Long before interstate highways, it was the railroads that marked the path of progress across Florida. While Henry M. Flagler was building a rail line down the state's east coast, it was another Henry that was forging a railroad from the middle of the state toward Tampa — Henry B. Plant.
This section of the South Florida Railroad completed a cross-Florida rail system from Sanford to Tampa, placing the town in the path of progress. While Plant City's history dates back to the mid-1800s, it wasn't incorporated until a year after Henry B. Plant extended the railroad into the town. In 1885, the little town was renamed in honor of Plant.
The Treasured Strawberry
Around the same time, a succulent red fruit was introduced to the region. It began simply as a garden crop by early residents in the area but eventually became so popular in local gardens that surplus was sold and thus was born an industry. Those succulent red berries — strawberries — continued to be developed and improved as strawberry farms multiplied in the area. As shipping improved, so did the berries condition at distant markets; and, Plant City eventually became known as the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World.
Today, over three-quarters of the nation's winter strawberries come from Plant City.
The combination of a mild subtropical climate, fertile soil and good transportation is the perfect recipe for prosperity. And, while other types of agriculture, manufacturing, and phosphate mining prosper, the strawberry remains its most prized treasure. To celebrate its bountiful strawberry harvest, every March the town commemorates with an 11-day festival. The Florida Strawberry Festival ranks among the top 30 festivals in North America and typically includes all things strawberry — from vendors offering everything from berry-themed crafts to flats of the red fruit.
Historic vs. Modern
Plant City is a community of just 26 square miles. While it is made up primarily of pasturelands, strip mines, citrus groves, strawberry fields and nursery farms, it has also become a bedroom community for Tampa — just 24 miles to the west — and Lakeland — 10 miles to the east.
A town of contrasts, Plant City insists it is not trying to revive its past, just preserve it. Old is not discarded, but new is not discouraged either. While a visit to Plant City's historic downtown will reveal a smattering of antique and specialty shops, not far away is an ultra-modern sports facility that houses the International Softball Federation.
Another contrast, where old meets new, is an attraction along I-4 in Plant City — Dinosaur World. I was reminded of what Dr. Alan Grant said in the 1993 movie Jurassic Park, "Dinosaurs and man... two species separated by 65 million years of evolution, have suddenly been thrown into the mix together. How can we possibly have the slightest idea of what to expect?" Well, I didn't have the slightest idea what to expect when I visited Dinosaur World, but I came away pleasantly surprised (and you may be as well).
This isn't the end of the surprises you will find in Plant City. Those that enjoy shopping for the unusual will enjoy Southern Hospitality, which occupies an old WalMart building on James L. Redman Parkway. Inside there is just about everything crafty, collectible and stylish for your home.
Plant City... old or new will surprise you!