Read more about the Freckers in Canada and Chicago--William's involvement in the furniture business, his effort to unite furniture merchants for a cause; the "six o'clock movement," and his "secret society" involvement, as well as the overwhelming sorrow his family faced before coming to Tampa. 

Also, learn about the circumstances of his "Chicago Furniture House" in Tampa--a "Mini-Myth" busted.  Contrary to some City of Tampa sources state, William did NOT establish the Chicago Furniture House or own it when he came to Tampa. 

Read about how William got into politics, how he was barely elected to his first position in the City Council, and why the Tribune calls him "HOTSTUFF."  A month after he became mayor, he became a grandfather, and four months after the end of his term, he and his wife became grandparents of the first triplets born in Tampa in many years.  See a photo of them as young adults.

Also read about and see photos of the great Ybor City fire of 1908, an event which contributed to the defeat of Mayor Frecker in his 1908 bid for reelection.

JUDGE JOSEPH BAISDEN WALL--The Knot He Tied and the Knot He Untied



William Frecker served in the City Council under Mayor Frank Bowyer from 1898 to 1900.  His election to the City Council was won by the narrowest of margins, after a vote recount.  At that time the majority of the council were known as "The Big Six" and the minority as "The Little Four."  The minority was led by Wm. Frecker. 

Contrary to some historical accounts, Frecker did not run for mayor in 1900 against Frank L. Wing.   In 1900 Frecker ran for City Council again, and most of the candidates in this election, including mayor-candidate Wing, ran unopposed as members of the "Citizen's League."  Under Mayor Wing he served in City Council from 1900 to 1902.  Frecker was a member of the Finance Committee, the Schools and Public Buildings Committee, and the Ordinances and Rules Committee.

After Mayor Wing, the mayoral terms of James McKay Jr. (1902-1904) and Fred Salomonson (1904-1906) followed.  Then in 1906 William H. Frecker ran for mayor for the first time against Arthur Cuscaden and Frank Bowyer and won, becoming Tampa’s Thirty-Sixth Mayor.

It would be the understatement of the century to say that Wallace Stovall, owner & editor of the Tampa Tribune, despised William Frecker.  This was obvious from the start of Frecker's political career as city councilman in 1898.  By 1906, Stovall had firmly established his nickname...



AT RIGHT:  Mayor Frecker's brother, Charles A. Frecker, seems to have gotten the better of a man who made derogatory remarks about the Mayor for closing saloons on Sunday.  "Bert" was a nickname for his middle name, Albert.


One of the first issues Mayor Frecker addressed was that of saloons opening on Sundays.  A long-standing city ordinance against it was often overlooked, with police "looking the other way." 

Frecker also dealt sternly with officers exhibiting immoral public behavior, on or off duty. Frecker suspended two officers, Killabrew for visiting a saloon and drinking alcohol on duty, the Williams for deserting his family.  Later in Aug, a police committee cleared Williams and City Council dropped the charge.



AT RIGHT:  A Jacksonville newspaper praised Mayor Frecker for firing an off-duty sanitation inspector officer for not attempting to prevent the murderous stabbing of A. B. Wrens. 




Ex-policeman J. A. Killabrew got revenge on Frecker by physically assaulting him in public.  The other policeman, Williams, was informed by a lady on the street of the nearby fight and hurried there and led Killabrew away.  Frecker asked that Killabrew not be arrested, so no arrest was made.




During his mayoral campaign, Mayor William H. Frecker expressed policies that appealed to both business leaders and the working class. He was quite candid regarding his support for unions yet the business community found in Frecker someone that they could work with.   During his term as mayor, Frecker persuaded City Council to "pass ordinances that reduced the rates charged by the Tampa Water Works Company and Peninsular Phone Company."

(Above from City of Tampa website "Past Mayors.")


In addition, the City of Tampa annexed the remainder of the Fort Brooke military reservation that was sold, in part, to real estate developers.  This was no easy feat, the struggle to incorporate the area dragged out over two decades.


See "The Final Battle for Fort Brooke" here at TampaPix.




This Jan 10, 1907 Tribune article is a portion of a longer one in which the Tribune was praising the members of the Lafayette St. bridge committee for their progress.  The Tribune then asks if such equally qualified men could have been placed on the City Hall matter.  It states that if just the disgrace wasn't enough to get a new one built quickly, the fact that rapidly rising property costs should spur the City into action:  "...an ordinary regard for the public purse directs that the land for the structure should be purchased without delay."


In late April 1907, a major step towards a new City Hall was taken when Tampa finally was able to annex the Ft. Brooke area.  Mayor Frecker preferred that the annexation and new city charter be passed before trying to appropriate funding for the various wards.   It was agreed that a bond ordinance would be needed and a plan made to raise funds by the sale of some city property.





After a little over a year in office, Frecker's administration put together a list of proposed costs of the most urgent city improvement issues.  The City Hall appropriation was $245,000 which included $45,000 to buy a new City Hall  site.  The proposed $600k  bond issue also included a new bridge across the Hillsborough River at Lafayette Street, (which ultimately would be the concrete bridge we have now,)  improvements to the sewer system, and street paving, a hospital and a new jail.    The vote was expected to be held on Dec. 10, 1907.


An ordinance was passed to redistrict Tampa into nine wards, and as soon as the legal ads were placed for it, City Council was expected to pass the bond issue ordinance, then it would be put up to a vote.   Mayor Frecker emphasized that everyone had to re-register to vote due to the redistricting of the City and the adoption of a new charter. 


Personally, the Mayor had heard of nothing but favorable comments about the bond issue, but "in all progressive movements, however, the 'knocker' is sure to raise his head. 

The TRIBUNE urges to buy a lot right away before prices go up.









Every city is afflicted with individuals of this type."   He said that he had never seen a commendable movement initiated that didn't "raise a warwhoop in opposition to it.  The people have 'got on to' this tribe, however, and their howls are about as effective as those of a dog that nightly bays to the moon.  Tampa can't be stopped in her onward move by persons of this class."



Opponents to the bond issue argued that no institution would loan Tampa the funds and if they did, the City wouldn't be able to afford the interest rate.  The Tribune said otherwise.  This was one of the few issues in which the Tribune sided with Mayor Frecker.

Fears caused by the depressed economy led to the postponement of the bond issue.  Mayor Frecker said, "The bonding issue has been pushed aside for the time being..."  But there would be no more chances for Frecker, his term ended in June 1908.




Wm. Frecker campaigned for reelection in 1908 but lost to Francis Wing.  More about his campaign and the election are found on this breakout page, MEET THE FRECKERS.

This was Frank Wing's second time as Mayor, he would serve for two years until Jun. 1910.  By this time, City Hall was in such a deplorable condition that an office in the Giddens building was rented and furnished to serve as Mayor Wing's office. 


 Francis Lyman Wing   -  Tampa’s 33rd & 37th Mayor

First Term June 8, 1900 – June 4, 1902
Second Term June 5, 1908 – June 6, 1910
Real Estate Developer, Businessman
Born: May 9, 1868, New Bedford, Massachusetts
Died: October 29, 1941, Tampa, Florida

Photos at right from City Council of Tampa, 2015 and Mayors of Tampa, 2019



AT LEFT: During the term of Mayor Wing, the Tribune continued its assault of William Frecker.
Stovall was critical of Frecker in much of what he said and did--during his term in City Council, his campaigns, and his time as Mayor, and here, after his term was over.  Apparently, Frecker and some others attended a City Council meeting and "in his bold and astounding capture of the meeting" protested against the Florida State Fair and the proposed races at the fair, and  "by sheer force of nerve and audacity converted what was intended to be a meeting in the interest of public morals into a rip-snorting, anti-administration, pro-Frecker political rally."












At right: Frecker before Judge Cohen for a bicycle traffic violation.
The Tribune thinks he was let off lightly.





June 18, 1908 Tampa Tribune: 

It is now the intention of the committee to select offices in the Giddens building until a new city hall is erected, or at least during the present administration's tenure in office.  The office of the mayor will be furnished in keeping with the dignity of the city's executive head...One of the reasons for raising the mayor's salary is that he will have added expenses in his office and it may be necessary to employ a stenographer or secretary.





While Mayor Wing was busy preparing his first message to City Council, the finance committee was looking for a suitable office for him, having failed to do so with their first prospect.  Their next choice was to be the Giddens building which was on the northwest corner of Lafayette and Franklin St., across from the courthouse, a block away from City Hall.




BELOW:  The Giddens building on the corner of Lafayette (foreground) and Franklin St., across from Court House Square.  Just up the street can be seen the Court Arcade building, Beckwith Jewelry, and the towering Citizens Bank building.



1912 Burgert Bros. photo courtesy of the Tampa-Hillsborough Co. Public Library System.

The west side of Franklin St. that faced Court House Square, with Gidden's corner on the north side of Lafayette St.






In early July 1908 the subject of adequately providing quarters for the Chief of Police and the police courtroom, the general improvement of the department's accommodations came to the forefront.  The prospect of building a temporary annex on the vacant lot fronting Lafayette St. behind City Hall was being considered.  With the expectation, of course, that a new City Hall would be built somewhere else in the next few years.





The issue of building a new City Hall was now on its second mayor.  Part of the urgency to build a new City Hall was that they were considering a new site and real estate prices were climbing rapidly.  But Wing put emphasis on improving the water works system, "a matter of prime importance."


In Nov. 1908 Mayor Wing's administration was considering removing the City Hall bond issue from the rest of the improvement plans because he thought the City Hall funding would cause the whole improvement bond to be voted down.   The waterworks was of utmost importance, and so a new jail, a new Lafayette St. Bridge, and a new City Hall all played second fiddle.  The waterworks company was not in a position to extend its water mains and the City Council felt the only way to supply Tampa's needs was to buy out the waterworks company.

The Tribune warned, should the bond issue pass without a City Hall improvement plan, it could be many years before one could be passed, whether or not the present bond issue without City Hall passed.  It goes on to say that now the cost of a new site would be ten times what it was ten years ago, and every year of delay adds thousands of dollars.

"The City Council meets in a barn; the Police Court holds its sessions in a room not fit for the habitation of respectable dogs, the prison cells are a disgrace to civilization, the exterior of the dilapidated old structure is itself a reflection of Tampa and every citizen of Tampa, constituting a standing indictment of official inactivity and civic supineness.

The City is paying out a considerable sum for rental of offices for its officials who cannot find room in its own building.  The Mayor finds the city hall too disreputable for his purposes and has offices in an office building.  The Board of Public Works has for years occupied rented quarters, even the City Auditor must seek accommodations elsewhere.  These office rentals amount to about $100 a month--$1,200 a year paid by the city because it hasn't accommodations for its own officials.  This $1,200 would help materially in paying interest on public improvement bonds.

The present building is unsafe; in the course of a few years, it will have to be condemned.  Then all the other city officials, including the Council and the Police Department will have to rent quarters.  What an inspiring spectacle that will be!  The city government scattered all over town in rented quarters.  This condition is not three years distant, it is sure to come."




On Mar. 24, 1909, on a suggestion by Councilman Houlihan, Mayor Wing met
with representative leaders of the community to seek their opinions on the
matters  at hand--city improvements consisting of a new hospital, street
paving, sewerage, and City Hall.  The meeting was attended by the
Mayor, the editors of the two local papers (Wallace F. Stovall, D. B.
McKay) members of the Board of Public Works (Webb, Giddens,
 Osborne, Caras), the City Council members (Brown, Gunn, Falk,
Regener, Licata), and "members of the various commercial bodies
of the city" (Pres. of the Board of Trade Frank C. Bowyer, other
members A. C. Clewis, T. C. Taliaferro), Pres. of the Tampa Publicity
club W. B. Gray, Pres. of the Chamber of commerce J. L. Brown , Manager
of Tampa Electric Co. J. A. Trawick
** "who spoke interestingly on the subject
of the  bridge, and Dr. L. W. Weedon of the Hillsborough Medical society, who gave valuable  suggestions concerning hospital needs.   All readily agreed that the im- provements were needed, but opinions differed as to how much to spend.  "These divergences of views were threshed out thoroughly and it was not long before a consensus was reached."

Wallace Fisher Stovall
Editor, Tampa Tribune, 1924
Photo from "Men of the South" at Hathitrust.org

Donald Brenham McKay
Editor, Tampa Times & four-term Mayor of Tampa


The attendees reviewed estimates made by the BPW some time earlier and it was decided that a "five story city hall, to cost $75.000 will be in keeping with the needs of Tampa at this time and for the next few years to come."  They also agreed on the site--the footprint of the present City Hall.  They thought a building several stories tall covering a smaller area was preferable to one or two stories spread out over more ground.  They wished to save the expense of buying property in doing this.  (The current City Hall occupied ONE-HALF of ONE-QUARTER of the block, an area 52.5 ft along Lafayette St. and 105 ft. along Florida Ave., half the length of the block.)  "Such a City Hall would be...of the same dimensions as the Curry building on Franklin St., the tallest structure in South Florida."


Tampa City Council members  June 5, 1908 – June 6, 1910       Source: The City Council of Tampa, etc.

W. Lesley Brown, President Phillip Licata
John Thomas Gunn, President pro tempore Herman H. Regener
James E. Etzler** (Expelled on 10/9/1908.) Ramon Sierra, Jr.
Offim Falk (Elected on 10/27/1908. Filled the vacancy of James E. Etzler. Thomas B. Smith
Charles T. Friend Carlos Toro
William J. Houlihan A. Fred Turner


**It was J. A. Trawick, manager of TECO, who in 1908 conducted his own investigation of City Councilman Etzler, whom he suspected of graft and corruption.  Trawick was fed up with Etzler's apparent personal agenda against TECO in the City Council concerning the contract for power and lighting for the new Lafayette St. bridge and other contracts, so he hired a private Pinkerton detective to pose as a representative of a large northern iron bridge company under alias of "A. J. North" seeking a contract for the new  bridge.  North arranged to meet Etzler at the Tampa Bay Hotel with an offer that would pay Etzler to consider his "company" for a contract.  Trawick also arranged for three prominent highly-esteemed Tampa businessmen to sit at nearby tables to overhear their conversation.  Etzler let North know that "he was the man who could make things happen for the bridge deals" and that he had complete control over it.  Then Trawick went to City Council and the Mayor with all his evidence and witnesses.  It was a long drawn-out battle ending with Etzler's conviction of the charges and his expulsion from City Council.  His appeal went all the way to the Supreme Court.  This is why the Tribune reporter includes after mention of Trawick, "who spoke interestingly on the subject of the bridge."





As a result of the above meeting, the amount proposed to build new City Hall was reduced to $75,000 with the passing of Ordinance No. 501.   Other improvement issues were divided among the "old territory" and the "newly annexed territory" (which was the Ft. Brooke area.)





On election day, the Tribune devoted almost an entire column to what today we'd call a series of "Tweets." 



They also published a long editorial "A LAST WORD TO THE VOTERS..."

The article below has been shortened, see the whole article here.



On election day May 18, 1909, turnout was light, with 319 votes for the bonds and 830 against. In no wards were more people for the bonds than against, even in the Third Ward, which included Hyde Park.  Ward 6, which was Ybor City, opposed it 15 to 1.  Tampa voters turned down the municipal bond issue that would have paid for a new Lafayette Street Bridge, a city hall, a city hospital, and other public improvements such as sewers and paved streets.

Upon post-election reflection, the Tribune theorized that if the bond issue had been split into separate and smaller specific issues, at least some of it might have passed, although probably not the bridge issue.

The Tribune gave it's reasons why it thought some voters were against the bonds.  Those are highlighted in various colors below other than yellow. One reason was that they disliked the city administration, but the main reason the bond issue was defeated was the bridge itself. Many people thought that the $170,000 requested for a new bridge at Lafayette Street was just too expensive.  Additionally, people wanted to know how much money the streetcar companies were willing to contribute and how much of the cost would be borne by taxpayers, but the answers were not forthcoming. As late as one week before the election, city councilmen met with the Tampa Electric and the Tampa & Sulphur Springs Traction companies trying to secure a written commitment. Eventually the Tampa & Sulphur Springs Traction Company agreed to pay $20,000 for the right to cross the bridge with its rails and cars; however, Tampa Electric declined to make an offer.




Frank Wing came to Tampa from New Bedford, MA in 1889 at the age of 21.**   In 1892 he married Annie E.  Hale, a resident of  Tampa since the age of one (daughter of Horace Harvey Hale & Ida Mary Lipscomb.).  An article in the June 10, 1900 Tribune when Wing became mayor says that after his marriage they returned to his New England home with the intention of remaining there.  "But thanks to the influence of his wife, he was induced to come back to Tampa."

**His obituary and City of Tampa website say he engaged in the furniture business, but this wasn't until 1900 when he joined Wm. Frecker.







 With nine months having passed since the bond issue was voted down, the Tribune published this letter from former City Councilman James. N. Holmes who was a candidate for Mayor in the next election, along with D. B. McKay and Wm. Frecker.  Holmes believed Tampans wanted the best, with no corners cut, and that they were ready to vote for a bond issue on civic improvements. 


This article has been shortened where the topic becomes other bond issues.


Holmes was ready to debate both McKay and Frecker, face to face, believing it would be "both entertaining and instructing to the voters."


The James N. Holmes Bridge that crosses the Hillsborough River on Florida Ave. in Sulphur Springs is named in his honor.




James N. Holmes was a member of Tampa's City Council for three terms, along with fellow council member William H. Beckwith, serving from March 8, 1895 to June 8, 1900, representing the Second Ward, North Tampa.  Holmes was a member of the Police Committee as well as the Streets, Alleys and Buildings Committee, and the Cemeteries, Hospitals and Charitable Institutions Committee. He went on to serve on the Hillsborough County Commission as well as on the Board of Public Works. He died on November 10, 1945.




At the end of Wing's term in 1910 Bill Frecker ran for mayor against D. B. McKay.  Mayoral candidate James N. Holmes was defeated in the primary election.  Despite Frecker's high-profile endorsements by Hugh Macfarlane, Edward R. Gunby and Jim Holmes, he was defeated by D. B. McKay, but only by 136 votes--a less than 4% margin. 

It was the habit of the Tribune to use the term "nominated" to mean "elected."  They also called every election a "primary" for some reason.  Here you see the final election referred to as the "second lap" of the primary election.  We would call the "first lap" the primary and the "second lap" the final election.




 Donald Brenham McKay - Tampa’s  38th & 42nd Mayor
1st, 2nd, & 3rd terms: June 7, 1910 - June 10, 1920
(Elected 1910 for a two-year term; re-elected in 1912 for four years, and 1916 for four years.)
4th term: January 3, 1928 - October 27, 1931 (incomplete term, resigned)


Mayor Donald Brenham McKay was one of the giants in Tampa journalism and a legend in his time.  He was a native Tampan, born in 1868, the son of John Angus McKay and Mary Jane McCarthy, and grandson of Scotsman Capt. James McKay; former mayor and pioneer, merchant , and cattleman who had a skill for evading Navy blockades during the Civil War. 


McKay was a hard-hitting, outspoken editor who voiced his opinions on the burning issues of the day. He slapped around his rival, The Tampa Tribune, which returned in kind.  Simultaneous with being editor and publisher, McKay served a total of nearly 14 years as Tampa Mayor.  While he was serving as Mayor, McKay didn't give much time to his paper, in fact in the four (three consecutive) terms ending in 1931 he averaged less than 10 minutes a day around The Times office.


Mayor D. B. McKay
Photo courtesy of Fla. Memory
State Library & Archives of Fla.





In the early 1890s, both of Tampa's newspapers,  the TAMPA JOURNAL and the TAMPA TRIBUNE (f.k.a. The Sunland Tribune) were underfinanced, understaffed, and limping along in a half-hearted fashion.  Silas Armistead Jones led a movement to buy the two small newspapers and start a new newspaper that would be a credit to the city and a powerful factor in the development of the South Florida metropolis and surrounding territory.  He founded the Tampa Publishing Company on February 1, 1893 with the financial backing of many leading citizens.  Jones became president; W. B. Henderson, vice-president; A. J. Knight, secretary, and T. C. Taliaferro, treasurer. The company was capitalized for $25,000.  Immediately after the incorporation, the new company purchased the TAMPA JOURNAL for $3,500 and the TAMPA TRIBUNE for $3,450.  H. J. Cooper (of the Journal) was appointed general manager at $75 a month.  D. B. McKay, who was with the TRIBUNE at the time of the merger, was made City Editor, and the new newspaper was named THE TAMPA TIMES.

Silas Armistead Jones, generally known as Col.** S. A. Jones, was born in Shelby County, KY on January 31, 1853.  He was a grandfather of Sen. George A. Smathers, who served Florida for several terms, and thus the great-grandfather of Florida Sec. of State Bruce A. Smathers, who served in the Florida Legislature.
When he came to Tampa in 1876 he entered the cabinet -making and contracting business.  Three years later he started a builder's supply firm. Later he became one of Tampa's most active developers and strongest boosters. He was one of the principal organizers of the Board of Trade in 1885.

Photo from Tampa Bay Magazine, History: "From Cracker to Flapper, Fifty Boomtown Years: 1875-1925"
By Frank Wells.

**The title of "Colonel" was a social one, not a military rank.  It carried an aristocratic element designating a southern gentleman archetypal of the southern aristocrat. (Contrary to what Tampa Bay Magazine says, he was NOT a Confederate Civil War officer.  Jones was 8 to 12 years old during the Civil War and his birth date is accurate.)



The mechanical plants of the two papers were consolidated in the Journal's plant on the southeast corner of Franklin and Washington, in Tampa's first brick building built in 1885 as the Bank of Tampa. The first issue of the TAMPA TIMES appeared Tuesday, February 7, 1893.


Shortly after the two old papers were purchased and became the TAMPA TIMES, word of the merger reached a young, aggressive editor of a small weekly published at Bartow, the Polk County News.  He was Wallace Fisher Stovall, then 24 years old.  Reasoning that the consolidation of the two old papers into one might provide an opening for an "opposition" paper, Stovall came to Tampa and found one man who had the same idea, Dr. John P. Wall.  With Dr. Wall's endorsement on a note, Stovall borrowed $450 to move his plant to Tampa and start publishing. The first issue of his paper appeared March 23, 1893. He called it the TAMPA TRIBUNE, using the name of one of the papers which had perished.  The new Tribune then began waging war against the Times with sharp criticism for everyone involved, especially for Jones.

Image from 1909.



In the latter part of 1898, at end of the Spanish-American War, The TAMPA TIMES was in financial trouble. H. J. Cooper called D. B. McKay into his office. There wasn’t enough money in the till to pay for an incoming shipment of newsprint. Cooper had been offered a job in Cuba and McKay could have the management contract for the amount of Cooper’s moving expenses to Havana.  McKay walked over to the Court House where he borrowed the needed $500 from former Gov. Henry L. Mitchell, who was then serving as Clerk of Circuit Court.  Within a year, The Times was on a sound basis and was speedily buying out the local businessmen who had stock in it. It took McKay until 1922 to buy up the last stock and become the sole owner.


Image at right from 1912



McKay owned The Times until 1933 when he gave a lease-option to David E. Smiley and Ralph Nicholson, who acquired ownership in 1938.   McKay then wrote a popular column called Pioneer Florida, which was published in the Tampa Tribune, from approximately 1946 until 1960.  Those articles have since been published in a book, "Pioneer Florida" consisting of three volumes.

Same building in the 1950s
Courtesy of the USF Library Digital collection of Sunland Tribunes


*There are no scanned images of the Tampa Times online until 1912, and those beginning in 1912 are in very bad condition.  It appears that they were probably kept in an unprotected environment.


For a history of Tampa's newspapers from Pre-Civil War times and the life of Silas Jones, see A History of Tampa's Newspapers here at TampaPix.

Information combined from:





It takes an exceptional breed to be a firefighter, especially in those days.  The risk of injury or death was high, not just fighting a fire but getting to the location of the fire.  The poor conditions of the streets, if streets existed at all, and unpredictable horses pulling equipment at top speeds, all led to firefighters being thrown into the street, sometimes with fatal results.  This exceptional photo shows Tampa's bravest posing in front of the old City Hall fire headquarters circa 1890s.  This photo appears courtesy of Bill Townsend's "Tampa's Bravest" website. 


After about four months into D. B. McKay's first term, plans were progressing to build a new Fire Department headquarters at Zack and Jefferson streets.  Architect Fred Curtis had the plans nearly completed for the property recently purchased by the City from Adam Katz of Ybor City

The photo below is dated 1901* and the original tower is still on the rooftop.  It was originally intended to house the alarm system, but was too weak to support it.  A separate tower had to be built for the system instead, which can be seen at the left rear corner of the building. Displayed on the street are the truck, wagons, pumper and horses stored in the old City Hall building.  At far left can be seen the old Sheldon Stringer house. 

The new brick headquarters would be two stories with concrete floor, measuring 100 feet along Zack St. and 69 feet along Jefferson, with entrances at both streets.  The ground floor would be used for offices, one for Fire Chief Mathews and one for public business.  Also on the ground floor was storage for hose racks, horse wagons, automobiles, and stalls.

The second floor would house dorms for the firemen and lavatories, as well as three rooms for the Chief, Asst. Chief and the Captain in charge of Station 1.   Racks for drying the firemen's clothing would be located on the gravel roof, but out of view the general public.  The new headquarters would result in more room at City Hall for other branches of City government

Photo courtesy of Capt. Bill Townsend's  Tampa's Bravest website.
*If the 2nd vehicle from the left is the steam powered Nott pump truck "Elmore Webb" this photo is from no sooner than March 1905.  The former home of Dr. Sheldon Stringer can be seen at far left edge.


BELOW: In early Feb. 1911, plans for a new fire department headquarters would be underway when the final design by Fred Curtis was approved.   The new station would be at Jefferson St. and Zack and take up half the block.

AT RIGHT: The building construction was to cost $11,000 and the ad for bidding to begin was to clearly state that the construction was on an "Open shop basis."  City Attorney Giddings Mabry was to enter contracts with adjacent property owners regarding walls of any future buildings to have separate and distinct walls from the station.

An open shop construction policy, also known as a merit shop, is a workplace that allows incoming recruits and existing employees to elect whether to join a union, rather than making it a requirement for employment, as with a closed shop.



In Apr, 1911 Mayor McKay's the first year of his two year term in office was coming to a close,  and still the bond issue had not yet been put to a vote. Tampans were getting fed up with the politics of Tampa's city government.  The promise to get the new City Hall built had been used so often in campaigns that one Tampan was ready to start tossing rotten eggs at the next politician who made the promise.  The Tribune reader below described the stench and overcrowding which continued to plague old City Hall.  (One of the east facade portals was a stable for two horses.)


"With a bulldog sometimes occupying a seat of honor close to the judge and a dense crowd of ignorant and curious whites and negroes stampeding each other to look over the shoulders of those in front of them for a glimpse of the unfortunate prisoner, and with no chairs provided for any but the court, the picture of a busy morning at municipal court is a ludicrous and grotesque one, and any Tampan who seeks inspiration for a masterpiece along that line, in either art or fiction, should not fail to pay a visit."


AT LEFT:  The outside brick work of the building was finished and the interior was expected to be finished by end of month.  The streets around the new station were being paved so the fire vehicles would have better access.

BELOW: In early August 1911 the fire department began moving from their headquarters at City Hall to the new station.  The move was expected to cost $500.  Plans were being made to modify City Hall so that the vacated space could be used by the police department.

The Bertillon system is described later below.

See the whole uncropped image larger.
When it opens, click it again to see full size.



City Councilman Herman Regener favored a bond issue of $2.56M with $200k to go towards a new City Hall.




There was talk of building a nice brand new bridge at Cass Street first, so that vehicles and foot traffic didn't have to go all the way up to Fortune Street to cross the river when it came time to remove the current Lafayette St. bridge.  At this time, there was only a railroad bridge at Cass St.


Charles Brown, President of the Tampa & Gulf Coast Railroad, well known Tampan and "director in a score of businesses" suggested the City build a pontoon (floating) pedestrian bridge near to Lafayette St., as temporary one while a new Lafayette St. bridge was being built, rather than building a permanent one at Cass St. to redirect traffic.  He said vehicles can put up with using the Fortune St. Bridge for a while.  He suggested that City Hall be repaired for $500--brick masons, a little plaster, some touch-up paint and that should hold it for a few years. 

"You will understand that I am not a necessarily stingy man, but I don't care to have an awful big plate and nothing to eat out of it."

Brown would become Mayor-Commissioner of Tampa ten years later on Jan. 4, 1921.





The Board of Public Works came up with a budget for the current fiscal year and decided not to build any new buildings.  Instead, they decided to repair old City Hall with $500 which was part of the "maintenance of public buildings" budget of $7,000.  The previous day, it was ordered to begin advertising the taking of bids for City Hall alterations based on Bonfoey & Elliott's  plan. Plans were also accepted and estimates submitted for new Lafayette St. bridge.


On Sep. 9 it was published that some items on the Board's budget had been reduced. For maintenance on public buildings, from $7k to $5k but still only $500 for alterations to City Hall.  Repair and maintenance on the Fortune St. bridge was reduced from $12k to $10k.  The idea was to spend less and build a new stone (cement) bridge for $50k later.  (This wasn't accomplished until 1927.  See the Fortune Street bridge history here at TampaPix.)






The Tribune was pleased that every department of the City would be well taken care of and was still thrifty without impairing public service.  The most important part of the plan was the building of a new Lafayette St. bridge for which a separate bond issue of $190k had already been passed, approved, bids received and opened.  The lack of any funds going toward a bridge at Cass St. didn't seem to bother the Tribune, as it considered the successful completion  of a new bridge at Lafayette St. to be enough success for this administration to be known as the most efficient Tampa has ever known.





Bonfoey & Elliott was chosen to design the improvements for City Hall.  Bidding for the job of making the repairs began on Sep. 12, 1911.  On Sep. 20th, it was announced that only two contractors bid and both were over budget.  Another round of bidding was opened, and this time the bids had to be accompanied by a $100 certified check.





The contract to make alterations to City Hall was awarded to McNeil & Webb.  The fire department space, having been vacated, would be converted into a large Police court room twice the size of the current one.  An office and store room was being constructed for the City Electrician.  The "police automobile" would use the same compartment used by the fire chief's car, and an entrance would be made on the Florida Ave. side through the building to the back so prisoners could be taken into jail without "the distasteful sight of running them in from Lafayette St. through the main entrance."  The desk sergeant's room would be converted into a reception room.    Remaining space would be made into dorms for police sleeping quarters.  No mention is made of City Council or the Mayor so it appears that they would continue to pay rent in various buildings around the city.  The second floor was to have a room for installing the Bertillon system.

Nothing more about these alterations could be found in the papers in the next 6 months; certainly enough time to complete $490 worth of work which was expected to take a "very short time."  The signage on old City Hall would probably have been changed at this time to reflect the location of the Police Headquarters.

The Bertillon System, invented by French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon in 1879, was a technique for describing individuals on the basis of a catalogue of physical measurements, including standing height, sitting height (length of trunk and head), distance between fingertips with arms outstretched, and size of head, right ear, left foot, digits, and forearm. In addition, distinctive personal features, such as eye color, scars, and deformities, were noted. The system was used to identify criminals in the later years of the nineteenth century, but was soon displaced by the more reliable and easily-recorded fingerprints.


Images above courtesy of HISTORYAPOLIS: The Bertillon System: Science and Crime in the Global Information Age

The photos and measurements are virtually useless without a filing and retrieval system that could facilitate the location of cards of suspects with common characteristics. Today, computers do it in a split second.   Alphonse Bertillon's filing system depended on a complicated method that cross-referenced a standardized set of identifying characteristics, making the information retrievable. From a mass of details, recorded on hundreds of thousands of cards, it was possible to sift and sort down the cards until a small stack of cards produced the combined facts of the measurements of the individual sought. The cards were arranged to make efficient use of space. The identification process was entirely independent of names and the final identification was confirmed by the photographs included on the individual's card. Although it was somewhat difficult to use, modernizers in many countries took it as a model system for tracking and controlling individual citizens and immigrants.

Bertillon also devised a method to document and study a victim's body and circumstances of death. Using a camera on a high tripod, lens facing the ground, a police photographer made top-down views of the crime scene to record all the details in the immediate vicinity of a victim's body. Early in the 20th century, police departments began to use Bertillon's method to photograph murder scenes.

Information above photo below from the National Library of Medicine: Visible Proofs: Forensic Views of the Body



1913 Burgert Bros. photo below courtesy of the University of South Fla. Digital Collections
An elevated view of Franklin Street looking north.

In 1911, where would you want to put a town clock, disgraceful City Hall, or here?


Chapter II:  1911 to 1912, Hortense Oppenheimer & Ye Towne Cryers

Breakout pages - "Subfeatures"
(These pages are in various stages of completion)