Ybor 's first public school, long gone, still has a story to tell about district's history

Sarah Franklin, 18, brushes dirt from a shard of glass among the artifacts found at the site of the old New World Brewery in Ybor City. Volunteers spent Friday morning cleaning and sorting the artifacts at Ybor City Museum State Park. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
Sarah Franklin, 18, brushes dirt from a shard of glass among the artifacts found at the site of the old New World Brewery in Ybor City. Volunteers spent Friday morning cleaning and sorting the artifacts at Ybor City Museum State Park. [WILL VRAGOVIC | Times]
Published Nov. 21, 2017


It's been more than a century since Ybor City's first public school was demolished on the plot of land now identified as 1311 E Eighth Ave.

For the past 22 years, the popular concert venue New World Brewery took up the space and one next door. Now, New World is being demolished to make way for a residential-retail development.

Through it all, the school still has a story to tell.

So archaeologists and anthropologists crawled all over the property to explore beneath the surface. Their haul includes things like children's clay marbles, pieces of slate boards for writing lessons, mother of pearl buttons and a souvenir spoon with an engraving of the nation's capital.

Not exactly the Rosetta Stone, they acknowledge, but still important to understanding the past in an area that has earned status as a National Historic Landmark District.

"They help us tell detailed stories of the men and women who established Ybor — how they lived, how they worked, who they were," said Becky O'Sullivan, an archaeology coordinator with the Florida Public Archaeology Network. "And it gives people a tangible link to that history by allowing us to hold an artifact from 100 years ago."

Some of the artifacts were put on display Oct. 27 and Nov. 17 at the Ybor City Museum State Park, 1818 E Ninth Ave. People were encouraged to see, handle and even help clean them.

One final opportunity is coming from 9:30 a.m. to noon Dec. 1.

The archaeology network is especially interested in hearing from people who may have a link to the old school.

"Who went there, what did they learn, what was it like?" said Jeff Moates, west central regional center director for the archaeology network. "Maybe someone has grandparents who were students."

One curious discovery is a ceramic wheel measuring 21/2 inches in diameter and surrounded by a metal harness.

"We have not been able to match what it could be for yet," Moates said. "That is one of the things we'd like to learn."

The old learning center, known as Ybor City Public School, was a two-story wooden structure built as a home around 1895. By 1899, it had been converted into a school for neighborhood children.

"I can't say for sure it happened there, but a lot of times an affluent resident would donate property to start a school when they heard of a need," said Rodney Kite-Powell, curator of the Tampa Bay History Center.

Its location across the street from Ybor City's first cigar factory, the Vicente Martinez, provides insight into the urban living style of the time.

"You lived in microcommunities," Kite-Powell said. "Transportation was hard to come by, so you lived, worked and went to school in the neighborhood."

Also telling is that the school was established a few years after Ybor City was founded in 1895.

"Ybor was settled by a lot of men who came to work in the cigar factories," Moates said. "There was an influx of women and children after the men were established."

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In 1908, the school was moved to a brick building at 14th Street and 15th Avenue and renamed the V.M. Ybor Grammar School. Today, the brick structure is part of the campus of the private Academy Prep Center of Tampa, serving students whose families struggle financially.

The original wooden school disappeared from a map of the era by 1915. Its fate remains unknown, but a fire swept through the area that year. The school was next door to Fire Station No. 2 at the time.

The archaeological network has done excavations at other Ybor City sites in the past few years, including the Ybor City Museum's garden area and the 1210 E 12th Ave. location, where baseball Hall of Famer Al Lopez grew up. His childhood home later was moved to Ninth Avenue.

Typical finds for the excavators include toys, tools and medicine bottles.

The latest excavation arises from the popularity of New World Brewery among some professors from the University of South Florida. The USF Department of Anthropology asked for permission to dig once it learned the business was closing and joined the archaeology network on the project.

Not everything they turned up was a century old.

"We took a pint glass with the Cigar City Brewery label," O'Sullivan said, "because history is still being written."

Contact Paul Guzzo at
Follow @PGuzzoTimes.