Located midway along the west coast of Florida, Hillsborough County has 1,048 square miles of land and 24 square miles of inland water area for a total of 1,072 square miles. The unincorporated area encompasses 909 square miles, or more than 84 percent of the total county area. Municipalities account for 163 square miles
Hillsborough County, which takes its name from the British Colonial Secretary of 1772, was first mapped and explored by the Spanish in the early 16th century. Between 1559 and 1819, the area now called Florida was under the rule of four nations: Spain, France, Great Britain and, finally, the United States The United States purchased Florida from Spain in 1821 for $5 million.
In 1845, it was granted statehood. And, on Jan. 25, 1834, the U.S. Legislative Council for the Territory of Florida approved an act organizing Hillsborough as Florida’s 19th county. At that time, Hillsborough County was a sprawling area that included what is now Pinellas, Polk, Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, DeSoto, Hardee and Highlands counties, most of Glades and a third of Lee. But despite that size, Hillsborough’s population only numbered 836, not counting soldiers or Native Americans, according to S.P. Sparkman, the census taker at that time. Hillsborough River, 1939
When the first Commissioners met in 1846, the general topics were taxes, transportation, a new court house and jail, and downtown development. The county tax for 1846 was fixed at 50 percent of the amount assessed by the state, and that assessment raised $148.69 that year. Pay for Commissioners was set at $2 per day while in session. Golfers at Palma Ceia, 1936
Commissioners took the first steps in transportation planning by granting permission to a man by the name of E.T. Mobley to build a toll bridge over the Hillsborough River at or near Ft. Foster. Commissioners also allowed another entrepreneur, Thomas Piper, “the privilege of establishing a ferry across Hillsborough River at Tampa.” Piper was given a four-year license and required to pay $5 per year for the last three years. Various roads also were authorized, and even as early as 1846 there were road districts and road supervisors whose duty it was to keep the roads in passable condition.
Hillsborough County Courtroom, 1920However “establishing a road” often meant merely blazing trees to indicate the shortest and best route between two settlements. In 1846, Commissioners also approved plans for a new court house, since the original building a small log cabin was burned by Indians during the Second Seminole War. The project was turned over to Capt. James McKay in 1847, and he completed a two-story house, 20 feet by 45 feet, at a cost of $1,358.
Commissioners later paid McKay an extra $10 for additional work. A third structure was erected in 1855 and was used until 1891, when an ornate, red brick courthouse with a silver dome was built, occupying a square block in downtown Tampa. The current courthouse was built in 1952, and a new county government administration building, called County Center, opened in 1994.