"Follow the crowds," may be the one-liner for which Henry B. Plant is most famous. The crowds were his throngs of admirers headed to the Tampa Bay Hotel Opening Ball on January 31, 1891. The railroad they traveled was Plant’s conglomerate system completed on January 22, 1884. The Plant system of railways brought more business, commerce, communication, and tourism to Tampa Bay than anyone in the sleepy little fishing village could have possibly imagined. In the words of Mayor D.B. Mckay, "Tampa owes everything to its God-given bay, one of the world’s great sheltered waters - and to Henry Bradley Plant."
So, who is this blend of Yankee ingenuity, Protestant work ethic, business savvy, and shrewd political maneuvers? Plant’s legacy may well stem from his own career development: It grew piece by piece and took turns along the way just like the rails and tracks he laid in the south. As a youngster, Henry drew inspiration from his favorite vesper, "Oh Come All Ye Faithful." His grandmother offered to finance his college education so he could study the ministry. But Plant turned away from a career in the ministry, choosing to find work at sea, instead. Reminiscent of "Pirates of Penzance," the plucky youth started out as a cabin boy but would one day own a fleet of steamers. Plant’s talent for organizing shipment parcels led to stepping-stone promotions. Eventually he became Superintendent for the Southern division of the Adams Express Company. During the Civil War, Plant remained in the south to run the Southern Express Company. Following the war, he bought out the bankrupt railways in the south, pieced them together, and acquired major land holdings in Florida. His economic restructuring of Florida railways helped him establish control of tracks leading to the gulf coast. In competition with his rival, Henry Flagler, Plant scrambled to achieve his goals, seeking the support of bright prospects like Haines and Sanford in his venture.
When the last rail of his tracks was laid in place, Henry B. Plant had left an indelible mark on the history of Tampa Bay and the entire state of Florida. The Plant legacy lives on today in namesake landmarks and locations: Plant City, Plant Hall at the University of Tampa, H.B. Plant High School, and Morton Plant Hospital, named after Plant’s only son, heir to his estate. In 1987 a bronze statue of the proud mogul was erected at H.B.Plant High School as a centennial tribute to one of Tampa’s leading forefathers, Henry Bradley Plant. Tampa’s growth and development have burgeoned in the century since Henry Plant’s arrival.