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Henry planted rail lines, hotel

Although he never lived in Hillsborough, Plant Hall, High School and a city bear the rail magnate's name.

By MICHAEL CANNING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 12, 2002

Plant Hall and Plant High School: Those are just two of the most obvious namesakes of Henry Bradley Plant. Those and the city in eastern Hillsborough County famous for its Strawberry Festival.

The man who did more to develop Tampa than anyone never had a home here. The Branford, Conn., native first came to Florida in 1852 as an executive with the Adams Express Co. After the Civil War, he expanded into the railroad business, specializing in buying up financially distressed lines along Florida's east coast and interior. By 1884, he brought his rail empire to Tampa after frantically extending his lines to obtain state land grants. Tampa's growth benefited enormously. The creation of its ports were a direct result of Plant's railroad and shipping enterprises.

As Plant and other competitors coursed Florida with rail lines, they engaged in a hotel-building contest, trying to accommodate train travelers in lavish style. For Plant, that culminated in the spectacular Tampa Bay Hotel, a Moorish-styled, 511-room resort on the Hillsborough River, completed in 1891. Today, it is the private University of Tampa. The campus revolves around the preserved former hotel, which was renamed Plant Hall. South Tampa's Plant High was built in 1926.

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