History’s prowling grounds

Danielle Gamble, Staff

Have you ever driven down ninth Avenue in Ybor and noticed a yellow and white brick building next to small wooden buildings that resemble old “casitas?”

That would be the Ybor City Museum, and next to it is the Ybor City Museum State Park. Ybor City is home to roughly 4,700 people and has visitors from people who live all-around the world, yet, there is not nearly enough attention drawn to the Ybor City Musuem.

The Ybor City Museum stands asa an educational ground to teach people of the history of Ybor. From the collaboration of the different cultures it took to build the city, to how it became the “Cigar Capital of the World.”

The building itself originated as a bakery building which stayed in business until the 1970’s. Entering the museum there is a desk to the right where a park ranger or volunteer stand to grant you entry. Usually with a smile on their face.

As you take in the smell of cinnamon that lingers, the first question you are asked after paying for your entry fee is, “how much time do you have?” Depending on your answer, you will have a choice of just walking through the museum, visiting the garden, watching a video about the beginning of Ybor City, touring the casitas or all of the above.

The museum tour starts in the lobby, where the city seal hangs high and covers most of the wall. This seal is a symbol of the city’s origins. There is a cigar in the middle that is surrounded by tobacco leaves and a guava branch, which are surrounded by the U.S. flag, the flag of Cuba and the flag of Spain, and the flag of Italy. As you round the corner to the right, you begin your journey back in time. Starting in 1886 when Don Vincente Martinez Ybor chose Tampa, Florida, as his new industrial site for  his new industrial city. Continuing on, you learn about the revolutionaries in Ybor at that time and the impact that this new city had on Florida.

You see pictures and read about the different societies within the city, along with the businesses that were built of which some still exist today. The center of the museum has an exhibit that shows the different cultures that immigrated into Ybor city and how they had a part in making the city the way that it is now. In the back of the museum, you find two interactive bakery ovens that no longer work, but tell you the history of the bakery and how it burned down. As you exit the exhibit area, there is an old cigar making station and directions on how cigars are made.

If you still have time left, you can visit the garden. Beautiful plants and trees surround a small courtyard, but that is not even the best part. The most popular attraction in the garden is the History. History, the cat, that is. An orange cat roams around the garden, meows to the roosters and makes friends with all the visitors. As you pet History, you can see an old worn-down building behind the museum that used to be a cigar shop. Most buildings at the time were made from bricks, but the old cigar shop was one of only two in Florida that was made of wood. Also, it is the only one that did not burn down.

On the other side of the garden, you have the opportunity to tour an old casita. This 750 square-foot home has a living room, two bedrooms and a kitchen. Despite the small size, it fit a family of four people. The furniture is all German, the lights are all kerosene, there is a stove for heat and a stove for cooking, white walls to keep the demons away and a well that was not used for very long due to the ground water becoming contaminated.

These grounds look like nothing special when you are just passing by, but inside is the foundation of our city. Curt, who has been volunteering at the museum for three years, joyfully strolls the grounds with the kind of knowledge that only comes with age. “Ybor City was extremely progressive compared to the rest of the United States, and the way that Mr. Ybor integrated so many different cultures into one city makes me wonder why it is so difficult for us to do the same today. Honestly, I enjoy being asked questions that I do not know the answer to so that I can go research more about this city.” Curt also says, history loves being asked questions too, even though he admits that he mainly likes to talk about the roosters.