HISTORY OF SULPHUR SPRINGS WATER TOWER & WHY WE HAVE A FESTIVAL!
The River Tower Festival is a grass roots effort to create a non-profit revenue stream for the restoration and preservation of the Sulphur Springs Water Tower and improvements to the surrounding River Tower Park.
Sulphur Springs Park was an amusement park established in the early 1920’s about 7 miles north of the city on the Hillsborough River. It could be reached by trolley. The central features of the park, according to a 1924 Tampa Tribune article, were “the famous flowing spring and bathing pool; there is also an alligator farm, with thousands of live alligators of all ages on display”. “Canoes are available at the park for little journeys up the beautiful Hillsborough River”.
The Sulphur Springs water tower has been a part of Tampa’s history since 1927. It stands 214 feet tall and was built on top of an artesian well. It was designed by Grover Poole, commissioned by Josiah Richardson; the owner and developer of the Sulphur Springs Arcade. Richardson’s dream was to build an entertainment empire featuring a Ferris wheel, a hardwood dance floor, a swimming pool and a gazebo set amid the area’s Sulphur Springs. He started with the Springs Hotel and Arcade, which was featured in Ripley’s “Believe it or Not” as a city under one roof. The first indoor mall housing a hotel, barber, pharmacy, etcetera. His dream was well on its way and near completion when Richardson realized he didn’t have the drinking water needed to supply the area.
He then mortgaged his property and borrowed the $180,000 needed to build the tower. Tower construction was announced in January of 1927 took one year to complete with construction around the clock at times. In January of 1928, a powerful revolving searchlight was placed on the new tower and the light had a radius five miles.
Sulphur Springs was later flooded by the TECO dam break of 1933, destroying the Arcade. Richardson could no longer pay the interest on the $180,000 and lost his 100 acres in 1934 in foreclosure to C.D. Daniels. Sulphur Springs never recovers. In 1976 the arcade was demolished and replaced by a parking lot.
The water tower was used as a water source until 1971 when the city became the main water supplier to the area. From 1952 until 1985 the 12-acre tower site became the home to the Tower Drive-In Theater. The drive-in was demolished in 1985 when the city condemned it. The tower became forgotten and taken for granted. It became a sight of graffiti and deterioration for the next decade.
In 1989, when developers were considering the site for a hotel resort, it was repainted by Service Painting Corp with paint donated by Sherwin-Williams. The development never came to fruition, mainly due to opposition by preservationist and in 2005 it was purchased by the city. The city then installed lights to illuminate the tower. Nothing has been done since.
In 2019 we started the festival to bring attention to this Tampa Icon and hopefully start on the road to preserving both the tower and the park. Our first festival ended up being held on the coldest recorded day of 2019! But, still we made money for the tower and entertained a truly hearty group of attendees! In 2022, after Covid quaranteen we brought the festival back. It was a small festival but we had a ton of fun and listened to some good music, and started putting our mission back on track!
We love our tower. It is a great landmark for our city. It is an original part of our city we need to embrace and restore. This year marks 36 years since the tower has been given any love. But we have great news! The City of Tampa just recently put pressure washing and painting into the budget and the City Council aproved it! We thank Mayor Castor for sticking with a promise to help and the City Council for realizing the importantance of taking care of this historical icon.
With the help of neighbors and friends we are starting to make a difference. We encourage everyone who cares about Tampa History and who enjoys the beauty of our local area to join us this November for the 2023 Musical Festival so we can make more positive things happen in this beautiful park.
Exciting things are happening!
By now you probably know that the main purpose of the River Tower Festival is to bring attention to the need to preserve and protect the iconic Sulphur Springs Water Tower along with making improvements to the underutilized River Tower Park. It’s great to see that our hard work is paying off.
As previously announced, the City has agreed to pressure wash and paint the Tower. But that’s not all….The City is working with Diamond View, an Emmy Award winning video production company, to make the Tower a “welcome to Tampa icon.” which will be seen from the interstate as you approach Tampa! This should all happen prior to this year’s Festival!!
The Festival is what makes these things possible and you are what makes the River Tower Festival possible.
Please consider a sponsorship. Every little bit helps and is appreciated. Act before September 1st and receive additional benefits:
- Social Media promotions
- Your logo on our website
- A printed banner at the event
- Option to set up a vendor tent at the Festival