Florida’s Colorful towns…Cuban…the Mafia…Cigars or Rough Riders…take your choice!
When visiting Florida, one may want to find the small towns with colorful history. Some were the bean or celery capitals of the world at one time. Most have a small museum with pictures or plaques telling what happened there.
Take Ybor City, near Tampa, for instance. It had everything from the Rough Rider Army to the mafia trying to control the area. Tampa crime started with Charlie Wall who in the 1920s controlled a number of gambling rackets…as well as corrupt officials. His headquarters was in the Ybor City neighborhood where he hired Italians, Cubans and others.
Today one is invited to take a stroll down the street (during the daytime is best); eat at the Columbia Restaurant ( first started by Cuban emigrants);visit a museum where you can learn about the cigar business of the past.
The Rough Riders rode through Ybor City. They were a military unit and was the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry, one of three such regiments raised in 1898 for the Spanish-American War and the only one of the three to see action. Theodore Roosevelt, a commander of the Rough Riders, pushed for American involvement in Cuban independence. The term “Rough Riders” became famous from Buffalo Bill’s show. The Rough Riders were mainly college athletes, cowboys and ranchers.
While visiting Ybor City, you may even have time to visit the museum and see how cigars were made. Cuban tobacco made the finest cigars. Don Vicente Martinez Ybor, an influential cigar manufacturer, fled Cuba’s 10-year war of independence and came to Florida.
In 1885, Henry B. Plant built a new railroad and shipping port. Ybor acquired forty acres and began construction of his town. Here again, one of the biggest factories in the world was in Florida with 4,000 workers who were Cubans, Spaniards, Italians, Germans and Jews. With this diversity, they opened their own newspapers, restaurants, shops, and hospitals. From the opening of the first factory in 1886 until the 1930s, Ybor City was a flourishing Latin community. People paid premium prices for hand-rolled cigars. Workers were paid well and lived well. Ybor City became the ‘Cigar Capital of the World.’
Don’t let Florida fool you. It is much, much more than theme parks. There is history everywhere.
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