A group called The Friends of Plant Park works to restore and maintain the park that was once the grounds and gardens of the former Tampa Bay Hotel. For example, the remarkable De Soto Oak that stands just at the edge of Plant Park, close to the University of Tampa, still stands despite countless hurricanes and the fact that it has been rooted in that spot since the Tampa Bay Hotel opened. The Friends of Plant Park offer a historical audio tour through Bluetooth that may be found here: http://www.friendsofplantpark.com/take-the-tour/
Plant Park was once the sprawling grounds of the Tampa Bay Hotel, 60 acres filled with tropical plants collected by Mrs. and Mr. Henry Plant on their travels. Guests of the museum would stroll through the gardens, picnic on the lawn, encounter wildlife, and host social gatherings such as teas and parties in the area that would someday become Plant Park. The gardens were evenly conveniently filled with garden seats and benches for the women of the day to rest on. Women’s fashion, in the Victorian Era, dictated that women wear corsets and heavy skirts which made any form of exertion far more exhausting and requiring spells of rest. The Henry B. Plant Museum contains an exhibit filled with these beautiful garden seats. The grounds even use to be home to a small zoo where visitors could see alligators, zebras and bears. While there is no longer a zoo inside the park, the creek that all the animal exhibits were located near still runs through Plant Park today. In the days when the Tampa Bay Hotel was operational, the grounds contained a few greenhouses that were used to have bountiful fresh flowers for guests, despite the season, and herbs and spices were collected to be used in the kitchen.
Despite the luxury and endless beauty the gardens offered, they were not always utilized for the sake of leisure. The Spanish-American War began in April 1898, America aided Cuba in its fight for independence after the destruction and devastation of the USS Maine in February of that same year. The Tampa Bay Hotel was a seasonal resort that was only opened during the winter months, as such, Henry Plant lobbied the government to use Tampa as the point of disembarkation and for the Hotel and grounds to be used as headquarters and camp grounds of the officers and soldiers. The U.S. government agreed to his proposal and the use of his trains and steamships to transport supplies and men. The impending war brought Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders to Tampa, they camped on the Hotel grounds. Roosevelt even stayed in the Tampa Bay Hotel a couple nights with his wife, Edith. A swift victory was found in Cuba for United States and numerous men were able to return to Florida safely. However, Yellow Fever claimed more men than the War did as an epidemic broke out in Tampa and swept through the soldiers camps. The Henry B. Plant Museum has the letters of Henry Dobson, a soldier who fought in the Spanish-American War and succumbed to Yellow Fever, on display in their Spanish-American War exhibit.