Named for the Earl of Hillsborough, the county of Hillsborough is the fourth most populous county in Florida. Its county seat is Tampa, ranked as the 5th best outdoor city by Forbes magazine in 2008.
Tampa is home to the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and also to one of the state’s most interesting historic districts: the National Historic Landmark District of Ybor City. Located just northeast of downtown, the city has quite a unique history. It came into existence as a result of a businessman’s failed search for guava trees.
Hearing these trees grew wild in the Tampa Bay area, Spanish immigrant Gavino Gutierrez went in search of them in 1884 to increases his company’s canned fruit product line. He found no guavas in Tampa, but discovered a railroad line extension in progress that would connect Tampa with the rest of the US rail line, making development here advantageous once the railroad was complete. On his return trip, Gutierrez stopped to visit his friend Vicente Martinez Ybor, a fellow Spaniard, who was exploring relocation options for his successful cigar-making business. The rest is history.
In 1886, V. M. Ybor’s factory produced the first cigar in the city that became his namesake. The neighborhood that built up around the factories became a bustling community of Cuban, Spanish, Italian and Jewish cultures, and offered all a high quality of life – unusual for immigrants at that time – and prospered.
Sadly, the Great Depression drastically decreased the demand for cigars, starting the area on a slow economic decline. When the US embargo against Cuba cut off access to Cuban tobacco in the 1960s, the city became a collection of vacant cigar factories and deserted sidewalks.
In the late 1980s, artists seeking inexpensive quarters began converting long-vacant storefronts along 7th Avenue into studio space, leading to a period of regentrification. Soon the avenue was alive again with bars, restaurants and nightclubs. People were moving back to the area for the first time in many years, and are still today.
The county’s primary airport is Tampa International Airport. Hillsborough County Public Schools operates the eighth-largest school district in the US; 12 out of 25 public high schools are ranked in Newsweek’s list of “America’s Best High Schools.”