Regarded as “a wonderland of beauty” in a Tampa Tribune headline, Macfarlane Park has served the West Tampa community since opening day on April 25, 1909.
Macfarlane Park was envisioned as a woodland resort for all of West Tampa and the surrounding areas to enjoy free of charge. Newly paved roads and streetcars led to the park, bringing thousands of people to the park on any given Sunday. Macfarlane Park featured a pavilion built upon an artificial mound overlooking 40 acres of land donated by Huge Macfarlane, the founder of West Tampa. The pavilion has space for musical acts, dancing, and social gatherings. The beautifully landscaped park contained amenities that included merry-go-rounds and swings along with picnic areas. A baseball field and golf course were among the many sport facilities on the property. The opening of such a park in West Tampa – which had been founded less than two decades earlier –was a testament to the cigar industry’s rapid growth and astonishing profitability.
West Tampa began taking shape in 1892, when Col. Hugh C. Macfarlane, along with Macfarlane Investment Company, began clearing swampland west of the Hillsborough River to make way for a cigar town to mirror (and compete with) Ybor City. Where alligators, mosquito, and other wildlife once made their home, now stood state-of-the-art cigar factories that gleamed like castles in the West Tampa skyline. Col. Macfarlane offered attractive deals to lure potential cigar manufacturers to the area, including low interest loans and free, turn-key factories. In a few years, cigar factories, support businesses, utilities, and new homes sprung up. The Fortune Street Bridge was built over the Hillsborough River. Roads and streetcars connected West Tampa to Ybor City and the Port of Tampa. The need for cigar rollers brought immigrants from Cuba. With this immigration came the culture, the food, and the politics, creating a neighborhood by planting a little bit of Cuba right here in West Tampa.
Rapid growth soon turned to rapid decline, however. With the Great Depression and World War II, the cigar industry slowed to a trickle. Without diversified industries and business opportunities, families moved away, and the once bustling cigar factories permanently closed their doors. Today, only a few cigar factories remain. Some have been abandoned and some repurposed as office space, classrooms, or art studios
Amidst the changes in West Tampa, Macfarlane Park remains. The pavilion still stands on top of the man-made hill, and this park still draws a crowd. West Tampa is a much different place today than it was at the turn of the 20th century. But Macfarlane’s contributions have left an indelible mark. An historical marker stands at the end of the main entrance’s road in honor of Col. Hugh Macfarlane .