Economists estimate that Florida’s population is currently growing by about 900 people a day, and Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater currently ranks as the 15th-fastest growing metro area in the United States. With that impressive influx of new Floridians, and the still-unfolding impact of the pandemic, the pace of change in our region is nothing short of astonishing. Just ask any lifelong Gulfportian: A lot has changed.
That’s where a book like Joshua Ginsburg’s Oldest Tampa Bay (2022, Reedy Press) comes in. Ginsburg is a self-styled “writer and curiosity seeker” who has recently made a name for himself with Secret Tampa Bay (2020, Reedy Press) – a guidebook that goes beyond the beaches to visit the Bay’s more obscure attractions – and Tampa Bay Scavenger (2021, Reedy Press) – a cool “gamified” book that provides clues you can follow to discover and collect local points of interest.
His newest book takes a different path, rounding up an eclectic gallery of Tampa Bay’s senior something-or-others, from the “oldest preserved open-water wooden canoe” (cir. 900 CE) at Weedon Island to the area’s “oldest escape room” (2015) on Cleveland Street in Clearwater.
It’s a fun, and at times ridiculous, premise, a mishmash that places staple superlatives like “oldest Hindu Temple“ (Hindu Temple of Florida) or “oldest lighthouse” (Egmont Key) next to more contrived, less concrete categories such as “oldest family-owned department store chain” (did you guess it? It’s Bealls!), “oldest youth circus” (Sarasota’s Sailor Circus), and “oldest independent weekly newspaper” (ahem! You’d better know this one). All buoyed by Ginsberg’s breezy prose, punchy profiles, and a generous reference section for further reading.
Ginsberg’s approach is to feature only those sites or entities that are still visible, still in operation. This lead, for me, to some quibbles: the “oldest alligator attraction,” for instance, is listed as Tampa’s Croc Encounters (founded 2005), when I know there was a perfectly good (perfectly horrifying) St. Petersburg Alligator Farm in today’s Bay Shores neighborhood in the city’s early days.
But such equivocation misses the point: Ginsberg is trying tell, in this kaleidoscopic collection, a story about not only what has survived the Tampa Bay Area’s rapid growth, but how so many amazing places have grown and adapted. A great example is the story of Tampa’s Alessi Bakery (“oldest bakery”), a venture which is now in its third generation of family ownership and has transitioned from a small shop with horse-and-wagon deliveries to supplying Publix with Cuban bread and other delicacies. Food for thought, indeed.
Maybe in 50 years we’ll be reading an anniversary edition about Tampa Bay’s “oldest microbrewery” (Dunedin Brewery), “oldest skatepark” (Skatepark of Tampa), or “oldest artist retreat” (that’s right! It’s the Blueberry Patch!) with the same kind of reverence.