Hillsborough River Guidebook

A guide to the history, wildlife and sites from the headwaters in the Green Swamp to the outlet at the Gulf of Mexico

Kevin M. McCarthy

Hillsborough River Guidebook



Crystal Springs

Temple Terrace






Hillsborough River Guidebook

Kevin M. McCarthy

Sarasota, Florida

Pineapple Press, Inc.

Copyright © 2011 by Kevin M. McCarthy All photos were taken by the author except: Photos from the Florida State Archives appear on pages 6, 7, 10, 11, 15 (bottom), 18, 23, 32, 33, 41, 42, 43, 47, 50 (bottom), 51, 53 (both), 61, 63, 64, 66, 72 (top), 83, 89, 90, 91 (bottom), 93 (top), 97, 99, 102, 104, 105, 108, 109 (top), 116, 118, 119, 121 (top), 122 (both), 123, 128, 131 (top), 132, 133, 137 (both), 139, 141, 142, 145, 147, 148, 149, 150, 151 (both), 153 (top), 154, 156 (both), 157, 158, 161 (bottom), and 163. Photos from the internet appear on pages 9, 36 (bottom), 91 (top), and 112 (bottom). Photos from Sulphur Springs Park appear on page 76 (both) and 84 (bottom). All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Inquiries should be addressed to: Pineapple Press, Inc. P.O. Box 3889 Sarasota, Florida 34230 www.pineapplepress.com Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data [To come]

First Edition 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Design by Giles Hoover, www.gileshoover.com Printed in the United States of America

How to Use This Book Introduction ix 1 The Green Swamp to Crystal Springs by water 1 by land 14 2 Crystal Springs to Trout Creek Park by water 17 by land 34 3 Trout Creek Park to Temple Terrace by water 37 by land 52 4 Temple Terrace to Dam near Rowlett Park by water 55 by land 66 5 Rowlett Park to Lowry Park by water 69 by land 82 6 Lowry Park to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard by water 86 by land 101 7 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to the University of Tampa by water 103 by land 125 8 MacDill Park to Davis Islands by water 127 by land 142 9 Davis Islands to Tampa Bay and Hillsborough Bay by water 144 by land 160 Conclusion 163 Information for Boaters 164 Places to Visit, Stay, and Eat 165 Further Reading 170 Index 177 vii



dedicate this book to all the women and men, girls and boys, who are working hard every day to make the Hillsborough as clean and pure as possible. With their concerted efforts they will stop the pollution of the waterway and return it to the way our Native American predecessors experienced it.

wish to thank ranger Willie Crosby of Morris Bridge Park, water expert Dr. Joseph Delfino, cartographer Susan Duser, Zephyrhills Depot Museum guide Vicki Elkins, Joe Faulk and his staff at Canoe Escape, journalist/historian Leland Hawes for his critique of my manuscript, Lucy D. Jones for help in identifying some bridges on the river, Peter McKay of the University of Florida library, Billy Morris (for his help identifying Civil War wrecks in the river), and Grant Rimbey for help with Temple Terrace. Thanks also to the many residents on and near the river who kindly helped me find my way, answer my questions, and come to appreciate such an important waterway. But most of all a special thanks to guide/ alligator hunter Cary Crutchfield, whose skill and enthusiasm led to many enjoyable hours boating the Hillsborough by canoe and bass boat.

About the Author
evin M. McCarthy is a professor emeritus of English and Florida Studies at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where he taught for thirty-three years and which named him its Distinguished Alumni Professor (2003–2005). He has written seventeen other books for Pineapple Press, including African Americans in Florida, African American Sites in Florida, Alligator Tales, Apalachicola Bay, Aviation in Florida, Baseball in Florida, The Book Lover’s Guide to Florida, Christmas in Florida, Georgia’s Lighthouses and Historic Coastal Sites, Guide to the University of Florida and Gainesville, Lighthouses of Ireland, Native Americans in Florida, Over Southeast Florida, St. Johns River Guidebook, Suwannee River Guidebook, Thirty Florida Shipwrecks, and Twenty Florida Pirates. He also taught for two years in Turkey in the Peace Corps, as well as one year in Lebanon and two years in Saudi Arabia. He has twice given writing workshops in Vietnam and twice taught English as a foreign language in week-long sessions in Spain. He served for 18 years as the executive director of the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Society.



How to Use This Book

he first part of each chapter, “by water,” describes the trip boating along from one section of the river to the next. I briefly describe my experiences and then tell of the history and natural history of that area of the river. The last part of each chapter, “by land,” tells you about that same section if you are going along the river by land in a car. The “by land” sections are much shorter, so even if you are going by car, you need to read the “by water” sections to get all the history and background. The Appendices, “Information for Boaters” and “Places to Visit, Stay, and Eat,” contain many general, practical hints as well as information on food and lodging and tourist sites. It seemed better to put all this together for your touring convenience.


“All of this action [the exploration of Florida by sixteenth-century Spanish explorers] was taking place on Florida shores long before that crowd came over on the Mayflower and got all the publicity!” —Hampton Dunn, Tampa: A Pictorial History lorida rivers have fascinated me for the past forty years, ever since I moved to the state in 1969 to begin my teaching career at the University of Florida. I discovered that the state had two rivers with the same name (Withlacoochee), that one river flowed north (St. Johns), that what I thought was only a swamp was actually a river of grass that flowed into Florida Bay (the Everglades), that one river has two other rivers as its source (the Apalachicola from the Flint and Chattahoochee rivers), and that the Hillsborough River used to be on the east coast of Florida. Not that it actually moved from one side to the other, but what became the Halifax and Indian rivers in fact had at one time been called the Hillsborough. There is also a Hillsboro River in south Florida with a name that may come from a shortening of Hillsborough. I’ve always preferred the state’s rivers to the ocean (too many dangers like sharks, jellyfish, and riptides) and lakes (too many alligators, waterborne diseases, and hydrilla plants). So in 2003 I boated the complete St. Johns River from its source to Mayport on the Atlantic Ocean. Then in 2008 I made a series of one-day boating trips on the Suwannee River with a skilled guide/alligator hunter, Cary Crutchfield, who lived on the


My guide and I boated the river by canoe (photo on the left) in the upper parts and in a larger bass boat in the lower parts.



river and knew its many personalities. When we finished boating that river and I wrote my second guidebook to a Florida river, he said to me, “Let’s do another one. How about the Hillsborough?” Cary had grown up in New Port Richey to the west of the Hillsborough and had spent much of his youth along the river, so he was the perfect guide. I knew that the river was only fifty-four miles long and could be boated in a relatively short time—even in one day with a fast boat—but I wanted to do it slowly, carefully, in order to learn as much about it as possible. A note about the name of the river. Allen Morris’s Florida Place Names notes that it is spelled two ways: the Florida Department of Agriculture’s sectional map uses “Hillsboro” for both the river and the bay, while the Florida Department of Transportation’s highway map has “Hillsborough” for the river and then uses “Tampa Bay” for the nearby bay. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names, the definitive authority for the names of geographical points in this country, prefers “Hillsboro” for the river and “Hillsborough” for the county, although most people, maps, and guidebooks (including this one) use the latter spelling for the river and county. The Native American name for the river, locksa apopka, “a place for eating acorns,” is a lot more colorful than the English name, which honored a British official who never came within two thousand miles of it. The English honors Wills Hills, the Earl of Hillsborough (1718–1793), an Irish lord who became the British Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1768, during the two decades (1763–1783) when the British controlled Florida. Although Lord Hillsborough, who had been given a large grant of land in Florida, never saw the territory, one of his descendants with a particularly long name and title (Arthur Wills Percy Wellington Blundell Trumbull Sandys Hills, Marquis of Downshire and Earl of Hillsborough) was an official guest in the 1956 Gasparilla Pirate Festival held in Tampa. The Florida Legislature created Hillsborough County in 1834, just thirteen years after the United States acquired Florida from the Spanish. Tampa was its first and only county seat. So let’s begin at the source of one of Florida’s most interesting and—at least for the people of Tampa—most essential rivers in the state.


Hillsborough River Guidebook


The Green Swamp

Crystal Springs

“A town is saved, not more by the righteous men in it than by the woods and swamps that surround it.”
—Henry David Thoreau, American naturalist and philosopher


ersonal aside: Whenever I write a book, I try to keep in my study a picture or photograph or artifact to inspire/intrigue me. While writing this book, I have had in my study a large (24″ x 30″) picture of a swamp entitled Tootoosahatchee by Florida painter Spence Guerin. It evokes for me the mystery, impenetrability, and timelessness of what Florida must have looked like for thousands of years and what parts of the Green Swamp, the place where the Hillsborough starts, resemble today. I find the beginnings of waterways to be special places, that from such tiny sources spring mighty rivers and lakes. I would learn as I boated the river, talked to people knowledgeable in history and hydrology, and read many books and articles on the subject just how important the Hillsborough was to the creation, growth, and history of Tampa. Like the other two Florida rivers I know fairly well (the St. Johns and the Suwannee), the Hillsborough begins in a remote part of the state, a place called the Green Swamp. Named for the many shades of green throughout the watery morass, it lies in the middle of two of the state’s biggest cities (Tampa, Orlando), surrounded by major highways: S.R. 50 on the north, U.S. 27 on the east, S.R. 54 on the south, and S.R. 301 on the west. Hydrologically, the Green Swamp is very important for the water needs of the state because the Floridan Aquifer approaches the surface in the swamp, the site of the headwaters of several Florida rivers: Hillsborough, Kissimmee, Little Withlacoochee, Ock lawa ha, Peace, and Withlacoochee. In the upper part of the The Hillsborough begins in a swamp.

by water from the Green Swamp to Crystal Springs



Hillsborough River Guidebook



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Crystal Springs

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The Green Swamp to Crystal Springs, by water and by land

swamp, the woodlands and wet areas retain much of the rain that falls there. Only in the last few decades have knowledgeable citizens realized what scientists have been telling us for years: the wet swamps which still exist in parts of Florida are essential for supplying the burgeoning water demands of its citizens. The average annual rainfall in the Green Swamp is over fifty inches, which explains why the swamp is essential to the replenishment of the state’s water supply through seepage to the Floridan Aquifer and why it provides so much water to the Hillsborough. The Green Swamp, consisting of a little less than nine hundred square miles, is of vital importance to the water needs of Tampa and St. Petersburg to the southwest. It is not uniformly wet, but in fact has hills and ridges that can range between seventy-five and two hundred feet above mean sea level. One can find
The Green Swamp to Crystal Springs 3


iv ug h R


orange groves in the swamp, as well as pastureland, pine flat woods, and hardwood hammocks. Some eighty percent of the swamp drains into the Withlacoochee River, but much of the rest forms the beginning of the Hillsborough, which stretches out as a slow-moving body of water that wanders through heavy vegetation without any real channel. It is next to impossible to boat the upper reaches of the river since there is no channel and one can easily get lost in the indistinct waterway. It is really not until the area of Crystal Springs that one finds a discernible waterway with clear banks on each side. Maybe because the Green Swamp was for a long time—at least until the mid-twentieth century—in a relatively isolated part of western Florida above Orlando and Tampa, early developers did not look on it as a place to be drained, filled in with “good” soil, built upon, and reshaped the way they did south Florida. The Green Swamp did not have a Hamilton Disston (1844–1896), the industrialist who bought four million acres of Florida land in 1881 for an amazing twenty-five cents an acre, with a goal of draining the Everglades and “reclaiming” the land for houses and businesses. Neither did it attract the attention of Florida governor Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, who also wanted to drain the Everglades with many canals. And—maybe most importantly—the Green Swamp did not have the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who engineered an extremely elaborate water-control project that led to the spectacular growth of south Florida, but also to the depletion of the vast Everglades to its small area today. As Michael Grunwald wrote in The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise, the development of the Everglades is “the story of the transformation of south Florida, from a virtually uninhabited wasteland to a densely The swamp can become quite full after a heavy rain. populated Fantasyland with 7 million residents,
4 Hillsborough River Guidebook

40 million annual tourists, and the world’s largest concentration of golf courses.” By the time developers became aware of the Green Swamp, environmentalists and hydrologists had marshaled their forces to protect it for future generations of thirsty Floridians. Most people, in fact, first heard of the Green Swamp in the 1970s when the state’s growing water problems led officials to label the place as one of “critical state concern.” The swamp is relatively free of roads, although dirt tracks can be found on maps. It lies in parts of five counties (Hernando, Lake, Pasco, Polk, and Sumter), which might have been a bad situation (no one county is completely responsible for its preservation), but in fact is a good situation (no one county can completely change it without an outcry from the other four counties). The Green Swamp should not be confused with the Green Swamp Run in Polk County. In the last half of the twentieth century, water became a major issue in this state. For example, in 1961, the Florida Legislature established five regional agencies to protect and preserve our water resources. Originally emphasizing the operation of several large flood-protection projects, the duties of the districts have expanded to include the management of water supply, protection of water quality, and monitoring of the natural water systems of the state (rivers, lakes, wetlands, and associated uplands). One of those districts, the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SFWMD—an acronym sometimes pronounced “swiftmud”) was originally involved in what was called the “Four River Basins, Florida Project,” a major flood-control project organized after Hurricane Donna wreaked havoc on southwest Florida in 1960. The project included flood-control structures and water-detention areas. The duties of the SFWMD evolved from controlling flooding to managing the water in its jurisdiction. It received money from property values, i.e. approximately one dollar for every thousand dollars in property value. Its status as an independent taxing authority set up by the Florida Legislature is important in that it is not subject to the whims of local political bodies, which can change from election to election. The members of each water-governing board in the different districts around the state are volunteers appointed by the Florida governor and confirmed by the Florida Senate. The members, who receive no pay for their work and who serve staggered four-year terms, must live in the district they serve. To preserve the swamp and its vital water resources, the SFWMD bought more than one hundred thousand acres of land, called it the
The Green Swamp to Crystal Springs 5

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