The Final Battle For Fort Brooke

The final battle for Fort Brooke lasted over 20 years, but it was not fought with cannon, gun or sword.  It was fought with mightier weapons--the pen, the word, capital and the law.

In the Special Collections department of the University of South Florida Library are two old documents--petitions--that inadequately tell a fascinating story; the long dispute over the title to the Fort Brooke Military Reservation land after it was decommissioned by the military in 1882.

Many Tampans desired that this land should not be developed for commerce or industry, but instead set aside as a public park for its great natural beauty. It would be a great opportunity for the town to have such a scenic landscape adjacent to downtown.


Ft. Brooke in 1838





The larger of the two petitions is dated November 13, 1882, and is signed by 165 residents. It noted that land now south of Whiting Street and west of Meridian Avenue would soon be abandoned as a military reservation and expressed concern that the valuable tract would fall into the hands of speculators or railroad companies.

The petitioners urged that the Senate vest the land in the town of Tampa for use as a "park or public pleasure ground for the recreation of the inhabitants."

Looking north into Tampa from old Fort Brooke, 1882



This 1852 land plat shows the area occupied by Fort Brooke outlined in green, and the city of Tampa, outlined in red.  Mouse-over the photo to see this area today. Monument erected at Frankin St. and Platt, in 1928 by the Daughters of the American Revolution, De Soto Chapter


The Officers' Garrison, 1882

In 1883, the second petition asked that Louis Bell be allowed to retain his home in the event that the land was sold. Bell, about eighty years old and a veteran of the Mexican and Seminole Wars, earned a "scanty subsistence" from his garden and had lived on the reservation land for years. The fact that about 230 citizens in a town of 1,450 signed one or both of the petitions shows what a high degree of interest Tampans had concerning the ownership and use of this land.


Also in the Library's files are transcripts of several letters and telegrams, most of which are dated in the crucial early weeks of the controversy. They present a personal record of the events and are especially insightful as to the actions of such figures as community leader John T. Lesley and Florida's United States Senator Wilkinson Call.



The petitioners show that they are citizens of the said town of Tampa. That at the present time existing on the Southern boundary of the said town are about 160 acres of land which is known as the Fort Brooke Reservation being a plot of ground now used as a Sanitary Station for the troops at Key West. It is understood that this land is about to be abandoned by the Military Authorities of the United States as a Military Station and your petitioners are informed and believe that efforts are being made by persons who are desirous of acquiring the same to have said lands transferred from the Department of War to the Department of the Interior so as to vest the same in the public domain and then purchase the said reservation for speculative purposes or otherwise. Or that Railway Companies which are building roads out of the immense grants of lands made to them for that purpose by the State of Florida are desirous of absorbing said reservation for their purposes and your petitioners show that the said grounds occupy a position of great beauty and now and always would afford a place of recreation for the inhabitants of said town as a park and as there are ample lands without defacing or cutting these lands into lots in the neighborhood for building purposes.

Your petitioners therefor pray that the said lands be either retained by the Military Authorities intact or should they be handed over to the public domain that your honorable body will pass an act vesting the said lands in the said town of Tampa on condition that said land is retained unsubdivided as a park of public pleasure ground for the inhabitants of said town forever giving to the said town however the right to allow certain slightly public buildings to be erected thereon in such a manner as to not detract from the beauty and usefulness of said grounds. And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.

November 13th 1882

H. L. Crane, W. J. Campbell, J. K. Spencer, Jno T. Lesley, Henry Brummett, Wm. C. Brown, R. B. Thomas, Thos. A. Carruth, H. J. Madsen, Joseph Hawley, C. A. Harrison, Thos. E. Jackson, John Jackson, R. A. Jackson, Henry Allen, H. B. Whitehurst, Geo. Alexander, C. L. Friebele, Chas. F. Garrett, J. B. Furman, Otto Kammerer, J. H. Leonardy, W. J. Allen; A. P. Brockway, W. J. Knight, D. Ghira, Frank Ghira, W. G. Ferris, E. W. Ferris, H. L. Branch, M. A. Branch, G. E. (Haynsworth), John Darling, E. A. Clarke, Duff Post, W. A. Givens, D. B. Givens, L. F. McLeod, 0. G. Wood (W. Goat), (F. A. Tim), (Gas. Fergur), W. T. Gordon, S. T. Hayden, J. J. Hayden, W. T. Hines, A. H. Hayden, G. W. Hayden, T. T. Smith, D. S. Buchanan, U. Sinclair Bird, C. Perkins, H. R. Benjamin, A. J. Bulloch, J. H. Krause, John P. Wall, Jas. Williams, Mary Williams, (R. Mugge), Bertta Hahn, John L. Elliott, (J. M. Eddins), Jos. A. Walker, A. Stillings, John Miller, A. W. Cuscaden, S. B. Casby, Wm. T. Haskins, P. H. Collins, D. K. Fisher, W. E. Haile, B. Leonardy, (Herrmann Weissbred), F. P. Kennedy, Jas. McKay, John Long, F. W. Bosworth, (M. Loant), T. A. LeBel, (? Howard), Henry Brumwick, Jas. Jackson, E. Durham, D. Jameson, B. A. Coward, John Culbreath, W. P. Culbreath, Jas. H. Culbreath, H. C. Culbreath, P. P. Culbreath, Asa Morgan, (W. Pope, Cu ? ), J. A. Campbell, H. Seling, D. Isaac Craft, H. M. Craft, T. W. Jones, T. F. Hampton, Geo. L. Calloway, Jacob Vogt, J. C. Guild, Matthew Hooper, Henry E. Wells, J. L. Haskins, R. B. Canning, H. M. Chapman, A. Niel, Sam Clay, Parkins Bods, J. A. Magbee, D. B. McKay, H. Proseus, J. A. Proseus, E. Tibery, S. W. Warns, J. H. Dorsey, James He. Wells, Mrs. E. C. Dorsey, L. S. Wells, W. T. Bolben, F. S. Lewis, Henry Brandon, Eola Morris, W. H. Ferris, James H. Holmes, Sallie M. Randolph, Anne McKrause, Josie W. Weissbred, Willie M. Robles, Charles F. Binkley, Joe H. Culbreath, Henry J. Krause, L. Blanche Henderson, Cornelia C. Pickett, W. H. Bulloch, James S. Hooper, Daisy Wall, Annie E. Hale, Alta E. Holmes, (Cora ? ), Cora L. Bulloch, Mamie T. Collins, Maggie F. Campbell, Lizzie Chekine, Julia T. McKay, Harry C. Parcell, Ronnie Hayden, Samuel Wells, Fannie Wells, Eva C. Haddon, Clarence Hill, ( ? ), ( ? ), Lizzie Bulloch, Stella Morrison, Mrs. M. Cuscaden, ( ? ), F. C. Binkley, C. Binkley, Mrs. E. C. Dorsey, G. B. Sparkman Mayor of Tampa, C. W. Wells, R. W.


The undersigned citizens of the Town of Tampa, County of Hillsborough and State of Florida respectfully represent that Louis Bell a citizen of the United States and residing in the Fort Brooke Reservation adjoining said Town of Tampa that said. Louis Bell has resided in said Reservation for many years, that he has been in the service of the United States for serving in the Mexican and Seminole Wars, that he is now old and infirm and unable to work for a living, that he has a dwelling, out houses, fruit trees and a garden in the premises from which he derives a scanty subsistence, that said Louis Bell is an honorable and worthy citizen and has always been true and faithful to the government of the United States.

Your petitioners therefor pray that your honorable bodies grant to the said Louis Bell such relief in the premises as you think meet and just, allowing him possession of the land he now occupies as a home in the event that the Fort Brooke Reservation- is sold: the age and record of the valuable services of this old man will be found in the War Department and many of the old Army officers who served in the war aforesaid knew him personally. And your petitioners shall ever pray.

K. Krause, Ja. H. Hickman, M. Weissbred, John L. Binkley, A. J. Bulloch, J. T. Magbee, E. Tinny, J. A. Proseus, A. Grillion, C. A. Masters, J. H. Krause, Joseph Grillion, I. G. Haynsworth, J. R. Swingly, E. A. Clarke, (? S. Gedelius), W. H. Givens, R. R. Thomas, W. G. Ferris, Josiah Ferris, C. L. Friebele, Chas. F. Garrett, J. A. Campbell, W. H. McFeely, I. J. Raine, Joseph Hawley, Matthew Hooper, Eliza Hooper, H. P. Kennedy, J. M. Dorsey, E. C. Dorsey, E. Delaunay, John Cole, F. C. Binkley, Kate Binkley, C. Perkins, J. C. Field, Thos. W. Perkins, Wm. Mahn, R. Mugge, D. Ghira, F. Ghira, B. Leonardy, D. S. Buchanan, (W. J. Baden), M. Govengreen, R. A. Jackson, Josh Cardy, J. B. Jackson, Herrmann Weissbred, Chas Wright, J. W. Canning, ( ? ), Jno T. Lesley, Francis M. Robles, H. S. Snodgrass, (Duff Yost), Thos. P. Kennedy, W. J. Allen, James Henry, Philip,Collins, (Robert Gommary), H. R. Benjamin, Geo. L. Calloway, Orlando D. Thayer, E. P. Holmes, A. Ross, Dan Mather, (George F. Barslow), (Copl 3rd Arty), Frank W. Hess, Capt. 3rd U. S. Arty, Adolphus Russel, U. S. Sch. Matchless, Edward S. Millar, 2nd Lt. 3rd U.S. Art., William McCarthy, Charles Kavanagh, James Johnstone, James Shaw, John J. McCarthy, Vincent S. Rol, William Moran, John Neaven, Thomas McDairmant, Laeo Schnurr, John Shelly, Edward Robinson, (William Hnitte), Albert Kherle, James Jennings, ( ? ), Frank 0. Ferris, James T. Magbee.


The 1850 Census of Fort Brooke, 19th Division, shows Louis Bell at age 47 with his wife Eliza, age 30. Louis' occupation was "mason" and he was born in Canada.  Their children were Louis Jr., Eliza Ann, Charles Harry, Joseph and Thomas J. Bell.  On the 1880 Census, Louis is listed as a brick mason, age 77, and only his wife Eliza, and children Eliza Ann and Thomas were still living in his home.




Fort Brooke was established in response to the Treaty of Moultrie Creek--an agreement negotiated between the new American government in Florida and the Seminole tribes in 1823, calling for the removal of the Indians to the southern part of the state. Millions of acres in central Florida from Ocala to Charlotte Harbor were set aside for an Indian reservation.

The Federal government decided to establish a string of forts in various parts of South Florida to police the area and keep the Indians down. A military post was suggested for the Tampa Bay area to "protect" the Seminoles from outside influences, to forestall the introduction of weapons from Cuba, and to serve as a station for the Indians to obtain rations and supplies. Late that year Col. George Mercer Brooke, comfortably situated at Fort Clinch near Pensacola, was ordered to Tampa Bay. 

For hundreds of years earlier, the Seminoles referred to the area by its topography--they called it  cotan' chobî, a contraction of the phrase cotanî chobî--a phrase that meant "the big place where the water meets the land."  In English, we write "Cotanchobee" pronounced "Co-tawn-cho-bee."

George Mercer Brooke was a professional soldier. Born in Virginia in 1785 he was the son of Richard Brooke, a planter and state senator, and Maria Mercer. He entered the army in 1808 as a first lieutenant of infantry, and in the War of 1812 against the British, he rose to the rank of major and won distinction in the sanguinary Battle of Lundy’s Lane. During the war he was brevetted twice. In 1819 he married Lucy Thomas of Duxbury, Massachusetts. In his correspondence he comes through as a man with a high sense of duty and honor. His letters are clear and direct and he avoided the verbosity so common in that day. Also, he seems to have steered clear of the petty quarrels which distracted some officers of high rank.

Col. James Gadsden was sent first to mark the boundaries of the new military reservation. Thus, the landing place of the party was designated "Gadsden Point," the area now occupied by MacDill AFB, and the new fort itself was named to honor Brooke. Gadsden chose a tract on the east bank of the Hillsborough River at the point where it enters Hillsborough Bay, mainly because of the improvements already made there by Robert J. Hackley.  Hackley, who had cleared the land and built a fine home and wharf, was an Englishman whose family had purchased large amounts of land from Spain before 1819.

It took many months to secure the needed building supplies, equipment and provisions, and the colonel was in no hurry to face the challenge of the mosquito-ridden wilderness.  Brooke and his five-ship convoy arrived with four companies of militia in late January 1824, and began building the cantonment.  "We found a jungle-like land with giant live oaks spreading enormous limbs as big as tree trunks, hung with pendants of Spanish moss and yellow jassamine," he wrote in his journal.  Brooke spent the first month landing supplies, clearing the “worst undergrowth he had ever seen," and planting gardens.

By March of 1824, the troops had realized what a comfortable house Hackley had erected and taking advantage of his absence on a trip to Pensacola, they seized the house from an agent of Hackley named Rhodes and put it to use as officers’ quarters. It was difficult for Hackley to oppose the claim of the troops for they occupied much of the land he claimed, erecting barracks, parade grounds and store houses.

Hackley was promptly dispossessed of his land by Col. Brooke and was thereafter unsuccessful in attempts to reclaim his plantation, having  lost his rights to it in 1821 with the Transcontinental Treaty, by which Spain ceded East Florida to the United States. (See the story of Levi Coller, Dr. Robert Jackson and Hyde Park.)

The fort was finished by September 1824 and stood where Florida Avenue and Eunice streets intersect to the area around Franklin St. and Platt in today's downtown Tampa.  Brooke wrote that the Indians appeared "to be more and more displeased with the limited land of their reservation in the center of the state." A marker near the Platt Street Bridge marks the company's landing.

Part of the reservation was a beautiful place with orange and lime trees planted by Hackley. There were several springs, a winding creek and an Indian mound. Although there were two small springs located near the barracks, the soldiers depended upon a large spring located in present day Ybor City for water supplies. Despite this, there were few soldiers sent to Fort Brooke in the period from 1827-1834 and at one time was virtually abandoned.

Meanwhile, outside the reservation, early settlers came and established a tiny village that later became the metropolis of Tampa.  The settlers had close ties with the garrison, providing the soldiers with fresh vegetables and fruit until their gardens produced, and Cuban fishermen such as Maximo Hernandez provided fish and succulent turtle steaks.


The photograph is from a painting by Gilbert Stuart (c. 1819).

The photo above is a portrait of George Mercer Brooke (1785-1851), United States Army, which was presented to Gen. Sumter L. Lowry, chairman of the Sesquicentennial, Dinner of the Tampa Historical Society, by Col. George M. Brooke, Jr. 

During the years Brooke was at the cantonment, his family life was scarred by tragedy. His wife was with him part of the time, but she was plagued by ill health. In January 1824 at the very time Brooke and his troops were clearing away the dense undergrowth on the shores of Hillsborough Bay, Mrs. Brooke, presumably at Pensacola, gave birth to her third child, a boy. A fourth child, John Mercer Brooke, the first resident to be born in Tampa, was born at the cantonment on 18 December 1826. That was a critical time at the post. That very day Brooke had received several desperate letters from Governor Duval describing a new crisis with the Indians, and in response he was fitting for combat two companies of soldiers who had just arrived.

Because of Mrs. Brooke’s failing health, her husband took her to Pensacola in February 1827. He returned to his command, but when she failed to respond to treatment, he obtained sixty days’ leave from General Gaines with permission to apply to the Commanding General for an additional six months. Brooke made the request for the extension on the grounds of his wife’s condition, his own health which was "very much impaired," and the fact that he had "not been on furlough for ten years." Brooke was granted the furlough.

In October the following year, 1828, he sustained his greatest loss. In stark words he related the tragedy. "I have lately been visited by the heaviest calamity which a father and husband can feel. Whilst in Ma. my family was attacked by a most violent bilious fever, which has taken from me two of my beloved children (my daughter and eldest son). My wife’s life was despaired of for some time and in her illness (she) gave birth to a dead son. She is most unhappy and wretched and wishes me to come on."

Brooke was granted another furlough. Of Brooke’s eight children, only two, John Mercer Brooke and William Neverson Brooke, lived to maturity. The latter never married. John Mercer Brooke, the one born at Cantonment Brooke, served with distinction in the United Stales Navy and later in the Confederate Slates Navy of which he was Chief of Ordnance. Lucy Brooke died in 1829 at the age of thirty-five and the old soldier never remarried.

In early 1829, Brooke became a brigadier general and was transferred North, leaving this key outpost that was destined to play a major role in the Seminole Wars.  In 1831 Brooke was promoted to Colonel and transferred north of the Ohio River where he took command of the Fifth Infantry Regiment with headquarters at Fort Mackinac, Michigan Territory. The Fifth Infantry remained in the northwest until the Mexican War. Brooke died in 1851 at San Antonio, Texas, as a brevet major general in command of the Department of Texas.


Fort Brooke was one of the largest military establishments in the United States when this map was made in January, 1838. Legend: 1-Judge Augustus Steele’s home and out-buildings. 2-Indian dwellings. 3-James Lynch’s home and store. 4-United States cemetery. 5-Hospital buildings. 6-Sutler’s store. 7-Bakehouse. 8-Commissary buildings. 9-Horse sheds. 10- Quartermaster buildings. 11-Principal wharf. 12-Carpenter’s shop. 13-Allen’s store. 14-Flag pole. 15-Blacksmith shop. 16-Ordinance department buildings and Major Frazer’s redoubt. 17-Clothing department. 18-Uncovered marquees. 19-Prisoners’pen. 20-Major Frazer’s quarters. 21-Leut. McCrab’s quarters. 22-Capt. Evan’s quarters. 23-Covered marquees. 24-Horse shelter. 25-Barracks. 26-Uncovered marquees. 27-Horse shelter. 28-Cemetery. 29-German Dragoons.


This pencil sketch of the Captains' Quarters was drawn by one of the officers stationed at Fort Brooke in 1845.  Beyond the majestic, moss-laden oak tree at the left is seen the ancient Timuquan ceremonial mound enclosed by a fence.  Leading from the gate is a path that forks to the left and to the right towards the top of the mound where a small Chinese summer house was perched.  The ladies of the fort had socials there.  Beyond the small cottage to the right of the mound is a glimpse of Hooker's Point.  The first three large dwellings to the right of the cottage were the officers' quarters.  The fourth building was occupied by Rev. Henry Axtell, the Army Champlain, his wife Juliet, and two of their daughters.  The last building to the right was the chapel with its broad portico and small front yard set out with mulberry trees.  Wide shell and gravel walks criss-crossed the post.    The sketch has been preserved by the family of Chaplain Henry Axtell for over 150 years.

General view of Fort Brooke and parade grounds, 1845.  Thanks to the artistic talents of Juliet Lay Axtell, one of the Army Chaplain Axtell's daughters, who at the age of 12 sketched this view of Fort Brooke.  At the time, the garrison consisted of 20 whitewashed buildings with Col. Wm. G. Belknap in command.  The large building at the left of the flagpole was the commanding officer's headquarters.  The small buildings to the right at a distance were the soldiers' quarters.  The line of buildings from the Adjutant's office to the Indian mound was known as "Bachelor's Row" because the buildings were occupied by unmarried officers of the post.  The mound with the Chinese pavilion on its crest and encircled by a fence appears to the right of the large oak tree.  The Captain's quarters and the post chapel are at the right.  The flagpole and cannons mark the parade grounds where the mounting of the guards were held every morning and the site of many grand parades.


The building with the front columns and small wing at the right of the flagpole was the Adjutant's office.  This building and the Commander's quarters were spared in the hurricane of Sept. 25, 1848.   A letter from Maj. R.D.S. Wade notes:  "Very severe storm from the SE, destroyed all the wharves and most of the public buildings at the fort.  Storm began about 0800 from the SE and raged until 1600 when winds veered to the S and SW until weakening around 2000.  The storm was most intense between 1300 and 1500.  Flooding was exceptionally great, no lives were lost at Ft. Brooke."  Observations from the post surgeon at Ft. Brooke wrote:  "Tide rose 15 feet above low water, water rose very fast between 1000 and 1400.  Barometer fell from 1020 mb at 0900 on the 24th and 1013 mb at 2100, to 954 mb prior to 1500 on the 25th.  By 1500 on the 25th, barometer rose to 967 mb and winds were from the S."  See "Great Gale of 1848" and "Florida's Hurricane History"


The 1850 Census of Hillsborough County, Florida, was the first federal census to enumerate Fort Brooke.  It lists such prominent Tampa citizens as John Jackson with his family, and seen here, Capt. James McKay and his family.  James and his wife Matilda were born in Scotland, his first four children (George, Sarah, James and John) were born in Alabama, and his two youngest Donald and Marian were born in Florida.  On the 13 pages listed for Fort Brooke Tampa district, 546 persons were enumerated.
A marker erected at the present-day location of Franklin St. and Jackson by the Tampa Historical Society honors Capt. James McKay, the 6th mayor of Tampa and the only non-U.S. citizen to serve as such.  He remained a citizen of the United Kingdom throughout his life. The marker reads:

On this site, after the devastating hurricane of 1848, McKay, a native of Scotland, built his first permanent home of finished lumber from Mobile, Ala. Here, with his wife Matilda, they raised their children.  McKay was a dominant factor in the upbuilding of Tampa in pioneer times. His shipping lines established the first commercial connection with the outside world. In 1848, he built a courthouse; in 1858, opened the first cattle trade with Cuba, and in 1859, was elected Mayor. During the Civil War, with his sidewheeler, the Scottish Chief, he became one of Florida's most active blockade-runners; also formed the "Cowboy Cavalry" to protect cattle drives headed for the war-front. 
Read more about James McKay  
Read: "The Scottish Chief of Tampa Bay" by Tony Pizzo


The Hillsborough County Courthouse built in 1855 at the Lafayette Street entrance by John H. Breaker, contractor and builder, looking east from intersection with Franklin Street in 1885.  Built with lumber supplied by James McKay, it replaced a smaller courthouse built by McKay at the same location.

The homestead of Capt. James McKay. This view shows the home in the 1870s, and was located on the southeast square of Franklin and Jackson Streets, the present-day site of One Tampa City Center skyscraper. The McKay children were reared in this house.



During the first Seminole War (1835-42) more than 3,000 soldiers were stationed in the 16-mile-square reservation. It served as Army Headquarters for that war and the later Seminole war (1855-58). Because of its proximity to the water, Fort Brooke was the chief supply depot for troops in Florida.

Fort Brooke was the most important fort in Florida during the Second Seminole War but its utility decreased in later years.



During the Civil War, the state of Florida was part of the Confederacy. In 1861, Union forces established a blockade near Tampa Bay in order to keep the confederates from making contact and trading with other nations such as Cuba. The Union Army believed that if the Confederacy was unable to receive supplies they would eventually be forced to surrender. Despite Union efforts many blockade runners were able to evade the Union Army and trade with Cuba in order to gain supplies. In response to the blockade runners, Union forces attacked the fort in the 1862 Battle of Tampa. This small battle consisted of a Union gunboat firing upon Tampa in hopes of a confederate surrender, yet the Union army quickly ceased fire without the surrender it had sought. In 1863, the Battle of Fort Brooke took place in which two more Union gunboats fired upon the fort as part of a diversion, so that a group of soldiers could find and destroy Confederate vessels and blockade runners. Upon realizing the plan, a group of confederates found and attacked the Union soldiers resulting in casualties.  See "The Robles Family" at Tampapix

On May 6, 1864, both Fort Brooke and Tampa were captured by Union Forces.  At the end of the Civil War and the beginning of Reconstruction, Fort Brooke was occupied by federal troops until 1869. 


As Tampa languished during the 1870s and early 1880s, so did Fort Brooke.  When the occupying troops left Fort Brooke during Reconstruction days, some of the land was declared part of the public domain. When yellow fever became a grave problem for the artillerymen stationed at Key West, military authorities searched for a nearby place where most of the men could be moved during the so-called "sickly season." The military authorities regained control of Fort Brooke when the President of the United States set aside in January 22, 1877 and May 29, 1878, one hundred and fifty-five acres for military purposes with the remaining land kept in the public domain, which became known as the town of Fort Brooke. 

During the winters of 1878-79, and 1879-80, the Key West garrison was moved to Tampa where it remained until traces of the disease had disappeared from Key West. Believing that the seasonal move from Key West to Tampa would become an annual event, the quarters at Fort Brooke were given a thorough evaluation by military authorities.  During the time that the post had been deserted, people of Tampa had roamed through the grounds removing windows and doors so that they could be used in their homes. Such removals were commonplace. Insult was added to injury at Fort Brooke when citizens deposited their night soil on the grounds.

October 14, 1861 - Orders from Major W.L.L. Brown, the commander at Fort Brooke in Tampa to Capt. John T. Lesley, commanding the small garrison at Shaw's Point on the Manatee River.  He instructs Lesley to issue half rations of flour to his company and supply the deficiency with corn meal or potatoes purchased from the surrounding country, and supply the deficiency of bacon with beef or pork, all to be procured in the most favorable terms possible.

John T. Lesley on his wedding day, Aug. 26, 1858

Ft. Brooke in the 1870s

Captain Jacob Rawles of the Fifth Artillery made a thorough inspection of the one hundred and fifty-five acres with its rundown buildings, Indian mound, scattered live oak and orange trees, dock, cemetery, springs, winding creek and thick woods to the east of the buildings. In his report dated September, 1880, Rawles noted that there were no storehouses at all on the site. Quartermaster supplies for the troops from Key West were either placed under tents or in an old log stable and food stored in an old guard house building. Officers’ quarters likewise in poor condition, consisted of one building containing a hall and four rooms on the first floor, and four attic rooms on the second. Two kitchens to prepare food for the officers were located twenty feet from the building, but under a common roof that needed shingles.

Only one large wooden building served as housing for the artillerymen from Key West. The doors and windows had been stolen and the sills under them were in a rotten state. New floors and a roof were needed. The hospital consisted of a small wooden building which contained a dispensary, beds for twelve patients and erected nearby was the kitchen. On December 24, 1880 the Secretary of War authorized the expenditure of one thousand dollars for the repair of the buildings and detailed sketches of proposed barracks buildings planned for Fort Brooke can be found in the military records at the National Archives. The troops from Key West remained in Tampa from May 1880 until 1882 when they were transferred during the "sick season" to St. Augustine and Mount Vernon, Alabama.

The last roll call of soldiers occurred in 1882 and the last soldiers were shipped out in December the same year.  The post was decommissioned by the US Army in 1883. In the following month responsibility for the 148 acre reservation was transferred from the War Department to the General Land Office in the Department of the Interior.

For a detailed history of Fort Brooke during the Civil War, see "Tampa's Forgotten Defenders of Fort Brooke" by Zack C. Waters.



It was at this time, 1883, that efforts were begun to procure the land in the name of Tampa.  Prominent Tampa citizen John T. Lesley, who was a fighter in the Seminole and Civil wars, sheriff, mayor, cattle rancher and later, a member of the state constitutional convention of 1885, sought the aid and advice of Senator Wilkinson Call, who agreed to investigate a workable plan. Fearful that the land would be obtained by speculators within the Land Office itself, Call in turn discussed the situation with the Secretary of the Interior, John W. Noble. Acting on the Secretary's suggestions, he had made preparations to secure the reservation by mid-March, 1883.

Since the town itself could not homestead the land, a plan was devised wherein men residing near the Gainesville land office would file an application for homestead and make the accompanying cash entry payment. At the same time, one from Tampa would file a claim of preemption--the right of an actual settler to purchase land before others. Call wrote that this scheme would serve to "secure both ends."



Sen. Wilkinson Call
Call was a nephew of Florida Governor Richard K. Call and cousin of Arkansas Senator James D. Walker.


Accordingly, Dr. Edmund S. Carew and J.A. Carlisle of Gainesville were selected by the Senator. On March 19, 1883, Carew filed for homestead on the entire tract and Carlisle made the cash entry. On the same day, Call telegraphed Lesley to proceed with the preemption. The cash payments of Carew and Carlisle were not accepted until late on March 22, when a plat of the land was received from the General Land Office in Washington. They had been advised by Senator Call of when the plat had been sent and so were prepared to make the payments within five minutes of its arrival in Gainesville. They were also instructed by Call to use his funds to pay the $421.00 entry money and homestead application fee. Call relayed this information to Lesley, who immediately paid the Gainesville men's draft on the Senator's account.

Clifford Herrick, a 23-year-old store clerk from Michigan, was apparently the man selected by Lesley and his associates to fulfill their "end" of Senator Call's plan. He filed for preemption on March 26, alleging in his required statement that he made settlement and began improvements on the land five days earlier. The third man to claim the Fort Brooke land was old Louis Bell, who asserted his settlement rights by filing for preemption on March 30. Call termed his claim to the entire tract a "Land Office trick," and was sure that he would "not be allowed to claim more than the single lot he has asked for repeatedly."


Carew soon arrived with his family to take up residence in the vacated officers' quarters near the present intersection of Platt and Franklin Streets. It is unclear from available records why Dr. Carew established his home on the reservation. He was supposedly informed beforehand that his homestead was only a means to prevent speculation on the land. It was to be turned over to the people of Tampa as represented by Lesley and his friends. Neither Carew nor Carlisle used his own money in the process, but rather that of Senator Call, and indirectly that of John T. Lesley. Furthermore, Carew paid only the $20.00 register and receiver's fee, while Carlisle paid the crucial $421.00 entry money.

A partial answer to this question of why Carew established his home on the land may be found in the testimony of Lesley at an 1889 hearing called by order of the Secretary of the Interior. Lesley claimed that an agreement was reached with Carew on the advice of members of the town council and other prominent citizens. It was decided that after six months the reservation would be divided into six parts. The town of Tampa was to make its selection first, with that lot to be used as a public park. The other sections would then be divided among William B. Henderson, John A. Henderson, Stephen M. Sparkman, John T. Lesley, and Dr. Carew. According to Lesley, he was astonished when Carew later rejected the terms of their oral agreement. The doctor said that he was the only man who had any rights to the land and he intended to hold it.


John T. Lesley circa 1885


There were few aspects in the life of the young community of Tampa that Capt. John Thomas Lesley (1835-1913) did not touch in some significant way.  At the age of 25, Lesley had already become one of Tampa’s leading citizens. 

Born in Madison County, Florida, John Lesley moved to Tampa with his family in 1848. During the Third Seminole War, Lesley joined the Florida militia as a private but quickly was promoted to lieutenant. At the outbreak of the War Between the States, he formed a company of Tampa men and was elected its captain. In October 1862, Lesley was commissioned a major in the Confederate Army. At the end of the war, Lesley returned to Tampa where he worked to establish his financial and social position. During the next several years, Lesley served as sheriff for two years and built a sawmill that supplied much of the lumber used to re-build the town. He later became a cattle rancher and state legislator.

At the end of 1865, Tampa resembled a ghost town. The majority of residents had left the city during the war the economic condition was dismal and there was no municipal government. The election of Edward Clark as mayor on October 25, 1866 was unable to substantially improve conditions. Clark’s administration was confronted with an empty treasury, yellow fever epidemics and frequent unrest in the city. The situation worsened with arrival of federal troops and administrators to impose the Reconstruction policies established by the U.S. Congress. Deeply resented by the population, soldiers and federal civil authorities were subjected to frequent harassment. In response, both federal military and civil authorities used their position to make life even more miserable for the resident population.

The antagonism between federal authorities and Tampa residents was the foundation for John Lesley’s mayoral campaign in early 1869. He campaigned on a single platform that Tampa’s charter should be revoked by the state legislature due to the City’s destitute financial condition. The majority of residents agreed and Lesley was elected mayor on March 1, 1869. While a city clerk, treasurer and a city council was elected, the Lesley Administration did little more than wait until the state legislature revoked Tampa’s Charter due to a inactive government. On October 4, 1869, the state legislature responded as expected and revoked the City’s charter. When the news reached Tampa, Lesley and other City officials resigned their positions. The Hillsborough County government appropriated all City properties and assumed responsibility for providing educational and other principal services to Tampa’s residents. Tampa’s status as a non-chartered city continued until August 1873 when residents voted to re-incorporate the city.

After resigning, Lesley returned to his business ventures. In 1872, he sold his lumber mill to raise cattle for the lucrative Cuban market and accumulated a fortune. Lesley was also one of the founders of the First National Bank and the Tampa Electric Company which, in 1887, installed the first electric traffic lights in Tampa. In 1876, Lesley was elected to the state Legislature and was re-elected in 1882 and 1886. He later campaigned and won a seat in the state senate and was one of the members of the constitutional convention that drafted the present state constitution.

In a life that spanned 78 years, Lesley saw Tampa grow from an outpost on the edge of the frontier to a bustling community on the verge of becoming a major Florida city.  He has been described by Donald J. Ivey as "Tampa's Pioneer Renaissance Man", in an excellent attempt at the only biography of Lesley that's ever been written.


It is not clear when this understanding was reached. The report of the hearing officers indicated that it was prior to the March 22 homestead. Yet, the agreement was made between Lesley and Carew, who had no contact or correspondence before that date. If Carew was a party to this arrangement before March 22, or if he originally thought he was homesteading for Senator Call (as Lesley once claimed he had admitted), his homestead application would have involved perjury. By law, an affidavit was signed by each applicant wherein he swore that he was neither acting as an agent for, nor "in collusion with any person, corporation or syndicate to give them the benefit of the land entered."

The hearing officers concluded that at the time of his filing, Carew was acting as an agent of Senator Call. He did not file in good faith for the purpose of making the land his home, but rather under an agreement to donate some of the land to the town of Tampa and hold the remainder jointly with several other persons.   Meanwhile, others who wanted the land erected tents and shacks on desired tracks, but soon businessmen purchased lots driving out the intruders, tearing down the ruined buildings and erecting buildings that served as bases for the many firms that were moving to Tampa.



When Carew announced his determination to settle all of the land, Lesley and his associates concentrated on advancing Clifford Herrick's claim. The strength of this claim was the fact that Herrick's settlement date was one day prior to Carew's homestead. John S. Turner, a Virginia attorney selected by Senator Call, warned Lesley that it was "very important that Herrick's settlement and beginning of improvements should be fixed on March 21." He was confident that Stephen M. Sparkman, Tampa's future U.S. Representative, would see to the proper date. Sparkman had in fact telegraphed Lesley when Herrick was still in Gainesville to "continue improvements," and to have "Clifford keep off all trespassers." Attorney Turner felt that Herrick had the "inside track," and Call reported that the Secretary of the Interior felt that the Carew and Bell claims were inferior.

Nevertheless, there was apparently some reason to question the strength of Herrick's preemption. Turner thought it possible that Carew could cast doubt on the genuine nature of the claim. He also feared that Herrick might "go back on us and make a more profitable arrangement to himself by making a clean breast of it." Perhaps one of these contingencies was realized, for Herrick's claim is not considered in later Department of the Interior case reviews.


On April 2, 1883, the commissioner of the General Land Office ordered the local land office to accept no more applications for homestead or preemption. The subsequent attempts of Frank Jones, Daniel Mather, Julius Caesar, Andrew Stillings, and Enoch B. Chamberlain to file for all or part of the land were rejected. This was doubtlessly an unexpected development, and the unsuccessful applicants requested an appeal. After reviewing the case, the commissioner reiterated his decision in December, 1883. He held that the land was not, and never had been subject to homesteading or preemption. Because it lay adjacent to a town, the tract had a greatly enhanced value over agricultural lands normally available for homesteading. The commissioner concluded therefore that it was in the public interest that everyone have an equal opportunity to purchase lots. He ordered that the only proper method of disposal was by a public sale, and the claims of Carew, Herrick, and Bell must be cancelled. The commissioner's decision was upheld by Interior Secretary Henry M. Teller.

John T. Lesley's home in 1899 at 407 East Street, one block back of the court house. His land formerly blocked Madison Street for exactly 100 years and was the boundary line for the Town of Fort Brooke (org.1887) and the city of Tampa until it was joined to the latter in 1907.



Horses in the back yard of John T. Lesley's home, 1895


Julius Caesar's 1880 Census in Tampa indicates he was a 50-year-old whitewasher from Florida, living alone.



Two more important claimants emerged to compound the confusion. In September 1887, the heirs of Robert J. Hackley, the settler thrown off the site by Col. Brooke 63 years before, claimed the right of preemption and purchase. They argued that Hackley was guaranteed this right by an act of Congress in 1826, and upon his death it was transferred to them. In 1889 an act of the State Legislature created the new City of Tampa and extended its incorporate limits to cover the reservation. On this basis the city maintained that it was entitled to the lands for use as a public park.


Late in that year a hearing was held before the officers of the local land office to determine the character of the various claims. They ruled that the claim of the Hackley heirs was superior to all others. Hackley was the first settler and had twice attempted to regain the land by filing a claim of right of preemption. The claim of the heirs of Louis Bell, who died on the reservation in 1885, was found to be worthy of consideration, but only because of Bell's "good character." They reported that the homestead and entry of Dr. Carew was not made for the purpose of establishing a home and therefore was invalid. The claim of the City of Tampa was rejected since the rights of any legitimate settler could not be affected by a later incorporation. The officers recommended to the commissioner of the General Land Office that the cases of all the claimants except those of the Bell and Hackley heirs be cancelled. All other persons living on the reservation land through 1883 were squatters, as the land was never legally opened to homesteading.


The decisions of the local officers were appealed to the commissioner, who upheld them except in regard to the heirs of Louis Bell. He felt that if the Hackley claim was allowed, all others must be denied. The Hackley heirs alone at this juncture would be able to perfect their claim and have all of the land awarded to them.


Once again an appeal was requested, and the entire matter came before Secretary of the Interior John W. Noble in November 1892. He agreed that the Carew homestead was not made in good faith, and that the claims of the other settlers or their heirs were also properly rejected. However, he went on to reverse the judgment for the Hackley heirs. The act of Congress in 1826 under which they claimed specifically exempted military reservations from those lands it made available for preemption and purchase. Furthermore, this act was not in effect during the time of Hackley's settlement. The appropriate law in force at that time made any settler upon the lands of the United States either a tenant at will or a trespasser. Hackley was the latter. As his settlement was illegal, he had no rights to the land which could descend to his heirs.



John Quincy Adams, slips up on Florida treaty

When the Transcontinental or Adams-Onis Treaty was in the process of negotiation between the United States and Spain, some persons in the Spanish court prevailed upon King Ferdinand VII to grant tracts of land to three royal favorites: The Count of Punonrostro, the Duke of Alagon (both grants on December 17, 1817) and Don Pedro de Vargas on January 25, 1818. When John Quincy Adams and Luis de Onis y Gonzalez discussed the treaty by which Spain relinquished Florida, they decided Article VII should stipulate that all royal grants made before January 28, 1818 in the ceded area which was Florida should be regarded as if Spain still owned the area. Of course, those made after that date would be declared null and void.  Actually Onis would have been willing to nullify all land grants made by the Crown after 1802 but Adams let this point slip by and would soon discover that much of Florida would remain under Spanish control in private hands.



Henry Clay discovers Adams' slip up


It was Henry Clay, Speaker of the House of Representatives, who discovered the error made by Adams and insisted that corrections be made. Clay discovered that if the treaty had been approved in its original form, much of American Florida would remain in foreign ownership. Accordingly Adams informed Minister to Spain George W. Erving that the United States would not ratify the treaty unless the King of Spain nullified the grants. Acting under American pressure the Spanish representative body known as the Cortes annulled the grants on October 5, 1820, and on October 24 of the same year King Ferdinand VII approved the action of the Cortes. When speculation reached Spain that the grants would be nullified, parts of the grants were assigned to American citizens in the hope that they could influence members of Congress and gain some profit from the aborted transaction.


Pres. James Madison, friend of Richard S. Hackley

Richard S. Hackley (father of Robert J. Hackley), former consul of the United States at Madrid, claimed that he had proposed a contract for half of the grant to the Duke of Alagon on January 1, 1818, and the two had signed a contract for the transaction on May 22, 1818. The Duke of Alagon grant included the central part of Florida extending from the Suwannee River to Lake Okeechobee, approximately 11 million acres. Since Hackley’s wife was the sister of Governor Thomas M. Randolph of Virginia and Hackley knew many important people including former President James Madison, he had considerable political clout.

The United States acquired Florida from Spain in February, 1821. President James Monroe appointed General Andrew Jackson governor of the newly acquired territory. After Jackson’s resignation in late 1821, William P. Duval was appointed territorial governor of Florida.

In July, 1822 Richard Hackley sent S. S. Seymour to look over his prospective land holdings.  Entering the bay known at that time as Bahia de Espiritu Santo faced on the left by which some called "old" Tampa Bay and others Buffalo Bluff and on the right Mangrove Bluff, Seymour moved into Hillsborough Bay and River. He noted the huge swarms of fish in the bay-large numbers of sheep head, bass and mullet. In addition, there were many manatees and turtles. After noting the names of the rivers flowing into the bay which included the Hillsborough, Manatee and Alafia, he proceeded ten miles up the Hillsborough. Although Seymour saw no Indians, there probably was an active village at Thonotosassa and an abandoned one at present day Plant City. There were no Cuban fishing ranchos in Tampa Bay but Seymour had learned one had been there probably on Mullet or Egmont Keys but the fishermen left when the United States acquired Florida.

Seymour wrote such an excellent report concerning the commercial possibilities of the thick forests and bounties of seafood that Hackley dispatched his 25 year old son, Robert, to Florida. Some time in November, 1823, Robert Hackley made a landing at the juncture of Hillsborough River and Hillsborough Bay and began laying the foundations of what he hoped would be a profitable plantation. According to Hackley there were only Indians, alligators, panthers and wolves on the land but no white settlers. Since he had brought with him spades, hoes, a plough and a work force of 16 white men. Hackley proceeded to clear the land of trees and underbrush and assemble a frame dwelling that he had carried by boat from New York City. So far as can be determined, the Hackley building was erected on lots 9-10, Section 24, Township 29 South, Range 18 East. Soon the cattle, oxen, hogs and poultry which had been carried from New York were earning their keep by clearing the Florida vegetation. The Hackley plantation was destined not to last very long.



BATTERIES OF TAMPA - Two cannons from a battery at Fort Brooke and a Tampa building that resembles an AA battery.

Originally part of a battery of 3 cannons (photo above at left and lower right are the same cannon), mounted on Barbette Carriages and placed in the year 1861 near the northeast corner of the mouth of the Hillsborough River, these two 24-pound shot sized cannons were used to defend Tampa and Fort Brooke during the Civil War.  On May 5th, 1864, Federal Troops composed of elements of the 2nd US Colored Regiment, 2nd Florida cavalry, US Sailors and Florida Union (irregular troops) landing south and east of Tampa, enveloped Tampa in a pincers movement and captured it by surprise.  The 24-pounders were disabled by breaking off a trunnion and destroying their barbette carriages. The indentation on the barrel of one of these 24-pounders indicates that a 6-pounder was fired point blank at its barrel. The two smaller 6-pound shot size cannon were then carried away and taken to Key West. 

In 1891 upon the completion of his Tampa Bay Hotel, Henry B. Plant recovered these two cannons from Old Fort Brooke and along with help from his landscape architect, Anton Fiehe, he placed the cannons over a limestone wall near here as a folly called "The Spanish Fort" which became a children's play area.

The cannon's naval mounts used here were designed and funded by the Fort Brooke Commission.  The historical recreation of Plant's garden folly was a project of the Friends of Plant Park in 2008.  The plaque seen at left is placed on pieces of limestone salvaged from the original wall.




John Willock Noble (October 26, 1831 – March 22, 1912) was a U.S. lawyer and brevet general in the Civil War. Noble was born in Lancaster, Ohio and attended Miami University. In 1851, he graduated from Yale University with honors. After service in the Civil War, he became U.S. Attorney for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. He served as Secretary of the Interior throughout the entire Benjamin Harrison administration. He later practiced law in St. Louis and died there in 1912. He served as the Secretary of the Interior between 1889 and 1893. 

The "General Noble" Giant Sequoia was named for this Secretary of the Interior.



Secretary Noble's decision in Nov. 1892 effectively meant that the status of the reservation was the same as when it was abandoned by the Department of War. The land would be sold at public auction at whatever date the Secretary deemed proper. For differing reasons, few in Tampa were satisfied with this state of affairs. The land was never made available for public sale, but within a short time seventeen applicants including Dr. Edmund Carew from Gainesville who moved into the officer’s quarters, claimed land and squatters settled on the reservation with their tar paper and wooden shacks, tents and huts.  Some lots in this area sold for eleven dollars an acre. Thus, a town known as Fort Brooke was organized on Tampa’s borders.

The Descriptive Pamphlet of Hillsborough County (1885) conceded that the land's natural beauty was "marred by the fences which have been erected around and through" what was to have been an attractive public recreation area. The clouded title to such a valuable tract, with frontage on both the river and the bay, was an impediment to the town's growth. The development of the port was especially hindered. Finally, none of the claimants had been able to gain a clear title, and the years of confusion added much bitterness.


In this atmosphere it was charged that Senator Call had double-crossed the town. It was implied that there was something dishonestly secretive about Call's correspondence with Dr. Carew. A later author also cited the fact that Dr. Carew received the homestead application and entry money from the Senator to suggest that Call may have intended to obtain the land for himself. Both of these surmises are quite questionable. The plan to use Carew and Carlisle was known to Lesley and other prominent Tampans by March 19 at the latest. On that date Lesley received a telegram from Call notifying him that the two men were ready to act. While it is true that the Senator's money was used initially, it appears that this was done for the sake of expediency.  The petition signed by 165 Tampa residents asking Congress to transfer the Fort Brooke Military Reservation to the town of Tampa for use as a park was dated November 13, 1882. He wrote Lesley that, "There was no time to be lost, and all these several methods of defeating the land ring" were necessary. Call assured him that his role in the matter was "without any personal interest and solely in pursuance of your wishes." Indeed, Call was involved for years in the effort to have the Fort Brooke land granted to the town.



The judgment of Secretary Noble, which was favorable to none of the claimants, was appealed to his successor Hoke Smith. Secretary Smith ruled that the order of the commissioner of the General Land Office to accept no more applications for homestead or preemption after April 2, 1883, and to cancel all previous claims, was not proper. Although the commissioner had the authority to dispose of the lands either by public sale or under the homestead and preemption laws, once an entry had been allowed under one method he could not opt for the other. The revocation of the order of April 2 necessitated the re-examination of all applications before and after that date. Dr. Carew had died on the last day of 1886 and his widow remained in the officer's quarters. Lizzie Carew continued to press the claim as heir to her husband, but limited it to two of the seven lots into which the land had been divided.


Although the Carew entry was twice rejected in the past because of a lack of good faith, Secretary Smith found no evidence to support that charge and ordered that the entry be allowed. The earlier findings were based on the testimony of John Lesley at the 1889 officers' hearing. The Secretary felt that Lesley's statements were suspect because they were made in a revengeful spirit by a person interested in discrediting Carew's claim. Also ordered allowed were the claims of Frank Jones, Julius Caesar, Enoch B. Chamberlain, the heirs of Louis Bell, and Martha Lewis, the mulatto widow of Andrew Stillings, to one lot each. The preemption application of Daniel Mather was rejected on the grounds that he never intended to reside on any part of the land, but filed only for speculative purposes. The claim of the Hackley heirs was again denied because Robert Hackley himself had no legal right to initiate a claim.


This 1894 ruling was not the end of the title controversy. Unsuccessful within the Department of the Interior, the Hackley heirs brought their case before the Circuit Court for the Southern District of Florida. This case was dismissed and the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal.

On November 7 and 8, 1904, the case known as Scott versus Carew was argued before the Supreme Court of the United States. Sally Field Scott and the other Hackley heirs were represented by an array of nationally prominent attorneys, including former Florida governor Francis P. Fleming. Lizzie Carew and the other defendants secured the services of William Wade Hampton, Edward R. Gunby, and Horatio Bisbee, Jr., the latter being for four years the area's Republican Congressman. A decision affirming the dismissal by the Court of Appeals was handed down on January 3, 1905. Justice David J. Brewer wrote for the Court that Hackley was a trespasser on the land and had had no legal right thereto. Carew and the other settlers of 1883 were the lawful owners.


Michael Hoke Smith (September 2, 1855 – November 27, 1931) was a newspaper owner, United States Secretary of the Interior (1893-1896), 58th Governor of Georgia (1907-1909,1911), and a United States Senator (1911-1920) from Georgia.



This 1895 plat shows two lots, 9 & 10, planned for the Fort Brooke garrison land.  Notice at lower left, Hendry & Knight represented Lizzie W. Carew and the Carew Land Co. among others.  The red polygon marks the location of the Carew home.  Note Carew Ave. just south of it.  Hendry & Knight also represented W.W. Hampton (for whom Hampton Ave. was named) and Edward Gunby, men whose services were procured by Lizzie Carew for her Supreme Court defense.  Also see at lower right and upper right, underlined in green, the subdivisions of Lewis Bell and Enoch Chamberlain, whose claims were also allowed.


Mouse over the photo below to see how the town of Fort Brooke fits in this area today.  Brorein St. replaced Hampton Ave.,  Platt St. follows Carew Avenue.  Garrison Ave. became Cumberland.  A portion of Eunice Ave. still exists.  The Carew home was located at the north end of the present day convention center.

The photo above shows the old Fort Brooke area in 1911 with ships at the Mallory Steamship Company docks at the Hendry & Knight Terminal.  Looking north along Franklin Street, it is apparent that much of what was planned in the Hendry & Knight survey of 1895 had not yet developed.  The image below is the same photo zoomed in slightly to show more detail. 

Place your cursor on the photo to see some indicated landmarks.  This is now the site of the Tampa Convention Center (left of Franklin St.) and the Embassy Suites Hotel (right of Franklin St.)  In the foreground at lower right is where the Tampa Marriott Waterside is located.


After more than two decades of departmental and judicial contests, the title to the Fort Brooke land was finally cleared. To many, the reservation had been "lost," but certainly the day was long past when Tampa could have reasonably hoped to obtain the land for a park. It would be surprising if such prime real estate could have escaped development in a burgeoning young town. Today the live oaks are gone. The final traces of old Fort Brooke's location are the parking garage named for it at Whiting St. and Franklin St., and Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park along Old Water St. at Channelside west of the Tampa Bay History Center.  One can only imagine the appearance of Tampa's waterfront today if the hopes of a century ago were realized.

Don't miss this first-hand account of life at Fort Brooke in 1845 by an English soldier in the US Army, published in 1853.  Chapter 9 describes George Ballentine's experiences at Fort Brooke, along with a wonderful description of the Tampa Bay area, his observations of the Seminole Indians and interaction the soldiers had with them.  Ballentine also details some of the things they did to break the monotony of daily life at Fort Brooke, including forming a debating society.




This marker is placed at the northwest corner of the intersection of Franklin and Brorein Streets, in the island where Brorein splits between Franklin St. and Florida Ave.

OFFICERS QUARTERS FORT BROOKE - Maj Gen ANDREW JACKSON (1st Provisional Governor of Florida) (7th President of the United States) First Recommended This Area As A Military Site In 1818 (established 1824) During the 1st Seminole Indian War Brig Gen ZACHARY TAYLOR (12th President of the United States) Commanded From Here, 1838-1840 the U.S. Army in 2nd Seminole Indian War.

Photo by Roy Winkelman, Jan. 7, 2006



This marker is placed at 101 N. Franklin St. at the Fort Brooke parking garage.

Photos by R. C. of Shrewsbury, NJ, Aug. 2, 2010


Photo below by Roy Winkelman, Jan 7, 2006

This marker is at the intersection of S. Franklin St. and East Brorein. The marker is located under an elevated section of the Leroy Selmon Crosstown Expressway, adjacent to a parking lot under the structure.

In the summer of 2010, this area was undergoing road work for the TECO streetcar line.

Aug 2010 photo below by Glenn Sheffield



Above:  The Old Fort Restaurant at the corner of Franklin St. and Platt St., Jan 1947.  The cannon on the roof was designed with neon lights to simulate firing.  Notice the historical monument placed by the D.A.R in 1928, at lower left of the above photo.

Left:  By the late 1950s, the Old Fort Restaurant had expanded its building almost to the curb, eliminating the patio area.


Tampapix Home


Tampapix pages featuring former locations of Fort Brooke
Tampa Convention Center   |   Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park   |   The Ice Palace (St. Pete Times Forum)

Tampa City Government Cotanchobee Photo Gallery
The Riverwalk at Cotanchobee / Ft. Brooke at night


Col. George Mercer Brooke - He Built A Fort In The Wilderness, by June Hurley Young

How Tampa Lost the Fort Brooke Military Reservation, by Jeffrey Lewis, 1982

Early Days At Fort Brooke, By Col. George Mercer Brooke, Jr., Professor of History Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, Va.

John T. Lesley, Tampa's Pioneer Renaissance Man, by Donald J. Ivey

The Hackley Grant, The Fort Brooke Military Reservation and Tampa, by James W. Covington, PH.D.

Some Observations Concerning The History of Fort Brook and Tampa, by James W. Covington

Exploring Florida, Old Fort Brooke Parking Structure Memorial

John Thomas Lesley, 12th Mayor of Tampa

Some Petitions relating to Tampa families and the disposal of Fort Brooke lands, 1882-1883 By Dr. Martin M. LaGodna