In the months preceding the invasion of Cuba, Henry Plant exchanged letters with Secretary of War Russell Alger requesting the defense of Tampa in the event of war. Plant also sent his lieutenant Franklin Q. Brown to Washington to speak on behalf of the city to be selected as the official port of embarkation for the war. The Plant System of railways transported troops to Florida and Plant Line steamships carried troops and supplies to Cuba. The Tampa Bay Hotel became the headquarters for the U.S. Army officers awaiting the order to embark.
The generals planned their war campaigns from the Hotel. Officers and dignitaries stayed in relative luxury, rocking on the veranda, sipping iced tea, and discussing strategies. Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders trained in the camps near the Hotel during the day. Roosevelt was granted permission to stay with wife Edith in the Hotel. Frederic Remington sketched the scenes of preparations for war as correspondents, such as Richard Harding Davis and Stephen Crane, reported on the events. Clara Barton gathered supplies for the Red Cross and frequented the Hotel. Thirty thousand enlisted men camped in tents around Tampa and as far east as Lakeland, fought off mosquitoes and boredom, and endured stifling temperatures in wool uniforms while waiting for the approval to leave for Cuba.
At last the order was given to depart. The troops, military supplies, and press converged on Port Tampa anxious to get underway. After a few false starts, the invasion was on and 21 transport steamships, including the Plant Line’s SS Olivette
, left Tampa Bay for Cuba on July 3rd
Visitors to the Henry Plant Museum can read first-hand accounts of the “Rocking-Chair” phase of the war. Newspaper reports, sketches from Harper’s Weekly
, original artifacts, and the personal letters of 1st
Sergeant Henry A. Dobson illustrate Tampa’s historic role in the Spanish-American War. It is the Hotel’s role in the war that secured its designation as a National Historic Landmark.