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Why do they call it that? Sparkman Channel at the Port of Tampa: Visionary ditch made today's Tampa possible

7:41 AM, Oct 10, 2012   |    comments
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Looking north at Sparkman Channel leading into the Port of Tampa, with port facilities on the right and Harbour Island on the left.


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The Port of Tampa creates 100,000 jobs moves more than 25 million tons of cargo a year. And we owe it all to a giant ditch.

Why do they call it Sparkman Channel?

Thanks to this time-lapse video, we can watch a cruise ship head through Sparkman Channel and right up to the pier in Tampa's Channelside District.

But rewind time to 1900, and Tampa's big, busy port -- was somewhere else.

Hillsborough Bay near downtown was too shallow for ships. So steamers and sailboats had to tie up eight miles away!

That remote area -- called Port Tampa City -- was in South Tampa, right next to what's now MacDill Air Force Base.

Back then, getting to Port Tampa City meant a half-day trip from Downtown Tampa. And you had to trek through what was later called -- accurately -- Rattlesnake Point.

That location actually worked out all right for a while. Henry Plant even built hotels out over the water -- you could fish from your window!

But Stephen Sparkman, Tampa's congressman, saw a different future.

He thought...

What if we could make Tampa's port into the Oreo filling of industry? What if we could wedge the port right in the middle of everything -- between Downtown Tampa and Ybor City?

That would be the "sweet spot" for a port -- the perfect place to grow Tampa into a towering city, and to grow the port into what it is today, the busiest seaport in Florida.

But there was one expensive obstacle that prevented putting a port in that perfect spot: dredging.

Special ships would have to dig a channel underwater in Hillsborough Bay -- a trench deep enough to get big ships right up to the edge of downtown.

Congressman Sparkman went to work.

He helped city leaders dig up federal government money to dig that ditch. And, naturally, they named that new channel after the man who brought in the bucks.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

Today, the Port of Tampa handles nearly 40 percent of all of the cargo that comes though the State of Florida.

The Tampa Port Authority says studies show the port is directly or indirectly responsible for around 100,000 jobs.

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Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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