And Hillsborough Bay Harbor History      


Photo courtesy of Railway Systems Consultants, Ltd, West Sussex, UK

The Harbour Island people mover was an automated guide way transit service used to carry visitors between downtown Tampa and Harbour Island across the Garrison Channel. 

Developed and designed for the Beneficial Corporation by Railway Systems Consultants, Ltd. using Otis Transportation Systems, the people mover was completed at a cost of $7 million.  The 2,500-foot concrete guideway was elevated and spanned the Garrison Channel and the Crosstown Expressway along Franklin St.; it used a cable drive to move the cars. Operating between 7:00am and 2:00am, the Harbour Island people mover made approximately 620 trips per day with a maximum capacity of 100 passengers per trip.  The system ran in a north–south direction between the downtown station located on the third level of the Old Fort Brooke parking garage and its southern terminus at the shops of Harbour Island.




Several low-lying islands and mudflats occupied Hillsborough Bay before improvements began in the early 1900s.  The islands first appeared nameless on the earliest sixteenth century Spanish maps of Tampa and Hillsborough Bays. Later, the islands were included as part of the Fort Brooke military reservation created in the 1820s, and it is probably during the Fort Brooke years that the larger of the two islands picked up its first name--Depot Key. Various other names appeared through the years, including Rabbit Island, Big and Little Islands, Grassy Islands, and eventually, Big Grassy and Little Grassy Islands.  From 1860 though the late 1800s, various portions of these islands were bought and sold by individuals such as Wm. Whitaker, W.C. Brown, Wm. B. Henderson, the city of Tampa, and D. P.Davis.

Photo courtesy of the Burgert Bros collection at the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library

Above:  1915 view looking south from the Hillsborough River towards the Grassy Islands in Hillsborough Bay.  At foreground center are the Hendry & Knight shipping terminals.  At the upper left is the railroad bridge to Seddon Island, which had not yet been filled by dredging.  At upper right is seen the western remaining portion of Little Grassy Island and Big Grassy Island above it, which would later become Davis Islands.  Hyde Park is at lower right.  The Platt St. Bridge was built in 1926.

At right:  A 1915 Sanborn fire insurance map of downtown and Hillsborough Bay showing West Grassy Island, Seddon Island and Depot Key.
From the Univ. of Fla. Sanborn Map Collection


The development of Tampa's port was an ongoing duel between railroad companies, shipping companies and the public.  It is no surprise to learn that the Corps of Engineers builds harbors, canals, dams and other earth-moving projects, but what is not as well-known is the Corps’ role in protecting the public from private interests gaining a monopoly from its projects. The Corps’ development of Tampa Bay was a case in point. Over the early years, as each segment of the bay project was built by private enterprise, it fell under the control of the railroads or the shipping companies. Finally, when port space was nearly gone, the Corps devised a plan to allow the general public to share in the benefits of the Tampa Bay port development. Thus, it was the Corps of Engineers which provided Tampa with its municipal wharves.

H.B. Plant's steamship "Olivette" at her pier at Port Tampa, circa 1895
Photo from the University of South Florida Digital Collection

Port development on Tampa Bay was given its first boost in 1880, when the Rivers and Harbors Act of that year authorized a 19-foot deep channel to Port Tampa and an 8-foot deep channel to the mouth of the Hillsborough River in Tampa. It was ten years later, however, before these improvements were completed.  Completion of this project put Port Tampa on the map but left Tampa woefully lacking in the ability to accommodate larger vessels. Ships were required to anchor at Port Tampa and then transport their passengers and cargo to and from Tampa in smaller vessels. To take advantage of the deeper channels, the Henry B. Plant System extended the railroad from Tampa across the Interbay Peninsula to Port Tampa. This provided Plant's steamers, the Mascotte and Olivette, direct connections with its rail terminal. This nine-mile extension and other facilities to accommodate these ocean vessels were completed in 1888. It was not until 1908 that Tampa's pretensions as a port of consequence was assured by the completion of a channel 20 feet deep and 150 feet wide and a corresponding turning basin.

In the early 1900s, W. L. Seddon was the chief engineer for the Seaboard Air Line railroad. Seddon devised a plan to improve Tampa's port at Hillsborough Bay and in 1906, a public hearing was held to plan the new port.  Seddon's plans were adopted and under his supervision, his company dredged a channel which cut through Little Grassy Island, leaving a small portion of it on the west, and the majority of the island on the east which was then named Seddon Island.  Little Grassy Island was so low-lying that it usually disappeared under a strong high tide, but Big Grassy Island generally remained dry. Both islands were completely covered by water during the 1921 hurricane.  In 1926, Big Grassy Island and the western remnant of Little Grassy Island, along with the mudflats in between, would be filled in by D. P. Davis for development of Davis Islands.

1925 view looking north - Mouse over to identify landmarks
Seddon's 1906 plans cut a channel through Little Grassy Island to the Hillsborough River
Photo courtesy of the Burgert Bros collection at the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library


Looking northwest from Seddon Island along Garrison Channel with ships docked at the Mallory Steamship docks, Hendry & Knight terminals, 1911.  At the upper right can be seen the Seddon Island rolling lift railroad bridge. 
Photo from the University of South Florida Digital Collections

This area is now Channelside, the St. Pete Times Forum, the Tampa Bay History Center, the cruise ship terminals and the Florida Aquarium.






The original Seddon Island contract included provisions of a steel lift bridge, wharves, warehouses, railroad spurs and a phosphate elevator. The bridge was a 187-ft. span designed by the Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge Company of Chicago. The bridge was installed in 1908 and provided railroad and vehicular access to the island.





A view looking south along the Hillsborough River across the Platt Street bridge, down Seddon Channel with Seddon Island at the upper left and Davis Islands at the upper right.  May, 1926.

Photo courtesy of the Burgert Bros collection at the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library


An aerial view of Hillsborough Bay showing Seddon Island, circa 1933.  The dark area was the original land area of Seddon Island, previously known as Little Grassy Island. The white area is the land formed by dredging Sparkman Channel.  Photo courtesy of the Burgert Bros collection at the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library
Mouse over the photo to see landmarks identified.

For a majority of the years after 1908, Seddon Island was used as a phosphate loading terminal and railroad storage yard.  From 1915 to 1920, a considerable addition to the available deep-water frontage was made with improvement of the Ybor Estuary. Through this estuary, a channel 4,400 feet long, 500 feet wide, and 24 feet deep at mean low water, was dredged at the expense of the Federal Government. In the late 1960s to early '70s, the area around the railroad bridge was the site of Hillsborough County Mosquito Control's pesticide dump.


Congressman Stephen M. Sparkman
July 29, 1849 - September 26, 1929.
Photo from Men of the South: A Work for the Newspaper Reference Library By Daniel Decatur Moore, 1922

Sparkman Channel was named for Congressman Stephen Milancthon Sparkman, who was elected as a democrat to the 54th Congress and to the ten succeeding Congresses (March 4, 1895-March 3, 1917).  His efforts in the Congress allowed Tampa to develop its harbor and in 1908, made Tampa one of the most important and busiest ports in the world.  Read NY Times 1908 newspaper article.

Garrison Channel was named due to its location along the southern access to the Fort Brooke garrison.  For a time in the early 1900s, it was known as "Mallory Channel" because it was first used by the Mallory Steamship Lines.

Hooker's Point was named for Captain William Brinton Hooker, who by 1860,  was the "Cattle king of Florida," owner of over 10,000 head of open range beef cattle. If he had looked out from the piazza or porch of his thirty-three-room home on Madison Street in Tampa and felt satisfied with his accomplishments, Hooker could be excused. For over forty years he had played a prominent role in the pioneer life of south Georgia and Florida.  Cattle were shipped from Hooker’s pens at a point on the north side of the lower Manatee River known today as Hooker’s Point. The other, more famous Hooker’s Point, which projects into Tampa Bay was also a shipping point for his cattle, as well as one of his properties.

Davis Islands was named for its developer, David Paul Davis

William B. Hooker
1800 - 1871


Read an excellent, detailed account on the history of the development of Tampa's harbor and the role of the Corps of Engineers, at Tampa's Municipal Wharves by George E. Buker.


Aerial view of Seddon Island and Davis Islands in 1954, looking southwest. 
Photo courtesy of the Burgert Bros collection at the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library


Phosphate elevators on Seddon Island, 1954.
Photo courtesy of the Burgert Bros collection at the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library



In 1979, Beneficial Corp. purchased the 177-acre island from the Seaboard Coast Line for $2.9 million for residential, office and retail development purposes.  See 1981 article "Barren Isle Looks To Future as Urban Area."  Beneficial announced their plans in 1981 and in November, a bill to grant the consent of Congress to Harbour Island, Inc.,  to construct and maintain two fixed-span bridges in and over Garrison Channel, was introduced by Rep. Sam Gibbons.


On the Seddon Island railroad bridge circa late 1960s
Photo from Tampa BT archives

Ground was broken for the Harbour Island redevelopment project on September 20, 1983.  Construction of the two bridges connecting the island to downtown began and in May of 1984, the old Seddon Island rolling lift railroad bridge was dismantled.  This effectively put an end to the passing of ships through Garrison Channel.  The old railroad bridge was still in good condition, but the warehouses and other structures on the island were in deteriorated condition. At the time, the warehouses and bridge were the oldest known structures of their type in this area. The phosphate elevator had been modernized in 1947 and served as a visual reminder of the importance of phosphate to the history of Tampa.


April 15 & May 1, 1984 construction of the east bridge and removal of the railroad bridge
Photos courtesy of State Archives of Florida

Accompanying notes to photos:
"Currently [7/20/1981] research is underway to develop the history of Seddon Island. Preliminary research reveals that dredging operations to improve Tampa's business as a port developed Seddon Island out of a natural sand flat. W.L. Seddon supervised the construction on the island for the Seaboard Air Line Railway and thus the name."

The original Seddon Island contract included removal of a steel lift bridge, wharves, warehouses, railroad spurs and a phosphate elevator. The bridge, in good condition, is a 187' span designed by the Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge Company of Chicago. It was installed in 1908 and provided railroad and vehicular access to the island. The warehouses, unfortunately, are in deteriorated condition. The warehouses and bridge are the oldest known structures of their type in this area. The phosphate elevator was modernized in 1947 and serves as a visual reminder of the importance of phosphate to the history of Tampa.


Construction at the Harbour Island Blvd. (west) bridge (Franklin St.), 1984

On July 27, 1984, Pamela Hiser, a 33-year-old female construction worker, was killed and eight were injured when a newly-poured section of a concrete slab for the 3rd level of the Marketplace collapsed.  See article in the Lakeland Ledger, "Floor Collapse Kills One":  Page1  Continued on Page 10   See related article, Jan. 8, 1985: Second Contractor Cited in Harbour Island Death


Inspectors survey the damage where columns supporting the concrete floor of the 3rd level of the Marketplace collapsed.
Photo provided by The Ledger.







Dec. 6, 1984 - Harbour Island Market Place Filling Up


Lincoln Property Co. joined on as a joint venture partner for the first development phase, which consisted of the Harbour Island Hotel; a 300-room luxury hotel, One Harbour Place; a 196,000 sq. ft. 9-story office building first occupied by the law firm of Carlton Fields, and the Marketplace; a 105,000 sq. ft. area of festive retail space.


Harbour Island opened in late June of 1985 as a "financial extravaganza" by Harbour Island developer Beneficial Corp  The project, 7 years in the making, saw the wasteland of Seddon Island converted to a unique commercial novelty.  


Former President Gerald Ford at Harbour Island ceremonies.

Thursday, June 27, 1985


Photo from Historic Press Images


















   Gainesville Sun, Friday, June 28, 1985
Above: Former President Gerald Ford talks with Beneficial Corp. Chairman Finn Caspersen during Harbour Island's grand opening ceremonies in 1985.    Finn Caspersen, financier and philanthropist, developed Harbour Island in the 1980s and 90s,  The chief executive officer of Beneficial Corp. labored for 15 years to transform Harbour Island from an industrial wasteland inhabited by wild pigs into an upscale residential development near downtown Tampa.  Caspersen broke ground on Harbour Island in 1983, after purchasing it from a Beneficial subsidiary in 1979. It was a time when Tampa was known as "America's next great city."   A graduate of Brown University and a 1966 graduate of Harvard Law School, Caspersen was the former chairman of the U.S. Equestrian Team and contributed heavily to Harvard Law School. According to the school's law bulletin, education was at the heart of Caspersen's philanthropic interests. He told the bulletin, "If there's any one area of charitable endeavor that should be highlighted, it's education, because it's an investment in the future - an investment in human capital."   (Note:  Beneficial bought Seddon Island in 1979, not 1972, and the island was formed from dredging Sparkman Channel, not the Hillsborough River as the article states.)

Vendor's carts such as these were all over the mall at the Harbour Island marketplace.  1986 photo from Tampa BT archives.


Everything was a dollar at "Everything's a Dollar"
Photos from Tampa BT archives.

Some establishments that occupied The Shops at Harbour Island

Blueberry Hill The Fudgery Island Flowers Cha Cha Coconuts The Kite Store
Parker’s Lighthouse Chris’ Cookies Everything's a Dollar Alexia Channel 10 Studios
Columbia Restaurant California Smoothie Paul Harris Scribe's Delight Mundo Latino
Gaspar’s Galley & Pub J & L Collectibles Burger Bay Croissant Bouffe Fanny Farmer

The Florida Shop




THE HARBOUR ISLAND PEOPLE MOVER - Photos courtesy of Railway Systems Consultants, Ltd, West Sussex, UK

Construction of the people mover track over the Crosstown Expressway, 1984.


Photo courtesy of Historic Images


Photo courtesy of Railway Systems Consultants, Ltd, West Sussex, UK

On June 27, 1985, Harbour Island was linked to downtown by an automated tram shuttle system that ran on an elevated concrete track connecting the Harbor Island shopping center to the Ft. Brooke Parking Garage on Franklin Street a mile-and-a-half away.  Known as the Harbour Island people mover, it marked the return of "rail**" transit to Tampa since the closure of its streetcar network in 1946. Costing $7 million to complete, former President Gerald Ford took part in the inaugural ride.  Although it opened to much fanfare, ridership of the system remained relatively low.

**The cars were affixed to a continuous belt that ran along the inside perimeter of the trackway, much like a skyride or ski lift operates.  It ensured that the cars were always in the same position as they passed each other going in opposite directions at the double-wide section of the trackway.

A view of downtown from the Harbour Is. Blvd Bridge, with the Barnett Tower (now Bank of America)
nearly completed, circa 1986.


This circa 1992 photo looking eastward shows the Harbour Island Athletic Club and tennis courts at upper right.  The 34,000 sq. ft. club opened in late 1986 with a full-size gym and a wide range of exercise equipment, racquetball and squash courts, and 18 tennis courts behind the clubhouse.  Photo from Tampa BT archives.


Dec. 7, 1985 - New Projects Revive Downtown Life in Sprawling Tampa          

Aug 26, 1986 - Beneficial Considers Selling Harbour Island

Oct. 1986 - Tampa Bay Magazine "Harbour Island Growth On Fast Track - An update on Tampa's Favorite Island







Crowds invaded Harbour Island by the thousands in 1986 for Tampa's centennial celebration.

Photo from Historic Images






By 1989, ridership on the people mover averaged 1,200 riders on a weekday, and 1,500 on the weekend.  That's a weekday average of about 2 riders per trip, based on information provided by Harbour Island. Harbour Island staffers said the train makes its 2,500-foot trip about every 110 seconds, including stopping time at the two stations - or a round trip every 220 seconds. Based on those statistics, the train makes about 620 trips a day while it runs between 7 a.m. and 2 a.m. The people mover could hold up to 100 people per trip. The low ridership was attributed to the perceived difficulty in accessing the downtown station at the Fort Brooke parking garage and the addition of a lunch-time shuttle bus service between downtown and Harbour Island by January 1989.

Aerial view of downtown from over Harbour Island with the Southeast Bank (now SunTrust) tower nearing completion, 1992
Photo from Tampa BT archives.


Harbour Island's much ballyhooed Marketplace lasted about as long as it took to design, develop and build.  This first business in the Marketplace to close up shop was Gaspar's Galley & Pub.  It closed in Sept. 1985, lasting only 3 months. 

In mid-1986, Beneficial fired Lincoln Properties as manager of the Marketplace, which was then 27% empty.  After seven years of dwindling business, Beneficial announced in 1995 that the shops would be converted to office space.  It was renamed Knights Point, in honor of Tampa native son Charles Lafayette Knight, II. 

With the people mover system losing approximately $1 million between 1994–95 due to increasing operating costs and dwindling ridership from the closure of the Shops of Harbour Island, Beneficial Corporation sought to sell the system to HART (Hillsborough Area Regional Transport) for only $1.  However, since the system was losing substantial amounts of money, HART declined to purchase it from Beneficial.

Photos courtesy of Railway Systems Consultants, Ltd, West Sussex, UK


Photos courtesy of Railway Systems Consultants, Ltd, West Sussex, UK

Mouse over the token to see reverse side

According to one disenchanted Harbour Island people mover rider's account in the waning years,

"You showed up at a deserted station and had to convert your quarters to tokens to legitimately cross an unmonitored turnstile that was far easier to just climb over. Then you would be hurtled by this rickety rubber-wheeled box over a channel, hoping to you didn't hit the other empty car hurtling the other way (they passed on a siding in the middle.) Then finally, your reward was a stroll around a vast, dark. empty shopping mall, until you got bored enough to return to your car on the same people mover.  Despite the 'air conditioner,' the inside of that thing was a sauna in the summer."


By 1995 the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization had approved funding to initiate the preliminary engineering for the construction of a third station at the Tampa Convention Center.  By July, Beneficial announced that the people mover may cease operations if the convention center station was not completed along the line.

In March of 1997, the Tampa Tribune said about the people mover, that it would have been cheaper to move passengers by private taxi and buy them lunch.  In 1996, it cost $600,000 to operate, but only collected $28,000 in fares.

With the prospects of a convention center station stalling, by 1998 Beneficial was looking to shut down the people mover. As a result of a  contract with HART calling for the agency to be in charge of operating the system for thirty years, negotiations had to be undertaken with the City to dissolve the contract since it was good through 2015.

Photo by Ken Heller


Abandoned people mover track, June 1998.

In May 1998, an agreement was reached calling for the dismantling of the people mover system and an announcement was made that it would be  replaced by a trolley which would eventually run from the Convention Center to Ybor City. Beneficial was to "donate" to the city $5 million to dissolve the contract, which in turn would be used to help the city finance the operating cost of the new trolley system.

Harbour Island would then be served by trolley buses and the majority of the settlement money would go to an endowment to be used for the operating costs of the subsequently built TECO Line Streetcar System.

The people mover line ceased operations on January 16, 1999.

After determining that the Garrison Channel bridge track was unsuitable for use as a pedestrian crossing, demolition of the people mover began in November 1999.  The track span over the Crosstown expressway was taken down January 21, 2000, and the last car was removed by crane on February 9, 2000.


Dec. 27, 1999 - People mover track being torn down. The 1/2 mile people mover, which opened in 1985, stopped running in January 1999. Photo by Frazer Hale.

Feb. 9, 2000 - The last of two people mover cars coming down from the people mover.  Crews from All Sunshine Crane Rental Corp. and National Environmental Services Corp. handled the job. Photo by.Tom Goethe.


Finn Caspersen had envisioned Harbour Island as a bustling waterfront with offices, shops and restaurants, much like Baltimore's Inner Harbor. But the development didn't progress as expected.  He remained chairman of Beneficial until 1998 when he sold the consumer-finance company to Household International Inc. for more than $8 billion.  His father, Olaus W. Caspersen, had joined Beneficial in 1920 and ran the company for 18 years. Finn Caspersen was paid almost $24 million in severance and other payments from the sale to Household, which became HSBC Finance Corp.  The Chicago-based Household International began selling parcels of land to various builders, which ultimately helped to diversify the island's offerings.  That's when real estate sales on the island took off.   Builders rushed to build luxury homes for wealthy executives who could walk across a bridge to the Channelside District. The original plan called for residential areas to consist solely of condominiums -- more than 4,500 of them. But when the dust settled from the final construction, there were over 1,000 condominiums, 500 single-family homes and townhomes, and more than 1,200 apartments.  Caspersen then split his time between Jupiter Island on Florida's east coast, where he served on the Town Commission, and at his home in Westerly, RI.  He died Sept. 7, 2009 of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound near his summer home in Westerly, R.I.   Westerly police told The Associated Press they found Caspersen's body on Labor Day near a golf course he helped to build.


Knights Point

Historic marker honoring Charley Knight erected 1998 by the Tampa Historical Society in cooperation with Harbour Island Inc

"Knights Point" is dedicated in memory of Charley Knight (1928 - 1996), a native Tampan, well-known property appraiser and prominent collector of Native-American artifacts. Knight always had a keen interest in and fond feelings for the 177-acre tract of land now known as Harbour Island. Dating back to the early 1900's his grandfather, C.L. "Lefty" Knight, conceived the idea that the mud flat, then known as Seddon Island, would make an ideal shipping facility. He worked diligently with city government in perfecting the title to the man-made island, and then selling the island to the Seaboard Railroad. In later years Charley Knight always felt the potential use of the island was far better than just the storage yard and railroad distribution center than it had become. Often referred to as the founding father of Harbour Island, Charley Knight envisioned an upscale commercial and residential development creating Tampa's new urban community; a vision that became reality when Beneficial Corporation acquired the island in 1979. "Knight's Point" is a tribute to his perseverance and dreams for the future of Tampa and this island.


Knight was a member of the U.S. Interior Department's advisory board for American Indians.  He was named chairman of the Florida Commission on Indian Affairs in 1969 and later served on a successor group, the Florida Council of Indian Affairs. He was appointed to the Interior Department board in 1995. Knight also served as "booshway," or chairman, of the Florida Party of American Mountain Men, a group dedicated to wilderness survival. Charley Knight died of a heart attack on Mar. 25, 1996.


Knights Point as seen from the Harbour Island bridge, 2003

Former Hillsborough property appraiser Charles Knight's funeral was at Myrtle Hill Cemetery. Seminole Indians participated in a rare traditional tribute to Charles Knight, who was instrumental in helping the Seminole Indians acquire the first nine acres of property which is now the current Seminole Indian Reservation on Interstate 4 in east Tampa. Swamp Owl, a Seminole Indian historian and speaker from the reservation in Big Cypress Swamp stood silently at Charley Knight's casket covered with Indian feathers. Swamp Owl was a 20-year friend of Charley's.

Tampa BT photo by Jim Stern



June 23, 1985 news article on the opening of Harbour Island

Jackson's Bistro at Harbour Island

Harbour Island / Channelside at Tampapix     Tampapix Home