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A legacy of waterways

As a congressman, Stephen Sparkman secured millions of dollars for the development of rivers and harbors in the region.

By MICHAEL CANNING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 21, 2002

History remembers Stephen Sparkman as a city father, a man who truly put a spark in Tampa's development.

But his grandson Lamar Sparkman remembers him in other ways.

Like how he would deftly hook Lamar -- now a retired cartoonist and artist -- around the neck with his walking cane's handle and draw him in when he wanted to tell a story. And Lamar can still smell the aromas of granddaddy's beloved cigars, and of the big fried chicken and biscuits dinners held on Sundays at his grand neo-classical house on Nebraska Avenue.

A native of Brooksville, Sparkman studied law in Tampa and was appointed state attorney for the 6th Judicial Circuit in 1878. He also served as a lawyer for Henry Plant for many years. Sparkman was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1894, and represented the region through 10 consecutive terms. He lost his re-election bid in 1917, and returned to private law practice in Tampa.

In the last six years of his congressional term, Sparkman served as the chairman of the powerful Rivers and Harbors Committee. He secured millions of dollars for the development of rivers and harbors in the region, and particularly Tampa's ports. One of the channels Sparkman helped create is named for him. It separates Harbour Island from the Port of Tampa and is still a major artery for shipping.

He died in 1929 at 69.

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