Sometimes, you can smell bread baking. Long ago, when the streets of Ybor City bustled, and Cuban, Italian, and Spanish immigrants filled Ybor City’s wood-framed front porches, the Ferlita Bakery baked 35,000 loaves of Cuban bread weekly, delivering what has become Tampa’s signature bread to homes throughout the neighborhood. Today, Florida State Park ranger Alex Kinder pours ready-made bread mixes into an electric bread maker to fill the historic building with the smell of baking bread. The sweet aroma takes visitors to the Ybor City State Park back in time.
He arrived in America with his father, Vincent, and two brothers in 1886. He was still experiencing the pain of losing his mother, Sarah, the year before. His father wanted to start a new life with his sons, and America was the place to do that. They first arrived in New York but soon after that settled in Tampa, knowing there were many jobs to find.
“Now is the time to make a decision.” Saying it, I surprise even myself. “The M. Fernandez Factory was called out yesterday, and the workers have joined the picket line. The Tampa Morning Tribune reports that Castange Ficcarrotta and Angelo Albano–two Italian anarchists–were found hanged this morning across the river in Tampa. I wait for this to sink in, and the workers, quietly setting up for a day of rolling or still shuffling into the galleria, all come to a stop. There is no collective sigh, no gasp, just their eyes watching me on the stand, and I can feel them staring; I can feel them beginning to shoulder the weight of what I have just told them. This strike has dragged on since June, the slow Florida summer doing little to alleviate the pent-up tensions. It’s all over the New York papers, too. The New York Times ran a story on Tampa’s “necktie party,” but I can’t bear to tell them that.
In 1887-1888, Tampa experienced the worst of the Yellow Fever epidemic!
Death is not always gentle or timely. As you visit Oaklawn Cemetery, Tampa's c.1850 public burying ground at Morgan and Harrison Streets, it is a jarring fact that many of the early Tampans interred in that peaceful spot died in violent and painful conditions, and many at a young age. Most of Tampa's founding families lost members in that fashion.
In 1886, Tampa was a city in transition. A small outpost on the west coast of Florida, Tampa was a community of less than 800 residents in 1880. The arrival of Henry Plant’s South Florida Railway and the establishment of the cigar industry transformed Tampa into an ethnically diverse urban center in the New South. By 1900, over 5,000 people called Tampa home.