A visually and cartographically explicit narrative blog about Tampa's built history and development.
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Monday, April 5, 2010

Burying our Past - Palma Ceia Springs

Urban springs are fascinating to me. In Florida, springs usually seem to be billed as "natural destinations" in rural and smaller towns, off the beaten path, or the source for our bottled water needs.  There are a few intact springs within the Tampa City limits.  However, most of these springs have been covered over and made part of a greater underground stormwater drainage system.  One of these is Palma Ceia springs right off Bayshore Blvd. and Rubideaux in Fred Ball Park.

Palma Ceia Spring

In the mid 1800s this spring was known for it's healing powers and people came to bathe in its waters. This fountain was erected in 1906 (as the inscription on both sides indicates) and is supplied by the spring itself. one of the few indications that an actual spring lies somewhere underfoot.  A large pool was erected in 1928 to accomodate the growing population and number of tourists coming to the area.

In the 1940s County Commissioner Fred Ball persuaded the county to purchase the spring and the land surrounding it. As the decades wore on and water levels in the aquifer declined, the spring, pools and surrounding land fell into disrepair. Below is an aerial of the spring, pool (indicated by yellow arrow) , and surrounding land taken in 1958.

Improvement efforts for the park were started in 1988 by the Rose Garden Circle (more history here). The park today is beautiful boasting a gazebo, tall trees, a bench swing, and the beautiful fountain as its focal point.  Below you can see the outfall trail from the spring and stormwater drains flowing into the bay.


  1. Quick question, and maybe I am missing something, but I am having a disconnect. In the illustration of the pool from 1928, it shows a smaller pool, surrounded by cement work similar to that which runs along Bayshore, yes?

    Was that the plan and then they expanded the pool in the 1940s as shown in the photo from 1958?

    Again, just missing something here, I guess.

  2. Thanks Chris for commenting. I should have put the colored postcard before the the text. It was probably built around 1906 (maybe they got the markers for the fountain from around the pool, but I'll have to research further) judging from the mens mustaches. The similarity in the balustrade design is probably a pure coincidence, it was a popular design in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

    The big pool in the B&W photo and the aerial are the same, that was the one built in 1928 (Burgert Photo taken that same year). If you click on the links in the text (let me know if you don't see them, I should change the hyperlink color). Currently the fountain wall is honeycomb type concrete block seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/giveawayboy/484589947/sizes/l/in/pool-671267@N23/

    I remember seeing a historic photo of the pool a few years ago that looked more like the postcard but was taken from somewhere at the bay shore or in the bay. Similar perspective as that in the postcard. It looked like the pool was right on the bayshore and the spring could overflow right into the bay (obviously before bayshore blvd. went through), with some kind of small boardwalk over the outflow. This photo eludes me today, but I will keep searching!

  3. Also check out this description:


  4. Ok, makes a lot more sense now... Oh, and on an unrelated note: the fact that one can search the back issues of the St Pete Times online like microfiche is awesome!

  5. I'm not sure how true this is, but I heard that Mayor Sparkman's (in office pre-1930, I think) son drowned in one of the city springs, at which point the mayor ordered it sealed. Wish I knew more about that.

  6. I remember the old pool very well.
    When I played there as a kid.
    The pool and rail was still there but it was
    full of reeds and like a swamp.
    I remember in the late 50's it was filled in
    and a big storm sewer project placed dual five foot pipes in the ground between the current fountain and the old pool. The spring still bubbles up right at the edge of Ysabella Street and can still be seen through the metal grate. The storm water pipes don't carry the
    spring water because as the pipes were being installed, all the neighborhodd kids would ride
    their bikes through the pipes. I was able to ride from McDill to the Bay. The spring must
    use seperate pipes to drain into the bay.

    All that wonderful water is piped into the bay.

    Charlie Hoffman

  7. I understand that there was also a small spring that drained into the bay just to the south at El Prado. It was never celebrated but was sealed over when a large condo building was built. It's a shame they didn't bother to make a small fountain or at least a little wet land out of it.

  8. Interesting, I will look into it.

  9. Great site! Could you please provide the source of the aerial photo. I would like to see if a physical copy can be viewed and possible see my house more clearly. Thanks.