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What's in a name?

Storied mansion has many faces

The decades-old Biglow-Helms mansion has been a home and a hospital. Today it houses offices.

By MICHAEL CANNING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 31, 2003


Brooding at the corner of Bayshore and Gandy boulevards, the early-century house has kept a stoney sentinel over Hillsborough Bay for nine decades.

Though now serving as an office building, the Biglow-Helms mansion endured a shady chapter in its recent history as South Tampa's premier spook house. A likely event perhaps, considering that the mansion once served as a major area hospital -- and morgue.

Silas Leland Biglow arrived in Tampa from Brooklyn in 1884. He was a merchant, then became active in real estate. He served five consecutive terms on City Council, of which he was a founding member. Biglow was also the first chief of the city's sanitation board and a member of the Ybor City Building and Loan Association.

He built his namesake mansion in 1908 and died there in 1913 at age 71.

Prominent surgeon John Sullivan Helms bought the house from Biglow's widow in 1919. Helms operated one of Manatee County's largest pharmacies in Palmetto, but was enticed by opportunity in Tampa.

He converted the mansion to a private hospital, filling a major niche before the Tampa Municipal Hospital (later Tampa General) opened. The house's shaded, open-air porch was relatively cool in pre-air-conditioned Tampa and served as the clinic's temporary morgue.

The Tampa Municipal Hospital opened in 1927, and by 1930 Helms converted his hospital back into his home. He died in 1932 at age 61. Helms' widow lived in the house until her death in 1974.

The house sat vacant and was boarded up within a few years. Then came the vandals and vagrants. Trespassers held pagan rituals on the property. Plant and Robinson high-schoolers regarded it as the ultimate place to break into on a dare.

In 1989, the Borel-Saladin family bought the house and refurbished it for office space. They are holding the property as a long-term investment, according to the mansion's property manager, George Wolf.

-- Source: Tampa Bay History Center

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