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USF Libraries Exhibits

Sulphur Springs

713 E. Bird Street

Sulphur Springs began as a small park purchased by John Mills in the late 1890s. He developed the area into a small resort with bathhouses, a fishpond, and a pool. The park attracted so many visitors that a trolley line was built by the City of Tampa and the Sulphur Springs Traction Company in 1908. In the 1920s, Josiah Richardson expanded the park by adding pools, an alligator farm, dance pavilion, shops, and a shed for the streetcar. The City of Tampa annexed Sulphur Springs in 1923.

Both the wealthy and the working class (also called the “tin-can tourist”) frequented the park. Some scenes of the 1919 film, The Birth of a Race, rebuttal of D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation funded by Booker T. Washington and the Tuskegee Institute, were filmed at Sulphur Springs.

Local Native Americans used what would later be called the Sulphur Springs Pool Complex for healing purposes; in the mid-1800s, tourists curious about its healing properties began visiting the pool. In addition to the bathhouse and gazebo, the complex housed a toboggan slide, high dive, and sand to create an artificial beach. Admission to the pool cost five cents. In 1986, the pool complex closed due to contamination from sinkholes and storm water runoff. A new pool attraction was built in 2000 around the site of the original, and is owned and operated by Tampa Parks and Recreation.

The original Sulphur Springs pool complex witnessed civil disobedience by American people of color, who snuck in from the Springhill neighborhood to enjoy the park during segregation.

Another feature of Sulphur Springs is its water tower, a popular subject of Florida postcards depicting the park. It is located at 401 East Bird Street and was built in 1927 to provide water to Sulphur Springs Park. It is 225 feet high and designed in the Gothic Revival style by architect Grover Poole. Josiah Richardson paid $180,000 for its construction. The upper portion can hold 125,000 gallons of water, and the bottom part has seven floors for entertaining visitors. The tower includes an electric elevator to the upper portion.

According to local legend, the Sulphur Springs water tower sits on the site of a 1600s-era lighthouse that guided mariners in search of fresh water up the Hillsborough River