Location: Ybor City Historic District in Tampa, Florida
Expert: Chris J. Castañeda, Professor of History at California State University
Why it’s worth a visit
Historic Ybor City has a past defined by entrepreneurship. Located in the northeastern corner of Tampa, Florida, this 19th-century neighborhood dotted with Spanish-influenced brick buildings became known for producing hand-rolled cigars that were once considered the highest quality cigars in the world.
Founded in the 1880s, Ybor City was home to thousands of Spanish, Cuban and Italian immigrants who ran the town and its flourishing businesses. “It was essentially an immigrant company town,” says Chris J. Castañeda, Professor of History at California State University in Sacramento. Hundreds of millions of cigars were rolled there each year.
Nine of the neighborhood’s brick cigar factories survive today, alongside period houses with iron balconies. “This is where many Cuban cigars were made,” says Castañeda. While the tobacco was often grown in Cuba, many of the cigars were actually rolled in Ybor City. The thousands of workers on the line were entertained by factory lectors reading news stories, political tracts and more as they rolled their product.
The area was so well known as a Cuban enclave in the U.S. that poet and Cuban political activist José Martí visited the area to gain financial and popular support for Cuba’s war of independence from Spain in the late 1800s. The area also grew into a networking hub between Spanish-speaking communities elsewhere in the United States, such as New York City. The area declined through the 1950s as the cigar trade left the area, but historic conservation efforts of the 1980s restored and preserved the neighborhood. Today, walking tours are available in the city, as is a museum dedicated to the cigar industry of Ybor City, located in the neighborhood’s former cultural clubhouse, El Centro Español.
“Immigrant communities such as Ybor City provide great examples of the influence of immigrants on the development of the U.S. economy and society,” notes Castañeda.
How to Get to Ybor City:
Ybor City is located in Tampa, Florida, just northeast of Tampa’s downtown area.
This story is the fourth in a series about amazing historical travel destinations in America. Read expert recommendations on where to go in Ohio and Idaho and Massachusetts here.