Ybor City, (pronounced EE-borh), founded in the 1880’s, with its accessible port, and railway locations it attracted the attention of prominent Spanish born cigar manufacturer Vicente Martinez Ybor. It was first the discovery of Don Gavino Gutierrez, a New York civil engineer also of Spanish decent in search for “guavas” for a canning into a jelly which was becoming a craze in the northeast. Even though the 40 acre parcel of swamp and scrub Mr. Gutierrez, saw it industrial possibilities of something much more than canning jelly. He quickly relayed the information to his cigar manufacturing friend. Vicente would travel to the palmetto ridden area north of Tampa to purchase it.
First order of business for the industrialist to connect the harden area between Tampa City and his newest creation by rail (El tren, urbano) was created and would run: “often!” Soon to be the Cigar Capital of the World and an early century moniker of being the finest Cuban cigars in the world. With tobacco picked in Pinar del Rio and shipped directly to the tiny port of Tampa for production, in its day with over 200 cigar factories, employing over 12,000 cigar makers (Tabaqueros), and producing over 700-million cigars. Ybor City was incorporated into the City of Tampa in 1887, becoming a staging ground for the Cuban Revolution after the Spanish sunk the USS Main in the tiny harbor of Havana. Enticed by the hearty nightlife of card rooms, brothels, bolita games (Cuban version of Powerball), and active commerce Teddy Roosevelt stationed with his “Rough Riders” and rumored to have enjoyed all the Ybor accommodations.
If you look deep enough you can still see the brick streets, concrete pavers, old fashioned cast iron street lamps, aligned handmade wrought iron balconies and ornamental tile work makes this place a walk in time. Walking through Centennial Park bordered by canopied oaks and statues of predominate business leaders of Ybor City, there is one statue that stands out the most; The Immigrant Statue, depicting a young Hispanic family exiled or having escaped a oppressing regime and finding solace, gainful employment and workers housing.
Must see’s if traveling to Ybor City today; Artist Arnold Martinez, a blue collar son of a cigar roller (torcedor), who will warmly greet you at the door of his historic studio and immediately poor his long time history and experience of the city he is proud to call home. He will take you on a historic tour through each one of his paintings hanging on his wall, so proud you feel as though he really does not want to part with them, you get the sense it’s much more than connection with people than actually mass producing artwork. His paintings may have a unique appearance, that’s because some of them are created with such mediums as: tobacco, Cuban coffee, tea and wood.
Since 1982, the Ybor City Museum Society that serves as the experts to the legacy those 40 acres has meant to our history. Exhibits, programming, educational tours, combined with cultural and historical resources are for you to explore…