Whether you’re a Tampa native like I am or a recent transplant to the Tampa Bay area, there’s bound to be a few things you didn’t know about Cigar City. Of course, it seems most natives know why Tampa is dubbed “Cigar City.”
Many recent arrivals eventually learn that the name hearkens to Tampa’s past as the cigar manufacturing capital of the world — a point illustrated by the dozens of red brick former cigar factories standing in Ybor City to this day.
But there are tons of other things about Tampa that natives and newbies alike may not have known about our fair city. Here are five Tampa facts that I’ve always found amazing:
#1: You Can Watch Free NASA Shows
Okay, most everyone living in Tampa already knows this… However, if you’re new to the area, is there ever a treat in store for you! You can actually see NASA’s rocket launches on the east coast right from your backyard in Tampa!
While Tampa and Cape Canaveral are about 120 miles apart from each other as the bird flies, you can still easily see the rocket launches from virtually anywhere in Tampa on a clear day.
If you’re in Tampa city proper, you generally have to look east-northeast, and conditions have to be just right. When launches occur under crystal-clear blue skies, you cannot miss the distinct white exhaust trail high over the eastern horizon lead by a small, orange point of light. During night launches, you won’t see white exhaust, but the orange point of light will be especially visible.
The shows were even more stunning when NASA launched space shuttles — an event people would actually plan around. Bear in mind, many of the rocket launches that occur today are more covert operations that usually entail sending spy satellites and other sensitive equipment into orbit. So NASA won’t usually give much, if any, advance notice about when those rocket launches occur.
#2: Tampa Has The World’s Longest, Continuous Sidewalk
Do you like to walk, jog, or run? Then why not get your aerobic activity on the world’s longest, continuous sidewalk. Yes, Tampa has it! Bayshore Boulevard, which is a beautiful, palm-lined thoroughfare that rides right alongside Hillsborough Bay and dozens of ritzy mansions and condominiums, has a sidewalk that is 4.5 miles long.
Bayshore Boulevard has existed since the early 1900s, but it was revamped in the late 1930s as a New Deal project during the Great Depression. Today, Bayshore Boulevard is as much a tourist attraction as any of the places that cost $50 to visit.
Bayshore Boulevard is also the site of the iconic local pirate parade known as Gasparilla, which is held each February and draws some 500,000 landlubbers each year.
#3: Tampa Has Played a Role in Major Wars
Tampa has some war history behind it. Tampa is the location of MacDill Air Force Base, the home of United States Central Command (USCENTCOM). Tampa has been the training location for hundreds of thousands of Air Force personnel and has been highly visible as the head of operations during the Persian Gulf War and the War on Terror.
Fort Brooke, built where the Tampa Convention Center is today, served an important role during the Seminole Wars of the mid-19th century, and stood guard during the Civil War.
Notably, Tampa was the place where Theodore Roosevelt and his band of Rough Riders converged before shipping out to Cuba to fight in keeping the island nation independent in 1898 during the Spanish American War.
#4: It DOES Snow in Tampa
Conventional wisdom tells anybody that “it can’t snow in Tampa because it’s in FLORIDA.” Oh, how wrong that is. While it’s rare here, snow can fall in Tampa, and it has before — numerous times in recorded history, actually.
A couple times snow has fallen in Tampa include the “Blizzard of 1899,” and 1977, when we had half an inch on the ground. Light snow was reported by residents in parts of Tampa on December 23, 1989, which was the closest thing we’ve yet had to a white Christmas in Tampa; this 8-year-old boy LOVED it.
More recently, in 2010, snow and sleet were reported. It also fell at my house, at the time in Forest Hills. I personally witnessed little chunks of mushy sleet or snow falling from the sky and onto the yard.
#5: “Tampa” is a Word With Native American Origins
There’s a sculpture in Plant Park at the University of Tampa called “Sticks of Fire.” It’s a reference to our city’s name, Tampa, which is derived from a Calusa word — “Tanpa.” What does Tanpa mean? Sticks of fire.
While it’s unclear precisely what “sticks of fire” means, many scholars have suggested that Tampa was once a village where the local peoples would come to gather fire wood. It’s also very likely a reference to lightning, which is frequently seen throughout the Tampa Bay area during the summer.