The Sulphur Springs Water Tower
Sulphur Springs lies about 6 miles north of downtown Tampa. Its southern boundary is the Hillsborough River, the northern boundary is Busch Boulevard. Florida Avenue and the CSX railroad line forms boundaries on the west and east. Sulphur Springs, like most of Florida, has a rich and ancient natural history. The man made history of the area starts with Native Americans, who legend has it, drank from the Springs and benefited from the medicinal benefits of the natural mineral water.

The first mention of Sulphur Springs in the history of Tampa dates back to 1889 when the Tampa city commissioners contracted for the building of a bridge to cross the Hillsborough River at the county road now known as Van Dyke Place. Completed in 1891, the bridge was used until 1961.


In the late 1890s John Mills purchased what would later become Sulphur Springs from J.H. Krause, a real estate developer, and developed a small park around the natural bubbling spring.  Mills developed his park into a small resort community and it opened in 1900 boasting bathhouses, a fishpond, and a pool. Shortly after opening for business, steam ships traveled along the Hillsborough River filled with urbanites seeking recreation at the springs.

In 1898, a 25-year-old Kentucky native named Josiah Richardson arrived in Sulphur Springs and saw an opportunity.  After working for several years as a painter and paper hanger, Richardson sold his business and in 1906 purchased 100 acres from Mills, between Florida Ave. and Nebraska Ave. from the Hillsborough River to Waters Avenue, for $10,000, which he borrowed.  The town was a rustic swimming pool with a few wooden bathhouses when Richardson bought it and he transformed it into a winter mecca and spa for northerners.

Richardson was said to have a strong liking for poker, women and fast horses. He was a dreamer who envisioned a resort for tourists built around the healing spring waters.

Sulphur Springs in 1906


By 1908 the popularity of the once small resort community increased so drastically that a trolley line was built to Sulphur Springs by the Tampa and Sulphur Springs Traction Company. Visitors flocked to the spring for its healing waters; a 1911 Tampa tourist brochure touted Sulphur Springs as possessing “water which is especially beneficial in cases of chronic constipation, intestinal auto-intoxication and most kidney diseases where there is need of a cathartic and diuretic in combinations” (Tampa Board of Trade, 1911).

In 1920, Josiah Richardson opened an amusement park called Sulphur Springs Park. The park consisted of pools, bathhouses, an alligator farm, a dance pavilion, shops and a shed for the streetcar that was frequented by tourists and Tampans alike. He laid walks, erected elaborate bathhouses, opened 3 restaurants, docks, a high-dive platform, water slide and toboggan slide. Richardson also built a beach and tourist cottages which were later converted to year-round homes as tourists made the community their permanent residence. A vibrant commercial area grew up around the “Springs” and development flourished along Nebraska Avenue. In 1923 Tampa’s city limits were extended to include Sulphur Springs.

In these days, the rich and famous often frequented natural springs for their healing properties and recreation, but Sulphur Springs tended to attract a more working-class visitor, known as "tin-can tourists" because they often traveled in campers.

In 1925 Richardson began construction of the Arcade, a source of pride and convenience for the community for fifty years.  Richardson saw the springs as a mecca for vacationers of modest means, but refused to sacrifice quality in the development of its attractions. He contracted an artist from Europe to decorate the interior of the Arcade, and for the sidewalk he pioneered terrazzo, marble chips laid over concrete that were buffed to a luminous sheen. 

(Continued in column at right)

A view from the southwest, taken from the south end of the bridge (Florida Ave.) that goes over the Hillsborough River. 


The Arcade in 1929

Completion of the Arcade created the need for water to service it, so Richardson mortgaged all of his assets, including the 100 acres of Sulphur Springs and the Arcade, to build a $180,000 water tower overseen by architect Grover Poole. The Sulphur Springs Water Tower is located on 13 acres of grassland on the banks of the Hillsborough River.  The expansion of the community into a bustling tourist destination and real estate market would not have been possible without the creation of the water tower to bring the necessary water to its businesses, patrons, and residents.

The 225-foot-tall Gothic Revival tower is one of only two such structures remaining in Florida.  Poole designed it to look like a medieval tower, with slit windows and battlements crowning the holding tank.  The tower combines utilitarian function and architectural vision with its elaborate detailing, crenellated parapet walls, lancet windows, and scrolled footings. Constructed of poured-in-place concrete, the entire structure is on solid rock over a artesian spring.  Plans included an elevator to carry people up the cylinder to the observation balcony, which provided a panoramic view of this bucolic river setting.  Richardson's original hope of club rooms occupying the floors between the spring-feed base and the storage tank never materialized. 

The Arcade in 1947

In 1986, high coliform bacteria counts forced the city to close the spring to swimmers, along with the lagoon that carries the spring water to the river.  The city built a 7,400-square-foot concrete pool at the spring in 2000.

This image is from 1913, from a film called "Birth of a Race" (released in 1919), the opening "birth of the human race" sequence which was filmed in Sulphur Springs and around Tampa. Funded in large part by Booker T. Washington and his Tuskegee Instittute. One of the earliest African American-made films, it was directed by Washington's personal secretary, John Noble, and produced by Emmett Scott. Its title, added probably after 1915, was a reference (and rebuttal) of D.W. Griffith's controversial "Birth of a Nation."


Scenes from the movie filmed in Sulphur Springs

Even with its shortcomings, from both a technical as well as artistic standpoint, THE BIRTH OF A RACE at least demonstrated that motion pictures were indeed a medium to be reckoned with that has an enormous capability to influence a large number of people.




Sulphur Springs, circa 1909
Click photo to view larger then be sure to use your browser zoom tool to see full size and scroll left/right.

Sulphur Springs steel streetcar bridge at Nebraska Ave (left) and original wood bridge at old Nebraska Ave (right) now Van Dyke Place, circa 1909.  Click photo to view larger, then be sure to use your browser zoom tool to see full size and scroll left/right.

Hillsborough River flooding at Sulphur Springs

Intense rainfall associated with the tropical hurricane of September 4, 1933 caused severe damage in Sulphur Springs and the failure of the Tampa Electric Company dam on the Hillsborough River. Sudden release of the stored waters washed out bridges, overflowed banks in the lower river reaches, and sent water surging through town. Shortly after the flood the effects of the Great Depression reached Sulphur Springs causing the Sulphur Springs bank to collapse. Both events caused the merchants and residents of the Arcade to default on their rent payments, leaving Richardson without funds to pay the mortgage on the Arcade. Richardson pulled out before his vision was fully realized. He never built the elevator.  Richardson was forced to sell his Sulphur Springs holdings to J.T. Hendrick Estates but remained in Tampa until his death in 1956.  











The Bank of Sulphur Springs, 1921

The steel truss trolley bridge built in 1907 and the                  
concrete Nebraska Ave. bridge built in 1923                   


[The above information was gathered from various online resources, most of which came from "Reconstructing the Past: Heritage Research and Preservation Activities in Tampa Bay Communities" by Courtney Ross Spillane, at USF Digital Archives.]


Josiah Richardson and family riding across the Hillsborough River at Sulphur Springs, circa 1917.

Richardson's slogan, "Josiah knows where the money grows," gave him instant recognition around the area. He also reputedly bought new Cadillacs for his wife and daughter.

Josiah Richardson with his wife Addie T. Richardson (back seat.)  Baby is likely to be their grandson, Charles G. Roudabush.  Girl in front passenger seat is their daughter, Cecyl Richardson Roudabush, and driver may be Charles Graham Roudabush, her husband.  Josiah & Addie also had a son, James T. Richardson.  Josiah Richardson died at age 83 on Feb. 24, 1956.

Sulphur Springs Revisted

See newspaper article about his death

This photo might be printed backwards, note steering wheel position.

Mouseover photo for a close up of the family


The 1900 census of Tampa shows Josiah Richardson, wife Addie, daughter Cecyl and son James
living at 715 Florida Ave.  Josiah's occupation was "painter."  On the 1910 census, his occupation was real estate agent.



sswt13.jpg (28657 bytes)The Florida Avenue bridge was completed in January, 1927. The "hump" on Florida Avenue as you approach the river from the south, is actually the James N. Holmes bridge, started in 1926.  Prior to this the only means of traffic across the river, going north and south, was over the very narrow bridge on Nebraska Avenue, which was so narrow that traffic going north had to stop to allow south-bound traffic to pass, and vice versa. 




Left:  The original wood bridge at old Nebraska Ave. (now Van Dyke Place) was built in 1891.   Same bridge shown in photo of Josiah Richardson and family.





Click the map below to see more old photos of the attractions at Sulphur Springs Park on an interactive map

This 1922 fire insurance map of Tampa shows the Sulphur Springs park area and the original path of Nebraska Avenue at the river. 

Note how it veered to the east of the present day road.  This portion of old Nebraska Ave. is now named Van Dyke Place, for the man who owned the service station there in the 1920s.  The station was located near where Hamilton Heath and Nebraska intersect on the map at left.

Two bridges are noted here, the east wooden bridge on the street labeled Nebraska Ave. and a west steel bridge on an unlabeled street which is now the current path of Nebraska Ave.  The steel bridge was built to bring the Tampa streetcar lines into the park.



Advertisement from Rinaldi's Guidebook on Tampa, 1915-1916





When completed in 1925-26, the 2nd floor had 39 hotel rooms and 14 apartments and offices.  The arcade was demolished in 1976 to create parking for the Tampa Greyhound Track.





The Arcade in 1975

Originally owned by Josiah T. Richardson, the building was sold to South Carolina tobacco grower J.F. Hendrick when Richardson defaulted in the late 1920s.  After Hendrick's death, the property passed to his 5 grandchildren.  As estate holders, they exerted control over leases for the ground floor stores.  In order to bring in new businesses, they refused lease renewals for many of the original shops.  The hotel and shops remained until 1975.


The Hillsborough River as seen looking east from the bridge.

The tower is on the property to the left and the bridge in the distance is Interstate 275.

The structure is constructed from poured cement using railroad rails for "rebar."  The walls are eight inches thick with a buttressed base on solid rock. "Concrete was poured into forms that were raised by yokes and jacks -- 10 feet went up a day. The tower rests on rock, has a cantilever foundation, and with the buttresses will be rather a difficult job to ever destroy," wrote Grover Poole.  When it was operational it stored 200,000 gallons of water pumped up from the nearby artesian springs. The water tank occupies the upper quarter of the cylindrical tower while seven floors, one room per floor, constitute the lower three quarters.


A view from the northeast along Bird Street midway between Florida Avenue and I-275.




           The Tower Drive In                  


The Tower Drive In opened on October 22, 1952 with the double feature “Wait Till The Sun Shines Nellie” and “Dakota Lil.” This is the grand opening ad with a photo of the lot. The huge full-page ad contained congratulatory announce-ments from about 20 merchants and supply companies.  The venue had a capacity of 300 cars and closed down in the 1980s.

Newspaper ad and program from Cinema Treasures


Aerial view of the water tower and the Tower Drive In, 1957.  Place your cursor on the photo to see same area in 1969, which shows at top center parking and a portion of J.M. Fields department store.  

The Tower Drive In, 1952 - The movie feature in this photo was "Don't Bother to Knock" with Richard Widmark, Marilyn Monroe and Anne Bancroft.  The movie screen was on the back side of this building.


Almost all traces of the old Tower Drive In theater are gone  

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