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Water Tower and Park - Page 3

Richardson disdained the ordinary and the cheap. Instead of a typical Florida water tower--metal legs and a big bulb at the top -- he built a tower that looked like a lighthouse and a medieval castle.--Jeff Klinkenburg, St. Pete Times

 


The Sulphur Springs water tower, 2013 - A freeze-frame from an amazing video by Mike Littlefield, presented below.
 

 

The Sulphur Springs Water Tower

Completion of the Hotel/Arcade in 1927 created the need for water to service it, so Josiah Richardson mortgaged all of his assets, including the 100 acres of Sulphur Springs and the Hotel/Arcade, to build a $180,000 water tower.  This is around $2.5 Million in 2018 dollars. 

The expansion of the community into a bustling tourist destination and real estate market would not have been possible without the creation of the water tower to bring the necessary water to its businesses, patrons, and residents.

On Jan. 9, 1927, it was announced in the local newspaper that the contract for the tower was awarded to Bob Lafferty, a New York architect.

 

 

Apparently, this design was modified somewhat, perhaps for a more economical design but taller tower. Lafferty, who had been living in Tampa for 3 years, left for New York and other major cities in May of 1927 in order to promote his idea of "Airway transportation systems" involving cars traveling on suspended cables.

 


 

May 1927 - Construction begins
 

A rare photo of the indomitable Josiah S. Richardson at the time the tower and arcade were being built.

Initially, the tower was to be 165 feet tall, but the construction update on Sept. 11 states that it will be 200 feet tall.

Sept. 11, 1927: Workers were working at a feverish pace, with a day and night shift.

 

The photo to the right was published on Sept. 16. Three levels of windows can be seen, which puts it at an estimated 1/3 completed.

In an amazing accomplishment, the tower was completed  EIGHT DAYS later.  This Tampa Times article claims the tower had an electric elevator, but that wasn't so.  Richardson's plans for the tower went down the drain with the flood of 1933.  See the end of this page concerning the flood and Richardson's plans for the tower.

 

There was not a "Burgert brother" with the initials of H. C.    Harry Burgert's full name was James Harold Burgert.  Will Burgert's full name was Willard Chesney Burgert.  However, if the initials are correct, H.C would be a son of James Harold "Harry" Burgert.  While in Key West, Harry met and married Jeanette "Nettie" B. Johnson, a Key West native.  In 1900, Harry and Nettie's first son was born in Key West--Harold "Hal" Chesney Burgert. (H.C.)  In 1904, Nettie and Harry had their second son, Ethelbert "Thel" James Burgert.  Thel and his brother Hal would eventually become well-known photographers and work for newspapers in Detroit, MI.
Read about the Burgert Brothers here at TampaPix 

 


The Sulphur Springs water tower, 1945
Burgert Brothers photo courtesy of David Parsons, Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library.
Place your cursor on the photo to see it close up.

The Sulphur Springs water tower is located on 13 acres of grassland on the banks of the Hillsborough River.  It  combines utilitarian function and architectural vision with its elaborate detailing, crenellated parapet walls, lancet windows, and scrolled footings.

The 214-foot-tall Gothic Revival tower is one of only two such structures remaining in Florida.  According to currently accepted histories of the tower, its design and construction was overseen by civil engineer Grover Poole.  "Poole designed it to look like a medieval tower, with slit windows and battlements crowning the holding tank."  If it was actually designed by Poole, then it can be concluded that Lafferty's design (and contract) was rejected for reasons yet to be determined.

Constructed of poured-in-place concrete, with eight-inch- thick walls,  the structure sits on a 45-foot deep foundation blasted into solid bedrock, with a buttressed base over a artesian spring.   Richardson had steel railroad rails brought in from north Florida to reinforce the concrete. Grover Poole wrote:

"Concrete was poured into forms that were raised by yokes and jacks -- 10 feet went up a day.  The tower rests on rock, has a cantilever foundation, and with the buttresses will be rather a difficult job to ever destroy."

The tower is built over the opening of an artesian well with pumps located under the tower itself.  Another building was on the property which housed fluoridation and filtering equipment when the water company was in business piping water directly to customers.

When it was operational, it stored 136,000 gallons of water pumped up from the artesian well.  (Some sources says 200,000 gallons.)   The water tank occupied the upper quarter of the cylindrical tower while seven floors, one room per floor, constitute the lower three quarters. 

When the tower was filled with water to service the tourist camps along Florida Avenue, the Arcade facility and upstairs hotel, Richardson miscalculated the power and speed with which the water would make its way from the top of the tower to the faucets below.  Legend has it that when the first faucet was opened the rushing water blew the fixtures off the walls. Richardson's plans included an elevator to carry people up the central core cylinder to the observation balcony, which provided a panoramic view of this bucolic river setting. 

Not much is known about the tower's builder, Grover Poole.  Public records show that he was born Nov. 27, 1886 in Lovington, Illinois and held various occupations in his lifetime.  In 1910 in Macon, Illinois he was a draughtsman (draftsman) for the railroad.  In 1917 when he registered for the WW1 draft, he was a minister and supt. of a grain elevator, listing himself as a pastor in Arzenville, Ill.  Around 1919, he married Ora Davis and in 1920 they lived in Tanners Creek, Norfolk Co, VA. In the 1920s, he lived in Decatur, ILL and worked as a grain elevator contractor.  By 1930 he lived in Auburn, Al where he worked as a construction engineer. He and Ora had a 6 year old son John G. Poole.  He may not have lived in Tampa while working on the Sulphur Springs water tower; he is only listed in Tampa's 1933 city directory as a building inspector.  Florida's 1935 census finds him in Clewiston, Hendry County, Florida, as a Civil Engineer with a university education.  On the 1940 census he was in Montgomery, MD.  His occupation was business manager, Jr. College.  In 1942 he was a business manager for National Park College in Forest Glen, MD.

From its completion until 1971, the water tower was operated by a private water company piping artesian well water to commercial and residential customers in the immediate vicinity.
 


This undated postcard shows the water treatment building next to the tower.  Hillsboro News Co. postcard from the University of Florida digital collection, no date.  Postcard reverse side:

In 1971 the owner of the water company and tower was "The Estate of J.F. Hendricks" (several beneficiaries under his will including surviving relatives). They were forced by the City of Tampa in 1971 to cease water piping operations so that the City's water utility company could maintain a monopoly over the business of piping water to citizens.

 


The Sulphur Springs water tower in 1954.
Burgert Brothers photo courtesy of David Parsons, Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library

Sometime from 1945 to 1954, the decorative supports under the parapet were removed.

 

 

 

Watch and listen to this mesmerizing video by Mike Littlefield.  The spectacular views of the tower along with the music captures the adventurous character that was Josiah Richardson and his epic dreams for Sulphur Springs.
 
Mike has several dramatic videos of the water tower and surrounding area, along with other spectacular drone videos.  See them on his YouTube page.

 

THE FOLLOWING SECTION WILL BE UPDATED  SOON

The Flood of 1933 and the Great Depression

Intense rainfall associated with the tropical hurricane of September 4, 1933, which passed across central Florida northwesterly from the Atlantic Ocean, caused severe damage in Sulphur Springs and the failure of the Tampa Electric Company dam on the Hillsborough River on September 7, 1933.  Sudden release of the stored waters washed out bridges, overflowed banks in the lower river reaches, and sent water surging through town. 


Sulphur Springs Flooded As Huge Dam Bursts Open - The Evening Independent, Sept. 8, 1933

 

Tampa Suburb Faces Flood As Dam Breaks, The Palm Beach Post, Sept. 8, 1933

Sulphur Springs Flood Subsiding, St. Pete Times, Sept. 9, 1933

Sulphur Springs Homes Flooded, St. Pete Times, Sept. 10, 1933

Flood Refugees Appeal For Aid, 100 Families Left Penniless by Catastrophe, St. Pete Times, Sept. 11, 1933

Along with the flood came the effects of the Great Depression, which greatly diminished tourism dollars spent in Sulphur Springs.  Both events caused the merchants and residents of the Arcade to default on their rent payments, leaving Richardson without funds to pay the mortgage on the Arcade. Richardson was forced to sell his Sulphur Springs holdings to South Carolina tobacco grower J.F. Hendrick before his vision was fully realized.  He never built the elevator, observation balcony or the club rooms in the water tower.   The hotel and arcade's glory days in the 1940s and '50s progressed under new ownership.  The spring continued to be popular with tourists and residents alike and remained a central part of the community where people came to swim, picnic, and shop at the Arcade.  After the death of Hendrick, the property passed to his five grandchildren. They, as estate holders, exerted control over leases for the ground floor stores. In order to "bring in new businesses, they refused lease renewals for many of the original shops.

Sulphur Springs was, in effect, a planned community, in that first Dr. John Mills and then Josiah Richardson, purchased the land for the purpose of developing the community of Sulphur Springs as a tourist and recreation area for profit. Through a series of misfortunes, poor timing, wars, floods, and a national depression, its success was somewhat limited mostly to the seasonal invasions of middle class Northerners.  The Sulphur Springs community never incorporated as a township and was eventually annexed by the City of Tampa in 1953.  In the runoff election for mayor of Tampa in 1956, Nick Nuccio accused then-interim Mayor J. L. Young (who became mayor after the death of Mayor Curtis Hixon) of trying to obstruct the growth of Tampa by seeking to incorporate Sulphur Springs as a separate community in order to prevent Tampa from annexing it.

 

The Tower Drive-In Theatre

The Tower Drive-in marquee and entrance, 1952.  It was on Bird Street, just east of the water tower.  The screen was on the opposite side of the building, facing south toward the river.  The movie feature in this photo was "Don't Bother to Knock" with Richard Widmark, Marilyn Monroe and Anne Bancroft. Photo courtesy of Johnny Cinchett, Vintage Tampa Signs and Scenes

Newspaper ad and program from Cinema Treasures

The Tower Drive In opened on October 22, 1952 with the double feature “Wait Till The Sun Shines Nellie” and “Dakota Lil.” This is the grand opening ad with a photo of the lot. The huge full-page ad contained congratulatory announcements from about 20 merchants and supply companies. The venue had a capacity of 300 cars and closed down in the 1980s.

 

 

 


Above image from larger article seen below.

While the Sulphur Springs neighborhood experienced changing economies and population shifts, the Sulphur Springs water tower continued operating.   A flood in the 1960s weakened the arcade's foundation, and in following years the building's upkeep was neglected.  Interstate construction in the late 1960s cut through Sulphur Springs, and a drug culture that took off in the 1970s and '80s saw the neighborhood decline.

 

Sulphur Springs Arcade, 1975
Photo from the Library of Congress

 

 

Before the arcade's destruction, residents could shop at Maves five-and-dime,  Badcock Furniture & Appliances, Sanders and Whitehead's drugstores, and Linder's Jewelry. Through the years, the "city under one roof" saw dozens of businesses come and go: a bank, a bakery, drugstores, grocery stores, a hardware store, a liquor store, a pool hall, a barber shop, a post office and a sheriff's office. The hotel and the shops remained until 1975 and in 1976, the entire building was demolished and made into a parking lot for the nearby greyhound racing track.

 

 
 

Josiah Richardson's career as a realtor and developer, and his slogan "Josiah knows where the money grows," gave him instant recognition in the Tampa Bay area.  He died in a Tampa nursing home on Feb. 23, 1956.  His ashes were scattered at the water tower by his daughter, Cecyl Richardson Roudabush.

He was a dreamer who envisioned a resort for tourists built around the healing spring waters. Throughout his life, he was a colorful, outspoken citizen and businessman, and was frequently in the papers due to everything from his business dealings to his opinions.  He reputedly bought new Cadillacs for his wife and daughter and have a penchant for poker, women and fast horses.

Once he was charged with thrashing an 11-year-old boy who Richardson said was throwing rocks at squirrels in his park.  Another time he and a Baptist minister who complained about a dance marathon at Richardson's dance hall came to blows.

Just three years ago, he advertised for a white, widow housekeeper weighing not more than 125 pounds, who would not be "allergic to a second marriage."

Sarasota Herald Tribune, Feb. 25, 1956

 

 

 

1911 Richardson passing through "The Local Roundup"

July 31, 1915 Mr. & Mrs. Richardson, their son, and Mr. & Mrs. Roudabush (son-in-law & daughter) passing through

Jul 1, 1918 Richardson son-in-law Tampa salesman commits suicide

Dec. 16, 1925 Richardson risks life on plane flight to save wrongly convicted friend

 

 

Feb 3, 1926 Bondsman Richardson fights forfeiture for escaped convict

Feb 11, 1926 Richardson prepares to contest forfeiture of bond

Feb. 19, 1926 Richardson offers to clean up speakeasies at his own expense

May 27, 1926 Richardson attempt to recover $7,000 bond

March 13, 1931 Robbers get $8,000 loot from Sulphur Springs Bank

March 13, 1931 Sulphur Springs bank robbed

Aug. 19, 1931 Richardson wants vote on dog track in Sulphur Springs

Dec 7, 1931 Richardson attys file suit to prevent Jan 20 vote

Sept. 8, 1933 Sulphur Springs flooded as huge dam bursts open - page1 (links to article to the left of SS article)

Sept. 8, 1933 Sulphur Springs flooded as huge dam bursts open - page2

Sept 9, 1933 Sulphur Springs Flood Subsiding

Sept. 11, 1933 Flood Refugees Appeal for Aid

May 10, 1936 Richardson buys Superior Hotel on Central Ave in St. Pete

July 28, 1945 Swollen River Floods North Tampa, Dam Holds

June 30, 1948 Hush Hush Deal

Sept 19, 1948, Richardson to submit plan to supply water to St. Pete and Tampa

Sept. 25, 1948 Richardson asks for lease of Weeki Wachee spring to build pumping station, 1948

Oct 5, 1948 Announcement made turning down Richardson lease of Weeki Wachee

Sept 18, 1949 City water supply adequate, Richardson proposal failed to reach presentation

Sept. 10, 1950 Sulphur Springs Flooded

Feb. 25, 1956 newspaper article about his death

Dec. 7, 1967  Tampa's I-75 Grows Three Miles

 

Sulphur Springs Page 1 General description ● J. H. Krause ● The 1891 Iron Bridge ● Dr. Mills and his resort ● Circa 1900 images ● Josiah S. Richardson early years ● The streetcar line and the 1907 steel bridge ● Gaither & Henderson park improvements and Stomawa Mineral Water ● The park in Rinaldi's Guidebook of Tampa 1915 ●  Alligator farm
Sulphur Springs Page 2 Josiah Richardson's Sulphur Springs Amusement Park ● 1922 map of the park with photo positions marked ● Photos of the park in the "Roaring Twenties" ● Van Dyke's Service Station ● The 1924 Nebraska Avenue bridge ● Josiah Richardson's Sulphur Springs Hotel,  "The Arcade"
Sulphur Springs Page 3 Water tower history ● The hurricane and flood of 1933 ●  Richardson's loss and demise of the Arcade ●  The Tower Drive-In Theater
Sulphur Springs Page 4 Water tower recent photos and lighting ceremony
Sulphur Springs Page 5 Sulphur Springs Park and Gazebo, recent photos ● Information sources for all pages