Tampa’s oldest homes, neighborhoods living vestiges of its past
Hurricanes, fires, dry rot, termites and neglect have taken a toll on thousands of Tampa’s oldest homes over the years, but nature and time hasn’t taken them all.
Hundreds of historic homes, many meticulously restored to their glory, are one of Tampa’s greatest assets. For many, there’s nothing better to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon than drive down the brick streets of one of the city’s historic neighborhoods and wonder at the Victorian mansions, charming craftsman-style bungalows, or majestic, classic period revival homes with their massive columns and stone facades.
These neighborhoods include Hyde Park, Davis Island, Seminole, Riverside and Tampa Heights, as well as Beach Park and Palma Ceia. A complete list of important homes would be lengthy indeed, but no list would be complete without Tampa’s oldest home — built in 1842.
It’s in Hyde Park, but wasn’t built there. It was moved from Ybor City in 2018. But wait, it wasn’t built in Ybor, either.
Historic accounts vary a bit, but most sources agree that the 2,000-square-foot bungalow was built in 1842 on Jackson Street for Sheldon Stringer. In 1914, Tampa needed the property for a new city hall, so feed store owner Imboden Stalnaker bought the two-story home from then-owner Tampa Mayor Donald B. McKay, dismantled it and shipped it via train to a lot at 3210 E. Eighth Ave. in Ybor, where it remained until a Florida property management company bought it in 2016, moving it yet again — this time 5 miles to the corner of Cleveland Street and Westland Avenue in Hyde Park, where it was restored for use as an office. It’s not only the oldest house in Tampa, but also the tri-county area of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties.
The old Stringer home may be well traveled, but there’s another historic Hillsborough County house that made a far more epic journey.
Lamb Manor, a 1910 Queen Anne with a distinctive turret, verandas and four stories, sits along the Little Manatee River in Ruskin, but originally was built in Palmetto by wealthy banker Asa Lamb. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places as the A.M. Lamb House.
It’s located at 2410 West Shell Point Road, where it arrived in 2006 by barge at a moving cost of $250,000. The owners, George and Nancy Corbett, had bought it for $1 to save it from demolition. Once in Ruskin, they restored it to its former glory and then some, expanding it to 25 rooms at a cost of
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Above: Here is what Tampa’s oldest home looks like today. It’s nothing special architecturally speaking, but the Sheldon Stringer house has the distinction of being the oldest in the Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas tricounty region.
Photo by Chris Urso, Tampa Bay Times
Above: This 1948 Tampa Tribune clipping shows what is today Tampa’s oldest home when it was located in Ybor City. It originally was built in downtown Tampa in 1842, but moved to Ybor in 1914 to make room for a new city hall. It was moved from Ybor to Hyde Park, where it was fully restored and opened as an office building in 2018.
Tampa Tribune photo
Times Total Media Correspondent
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Zales/Coldwell Banker
Above: This view from the porch of the historic Asa Lamb manor in Ruskin shows the lagoon- pool at the remote 5-acre home site on the Little Manatee River. The four-story mansion built in 1910 was moved there from its original site in Palmetto. The home has 25 rooms, five fireplaces, and a guesthouse.
Left: Isolated and on the Little Manatee River in Ruskin, the old Lamb Manor is a four-story 1910 Queen Anne that was moved to the location by barge across Tampa Bay from Palmetto. The house had been scheduled for demolition and was sold for $1 to the owners who moved it in 2006 and completely restored it. Coldwell Banker listing agent Jennifer Zales later sold it for $1.6 million, and called the home “absolutely stunning.”
Above: The historic Stovall House on Bayshore Boulevard in Hyde Park was built in 1909. It was sold not long ago by Jennifer Zales of Coldwell Banker for $9.5 million. The home and its large tract of land are in the process of being transformed into a private club.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Zales/Coldwell Banker
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$2.4 million. The home and adjacent guest house have seven bedrooms, 6.5 baths, five kitchens, a four-story elevator, home theater, five fireplaces, a four-car carriage house and a tropical lagoon-pool on the 5-acre waterfront parcel. The home was the Wall Street Journal’s 2015 House of the Year. It was listed for sale by Coldwell Banker luxury homes agent Jennifer Zales, selling in 2020 for $1.6 million.
“It was one of the best restorations I’ve seen in Tampa,” said Zales. “It was completely redone and absolutely stunning.”
Zales recalls another very special home she sold, the Stovall House on Bayshore Boulevard in Hyde Park overlooking Tampa Bay. The $9.5 million sale set a Tampa record. The property is now being converted to a private club, the original manor house being preserved as part of the extensive club grounds, which will include a restaurant, greenhouse, gardens, as well as a large courtyard and pavilion.
The Stovall House was built in 1909 for L.T. Trousdale, a brewing company manager, and was later owned for many years by Tampa Tribune publisher Wallace Stovall.
Not surprisingly, the largest collection of historic homes still standing in Tampa is in Hyde Park, home to Tampa’s early movers and shakers, business executives and wealthy developers. Resident William LaMartin is a history buff who fell in love with the old neighborhood and moved to its Morrison Grove section in 1981.
“I like history and old things,” said LaMartin, who’s been collecting Hyde Park history for years. “When I came here things were a little run down, but it’s turned around and is now one of the most desirable and exclusive neighborhoods.”
How desirable? LaMartin said when he moved to Hyde Park, some of the largest, oldest historic homes there could be purchased for as little at $80,000.
“Now those homes are selling for $1 million or more,” he said.
Asked what he believes to be the most interesting historic home in Hyde Park, La-Martin doesn’t hesitate.
“It has to be the William Morrison House,” he said, adding it dates to 1880, when the area was mostly citrus groves. “It’s a spectacular Italianate style home and has these magnificent 12-foot-high windows.”
The neighboring Watrous House, built in 1882 by James Watrous, a pioneer citrus farmer, is another of the oldest in Tampa, LaMartin said.
Another significant historic home in Hyde Park is the Anderson-Frank House, which was built in 1901 by James B. Anderson, a Methodist minister and Tampa business leader. The home is a red-brick, granite-trimmed three-story stunner that once had a grand ballroom on the third floor. It’s located at 341 S. Plant Ave. overlooking Tampa Bay. The 12-room home has nine fireplaces and a massive wrap-around front porch. The home has served as a Red Cross shelter and a members-only club called Marcelina, which kept a collection of Princess Diana’s dresses on display in the ballroom.
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Realtor Dawn Dominici, with the firm of Tomlin ST CYR, listed the home for $2.9 million and it was sold in 2019. She called it one of the “most spectacular” homes she’s listed in South Tampa and a “piece of important Tampa history.”
Another home of note on Plant Avenue is the Sumter Lowry House, built in 1893 (some sources date it at 1895) for Sumter L. Lowry, a Tampa city commissioner between 1922 and 1928. He is known for being a major player in many Tampa improvement projects, including the creation of Lowry Park and the building of Municipal Hospital on Davis Island (now Tampa General). He helped raise money to build St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Old Hyde Park and assisted in the rebuilding of the old Tampa Bay Hotel, which would become part of the University of Tampa.
Just a couple of blocks away at 305 S. Hyde Park Ave. sits the striking Thomas Carson- Taliaferro House, a gleaming-white Georgian Revival home built for prominent Tampa banker Taliaferro in 1890. Its majestic columns were a throwback to a style popular in the 1700s, causing many in later years to mistake the home for one much older. It’s been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974. Today the 7,140-square-foot structure is home to the Helen Gordon Davis Centre for Women.
Though Hyde Park has some 1,200 historic homes, few are on the market these days due to high demand producing quick sales, and sellers reluctant to list at a time when finding a replacement home is difficult due to historically low home inventory, said Dominici. Today, she said, Hyde Park is desirable for its walkability, close proximity to downtown Tampa, and its highly rated schools.
“It’s very exclusive and has an old-home-town-feel,” Dominici said, adding those looking to score a historic home there can count on spending at least $1.2 million.
More modest, more affordable and less historically significant homes a century old or more are found in the old Tampa neighborhoods of Davis Island, Seminole and Tampa Heights, and Beach Park. Many are smaller, craftsman and bungalow- style homes, but they have the vintage vibe many buyers like, Dominici said.
Owning a home built 100 or more years ago isn’t for everyone, says Taryn Sabia, an associate professor in the University of South Florida’s Architecture and Community Development department. She knows firsthand, as she and her husband, Adam Fritz, live in what she believes to be the second oldest house in Tampa.
The two-story, 2,300-square-foot home features Victorian and craftsman design elements, and was built in 1876 for Tampa pioneer Joseph Robles and family in Tampa Heights. Sabia and Fritz are architects and were impressed by the old structure, but what sealed the deal was the Tampa Heights neighborhood, with its old oaks shading vintage brick streets, proximity to downtown and easy walkability. The home needed some work, but was structurally sound, so the couple made the plunge in 2009, committing to restoring it. They’ve installed hurricane anchors, new plumbing and electrical systems along with other updates. More are planned.
Sabia said any home nearly 150 years old is a lot of work, but she notes many homes built as late as 1990 can need just as much attention. No matter how old the home, a lot depends on how well the home has been maintained.
“The (Robles) home fortunately didn’t change hands often,” said Sabia, adding a home continuously lived in is more likely to be maintained compared to one left empty for long periods.
Homes like Sabia’s are listed by the Tampa Preservation Inc., a private non-profit dedicated to preserving the city’s historical structures and neighborhoods. The professor often uses examples of Tampa’s old homesteads and neighborhoods in urban studies classes, as well as studio classes about Tampa history.
“Tampa has an interesting development history that followed the arrival of the railroad and the port,” Sabia said, both of which created the jobs that drove demand for thousands of new homes in Tampa’s early years.
Most of those homes may be long gone, but many, like hers, remain vestiges of Tampa’s rich history, and Sabia is only too happy to play caretaker of her little piece of that history.
Right: Pretty as a picture, this 4/3 Seminole Heights bungalow is quite large at nearly 4,000 square feet. Dawn Dominici, an agent with Tomlin St Cyr, sold the home recently and notes that while the homes in the neighborhood may not match the majesty of some historic homes in Hyde Park, they are vintage classics with a lot of history behind them and are less pricy. This one sold for $819,000. Its porch/entryway is pictured above.
Photo courtesy of Dawn Dominici/Tomlin St Cyr
Above: Of all the homes in Hyde Park, amateur community historian and resident William LaMartin’s favorite is the William Morrison House. LaMartin said the grand Italianate style home dates to 1880, when it was built amidst a citrus grove.
Photo by William LaMartin
Above: This is the 1882-built home of James Watrous, an early Tampa citrus grower. Watrous built a home next door for his son in 1912.
Photo by William LaMartin
Above: The Hutchinson House is considered the finest Second Empire mansion in Tampa. It was built on Plant Avenue in Hyde Park in 1909 and is now a law office. In its long past, the home served as a hospital, a rooming house and the University of Tampa’s Pi Kappa Phi fraternity house.
Photo by William LaMartin