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What's in a name?

Small spring boasts rich history

Fred Ball Park is named for the former Hillsborough County Commissioner who spearheaded its purchase.

By MICHAEL CANNING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 28, 2003


The modest little park at Bayshore Boulevard and Rubideaux Street once held the charms to lure the infirm and generations of bathers. Formerly known as Palma Ceia Spring, the park's spring-fed pool was long said to have healing powers.

The Spencer family of Savannah, Ga., came here in 1846 hoping to cure grandpa's rheumatism. Legend has it the spring water worked, and the Spencers remained and begat the prominent Fermans, Tampa's perennial car sellers.

In 1942, Hillsborough County Commission chairman Fred Ball led the initiative for the county to buy the spring for $15,000.

The Tallahassee native came to Tampa in 1897 to join his brother, pioneer real estate developer C.E. Ball, in business. Fred Ball was elected to the Tampa City Council in 1910 and served there for 10 years.

He would make his greatest mark on local politics when, in 1940, he left his job as a produce company executive to get elected to the Hillsborough County Commission. There he served until he was narrowly defeated in 1954.

During his tenure, he was involved in getting a new county courthouse built and in the installation of voting machines, which curbed Tampa's reputation for crooked politics and fraudulent elections. He also spearheaded the building of country roads and the paying of pavement debts.

In his later years he was executive secretary of Florida's West Coast Inland Waterway Commission. In 1955 he was appointed to the National Rivers and Harbors Congress. He died in 1958 at age 78.

Three years earlier, the city acquired his namesake park, which had become run down. Eventually the spring waters receded, and the pool was shut down and covered over. The park remained neglected until 1988, when the Rose Garden Circle led a movement to refurbish the park with a fountain, walkway, plants and green space.

Among the people who contributed to the cause were Martha Ferman and her husband, Jim, a descendant of the pioneering Spencers.

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