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Tampa Riverwalk to honor six local trailblazers

Rafael Martinez-Ybor stands next to a depiction of the bronze bust that will honor his great grandfather Vicente Martinez-Ybor, one of the first six honorees at Riverwalk. “It’s just an honor to have him be one of the first six,” Martinez-Ybor said.

KATHLEEN FLYNN | Times

Rafael Martinez-Ybor stands next to a depiction of the bronze bust that will honor his great grandfather Vicente Martinez-Ybor, one of the first six honorees at Riverwalk. “It’s just an honor to have him be one of the first six,” Martinez-Ybor said.

TAMPA

When nine local historians met to pick the first six pioneers to be honored on Tampa's Riverwalk, they came up with three men, two women and a surprise.

The surprise — the first selection announced at the Tampa Bay History Center Tuesday — was not an individual, but a group: the earliest mound-building Indians to settle around Tampa Bay and in what is now downtown Tampa.

The others represent early strivers in shipping (James McKay Sr.), railroads and hotels (Henry B. Plant), cigarmaking (Vicente Martinez-Ybor), nursing (Clara Frye) and women's rights (Eleanor McWilliams Chamberlain).

"What resonates with me is that these were individuals who not only cared about themselves and their families, but about their community and helping someone else," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said at the ceremony.

Each honoree will be memorialized with a bronze bust created by Tampa artist Steven Dickey. The art is expected to be installed on the Riverwalk in the next six to nine months. The nonprofit Friends of the Riverwalk privately raised the $15,000 needed to make each bust.

As the Friends of the Riverwalk raises more money, the group will call together the historians to make more selections and install more markers, said Steve Anderson, who chairs the Friends' historic monument trail committee.

Meanwhile, city officials plan to work on some fundraising of their own by reapplying for a federal transportation grant to build the last big leg of the Riverwalk. That piece will connect MacDill Park to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. Its estimated cost is $12 million because the Sheraton hotel and other properties along that section are built out to the seawall, forcing the Riverwalk to be built over the river near the bank.

"We're going to get it done, and at the end of this we will have a celebration unlike anything that we have ever seen," Buckhorn said.

"When that Riverwalk behind you is finished in the not-very-distant future," Anderson said, "the city of Tampa is going to be transformed in ways that we are just now beginning to realize."

Not only will it be a place to walk and enjoy the waterfront, he said, but also to dine, to meet others and, with the historical monuments announced Tuesday, to learn about the history of Tampa.

To be considered, the honorees had to have lived here, left a significant, positive legacy and been dead for at least 15 years.

For the descendents of those selected, Tuesday's ceremony was a moving tribute.

"It means a great deal, because to me, he was my idol," said Martinez-Ybor's great-grandson Rafael Martinez-Ybor, 83, a retired banker who lives in Temple Terrace. "I'm very proud to carry his name."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

Six Tampa trailblazers

The Mound Builders

Arriving on the peninsula about 12,000 years ago, Florida's first people lived here until the early 1700s, when they were decimated by European diseases, war and slaving raids. A small group, the Mocoso, lived along the bay where downtown Tampa now stands. The Tocobaga and Pohoy also lived along the bay. All built up large mounds, either for ceremonies or where they discarded shells. Fort Brooke rose where one especially tall mound stood.

Eleanor McWilliams Chamberlain (1858-1934)

A year after moving to Tampa in 1883, she began speaking on women's rights. Within 10 years, she organized a suffrage society that led efforts statewide. She later worked on "Mother's Pensions," an early form of Social Security for widows, and on charity, especially for African-Americans.

Clara C. Frye (1872-1936)

A nurse, Frye moved to Tampa in 1901, opened a hospital for black patients in her home in 1908, using her dining room table as the operating table, and moved the hospital to a building of its own in 1923. The city purchased it five years later. Today the ninth floor wing of Tampa General Hospital is named for her.

Vicente Martinez-Ybor (1818-1896)

In 1886, Martinez-Ybor led the embattled cigar industry to Tampa, bringing Cuban and Spanish workers with it. Tampa's cigar-producing Latin Quarter soon became known as Ybor City, and Martinez-Ybor founded companies for gas, paving and fire insurance. He built houses and sold them to workers at reasonable prices, brought in doctors and turned a factory over to workers for use as a theater. He invested in the streetcar line and his businesses led to improvements at the port. Every business in Tampa closed for his funeral.

James McKay Sr. (1808-1876)

This Scot moved here in 1846, building a downtown courthouse, the First Baptist Church, the Florida House Hotel and a sawmill. A mayor, county commissioner and county treasurer, McKay founded a shipping company that connected Tampa to other U.S. ports and Cuba, where he sold the cattle from Hillsborough ranches.

Henry B. Plant (1819-1899)

Plant brought the railroad to Tampa, opening northern markets for the city's produce and bringing in tourists. When he opened the Tampa Bay Hotel, now the University of Tampa, in 1891, it attracted dignitaries from all over the world.

Six Tampa trailblazers

The Mound Builders

Arriving on the peninsula about 12,000 years ago, Florida's first people lived here until the early 1700s, when they were decimated by European diseases, war and slaving raids. A small group, the Mocoso, lived along the bay where downtown Tampa now stands. The Tocobaga and Pohoy also lived along the bay. All built up large mounds, either for ceremonies or where they discarded shells. Fort Brooke rose where one especially tall mound stood.

Eleanor McWilliams Chamberlain (1858-1934)

A year after moving to Tampa in 1883, she began speaking on women's rights. Within 10 years, she organized a suffrage society that led efforts statewide. She later worked on "Mother's Pensions," an early form of Social Security for widows, and on charity, especially for African-Americans.

Clara C. Frye (1872-1936)

A nurse, Frye moved to Tampa in 1901, opened a hospital for black patients in her home in 1908, using her dining room table as the operating table, and moved the hospital to a building of its own in 1923. The city purchased it five years later. Today the ninth-floor wing of Tampa General Hospital is named for her.

Vicente Martinez-Ybor (1818-1896)

In 1886, Martinez-Ybor led the embattled cigar industry to Tampa, bringing Cuban and Spanish workers with it. Tampa's cigar-producing Latin Quarter soon became known as Ybor City, and Martinez-Ybor founded companies for gas, paving and fire insurance. He built houses and sold them to workers at reasonable prices, brought in doctors and turned a factory over to workers for use as a theater. He invested in the streetcar line and his businesses led to improvements at the port. Every business in Tampa closed for his funeral.

James McKay Sr. (1808-1876)

This Scot moved here in 1846, building a downtown courthouse, the First Baptist Church, the Florida House Hotel and a sawmill. A mayor, county commissioner and county treasurer, McKay founded a shipping company that connected Tampa to other U.S. ports and Cuba, where he sold the cattle from Hillsborough ranches.

Henry B. Plant (1819-1899)

Plant brought the railroad to Tampa, opening northern markets for the city's produce and bringing in tourists. When he opened the Tampa Bay Hotel, now the University of Tampa, in 1891, it attracted dignitaries from all over the world.

Tampa Riverwalk to honor six local trailblazers 03/06/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 12:24am]
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