Sunday, April 8, 2012

Plant City: History in the Heart of Florida

by Cindy Liberton

Location, Location, Location
The Suncoast Chapter serves Hillsborough County, reaching from Tampa Bay north to Lutz, south to Ruskin, and east to Plant City, site of the 32nd annual Florida Native Plant conference. With so many places to choose from, some may wonder, “why Plant City? Is it the name?" If you only know Plant City as a blur south of the Interstate, you are not alone. After whizzing by it countless times, I finally slowed down to see what Plant City had to offer; it was truly a worthwhile decision. Here are some of the reasons why...

The Collins Street mural captures the history and culture
of Plant City for the passerby. Dedicated 1/10/2010,
it commemorates the 125th anniversary of the city's
incorporation. Depicting 53 total figures, the mural
includes 25 historical people and iconic city landmarks.
It turns out that Plant City is one of the few “walkable” towns in Florida, complete with historic buildings and murals. Though close to the urban sprawl of Tampa, it has retained the small town feel and heritage that flows from its unique history and location.

Plant City sits on I-4 between Lakeland and Tampa, and has about 35,000 area residents. Although it certainly is on the road to well-known tourist attractions, it is equally near diverse natural areas like the Green Swamp, Hillsborough River basin and Tampa Bay, Alafia River, Circle B Bar Preserve and the Lake Wales Ridge. We hope that everyone plans to visit the town’s natural surroundings on field trips and side trips while you are in the area (for a rundown on the field trips, see this blog post). High and dry or wet and wading, there’s a preserve or park that’s perfect for you in easy driving distance.

Plant City's slogan, Embracing the Future while
Preserving the Past
, is reflected in its modern City Hall.



The Venue
Our conference will be held on the Plant City campus of the Hillsborough Community College just down the road from our hotels. I must say the John R. Trinkle Center was another fabulous surprise; it is the perfect space for our conference—light, airy, great parking, a oak-shaded courtyard for the plant vendors and all the high tech gadgetry we need to hold a great conference. I’ve been to quite a few FNPS conferences, and this is among the best settings we’ve had. We're extremely grateful to the University of Florida IFAS, Gulf Coast Research and Education Center-Plant City for sponsoring our use of this facility.

Although it has changed in 100 years, Plant City holds
on to much of the character so evident in its heyday
Shirley Denton, president of the hosting Suncoast Chapter says, “we’re enthusiastic about our venue – a really modern facility in an old Florida community. I’m really glad that we can bring to FNPS a strong local heritage, great nature, and wonderful talks.”

Plant City, the Old and the New
Like any small town, there are families and businesses who have been part of the community for generations. The town retains much of its early character, with historic commercial and residential districts.

The Plant City Courier celebrates Plant City as the
state's largest inland shipping point, highlighting its
role as the hub of agriculture.

Plant City was originally named Ichepucksassa (according to Wikipedia), then became a cotton town named Cord. Eventually farmers switched to strawberries, and when Cord became an agricultural transportation hub, the town thrived, and had another name change. Apparently, naturally occurring phosphate nodules in the soil of surrounding flatwoods alowed vegetables, ornamentals and strawberries to thrive in the Florida sand. Though touted as Winter Strawberry Capital of the World and an agricultural wonderland, the town was not named for plants; it was named to commemorate the railroad magnate Henry Plant, whose trains made it all possible.

The annual Strawberry Festival in March soon became a Florida tradition which continues to this day, with its county fair attractions and famous country stars. (Strawberry lovers: Although strawberry season ends in early April, you can get a strawberry milkshake at Parkesdale Farm Market on Hwy. 92 west of town year round.)

The Strawberry Festival has been a spring destination
in Florida for years, as well as a setting for forced family
fun! Image from the Florida Memory Collection, State of
Florida Archives, Division of Library and Information
Services.
Today, the train no longer stops in Plant City but you can see the original train station in the historic downtown area, along with the shopfaces and homes of yesteryear. A walk around town and a drive in the country will show you how old and new can combine to blend the best of both worlds.

Janet Bowers, Suncoast Chapter, nominates the downtown Corner Store restaurant as her favorite place in Plant City. The Corner Store has unique sandwiches, wraps and salads made from organic sources, combined with a very friendly atmosphere. (They will be bringing us our conference lunches, by the way!)

The Suncoast Chapter participated in the local
Gardenfest last year. Gardening is a popular hobby
among Plant City residents.
Out of town, Janet tells us, Plant City is now home to Eco-farms where the owners grow organic, sustainable crops and make cane syrup. Other local farmers have expanded into blueberries, and a blueberry winery offers tastings. Plant City clearly continues to transform its agricultural heritage.

The Lodging
Evelyn Madonia is the face of the Red Rose Inn. She used
to work for her family's tomato business, but in recent
years she has been responsible for bringing glamour
back to the land of the strawberry.
You can’t lose staying in either hotel. The Red Rose Inn, just a few minutes away from the Trinkle Center along the frontage road, is, well, shall we say, eclectic!  You can't tell this book from its cover... From I-4, it looks like an ordinary, if really large, motor lodge, but just wait. The owners have put their hearts into making the hotel a resource for their community, with a southern flavor, and their food is legendary in the Tampa Bay area. Feeling adventurous? Book your stay in either the Rhett Butler or Cross Creek suite! See a great 2010 article at http://www2.tbo.com/news/plant-city/2010/may/06/plant-citys-red-rose-queen-prom-ar-45336/. For those who prefer something a bit more conventional, the Holiday Inn Express is under 1/3 mile north of the Trinkle Center, and just south of the road that leads to the Red Rose.

On behalf of the Suncoast and Hernando Chapters of FNPS, we look forward to welcoming you to our region in May, and sharing what we are trying to protect here in the Natural Heart of Florida. Get ready by visiting http://www.iloveplantcity.com/

Edited and formatted by Laurie Sheldon

2 comments:

Debra Davies said...

I'm excited about attending this year's conference, but have I missed something? Is Craig Huegel one of the presenters this year? Or will he at least be on "authors' row" with his new book - the one that's coming out in a few weeks? Or selling some of his hard to find native plants? I always look forward to learning something new from Craig.

Laurie Sheldon said...

Hi Debra,
I was just told that Craig will be at the social, but, as I understand, he will not be one of the presenters. There will be LOTS of plant vendors, so don't worry about that. Once I find out more I'll let you know. Thanks for asking!