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Hillsborough River (Florida)


Hillsborough River (Florida)

Hillsborough River
Country United States
State Florida
Counties Pasco, Hillsborough
District SWFWMD
 - left Blackwater Creek, Flint Creek
Cities Temple Terrace, Tampa
Source Green Swamp
 - location Branchborough, Florida
 - coordinates
Mouth Hillsborough Bay
 - location Tampa, Florida
 - coordinates
Length 59 mi (95 km)
Basin 740 sq mi (1,917 km2)
Hillsborough River watershed

The Hillsborough River is a river located in the state of Florida in the USA. It arises in the Green Swamp near the juncture of Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties, and flows 59 miles (95 km)[1] through Pasco and Hillsborough Counties to an outlet in the city of Tampa on Tampa Bay. The name Hillsborough River first appeared on a British map in 1769. At the time, the Earl of Hillsborough was the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, and thus controlled the pensions of the surveyors working in the American colonies, which included East Florida.


  • History 1
    • Timeline 1.1
  • The river today 2
  • Hillsborough River State Park 3
  • The middle river 4
  • Recreation 5
  • List of crossings 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Geological data suggests that the Hillsborough River has been flowing for about 27,000 years. Humans first made their way to this area 12,000 - 15,000 years ago.

In the late 18th century the watershed of the Hillsborough River was a land covered by a rich, old growth forest. Majestic bald cypress, longleaf pine, and sand live oak were hundreds of years old (and in the case of cypress, thousands of years old). In the mid to late 19th century to about 1913 the watershed of this old growth forest began to be logged. As a result of this lumbering activity, most of the trees within the Hillsborough River basin are now less than one hundred years in age. The harvesting of the old growth trees altered the ecosystems they dominated. Trees such as water ash and water locust were able to quickly grow in the sun-lit spaces created when bigger trees were removed. The riverine swamp forest as it exists today has a much different ecology than the ecosystem that had existed along the Hillsborough for the previous ten to fifteen thousand years.


(Pre-Columbian to the 18th century) Tocobaga Native American culture.

(1528) Pánfilo de Narváez, a Spanish explorer, lands near Tampa Bay. He and the four hundred men with him find the Tocobaga culture established in the area.

(1539) Hernando de Soto, another Spaniard, comes to Tampa Bay and lands at what was probably the Hillsborough River. By the early 18th century the Tocobaga people, through disease and slavery, are nearly exterminated.

(1757) A survey of the Hillsborough River is done by Don Francisco Maria Celi, pilot of the Spanish Royal Fleet. He ventures up to the Temple Terrace area in search of longleaf pine to use as masts for his ships. He names the pine forest of the area "El Pinal de la Cruz de Santa Teresa" or "The Pines of the Cross of Saint Teresa". There is a plaque commemorating his exploration at Riverhills Park in Temple Terrace.

(1772) A map drawn and sent to the Earl of Hillsborough, English Governor of West Florida, shows the river named as the Hillsborough. During the mid and late 18th century, Native Americans from the north, mostly Creek (American Indians), begin to migrate to Florida. These immigrants become known as Seminoles.

(1821) Florida becomes a United States territory.

(1824) Construction of Fort Brooke begins at the mouth of the Hillsborough River.

Survey of the middle Hillsborough River in 1843
The original dam under construction in 1897
Postcard view of the Hillsborough River in 1910
Seminole War reenactors at Hillsborough River State Park
Paddling on the Hillsborough River
An Alligator snoozing in the sun
Paddling the Hillsborough River

(1828) The Fort King Military Road (now State Road 41) is built to connect Fort King in Ocala with Fort Brooke in what was then the settlement of Tampa. A bridge is built to cross the Hillsborough.

(1830) Congress passes the Indian Removal Act. The American government begins efforts to remove the Seminole from Tampa Bay and relocate them to a reservation west of the Mississippi. Tensions between Seminole and Americans continue.

(1835) Seminoles burn the bridge at the Fort King Road’s river crossing. Conflict continues.

(1836) Fort Foster is established at the Hillsborough River crossing to protect this strategically advantageous position.

(1842) The Armed Occupation Act promises one hundred 60 acres (240,000 m2) of land to any man who can bear arms, build a house and cultivate 5 acres (20,000 m2) for five years.

(1846) The first ferry crossing on the Hillsborough River is established. This improves transportation and widens the growth of Tampa to both sides of the river.

(1861) During the American Civil War, Tampa Bay is blockaded by federal troops to prevent goods from leaving Tampa or from coming into Tampa.

(1863) Federal troops march upriver to a location near the present day site of Lowry Park Zoo. There they discover a blockade-running steamer and sloop loaded with cotton. The ships are burned. The skirmish that follows is the only Civil War action on the Hillsborough River.

(1891) The Tampa Bay Hotel, now the Henry B. Plant Museum, opens with a grand ball.

(1897) At a cost of $150,000 an electrical dam is built on the river by Consumers Electric Light and Street Railway Company. The dam was located halfway between present-day 40th Street and 56th Street on the Hillsborough River (today's Temple Crest neighborhood.)

(1898) On December 13, 1898 the dam is dynamited by cattle barons angry at the loss of grazing land. They tried three times. The first on January 8, 1897,shortly after construction was completed. When the water is low, remnants of the dynamited dam can be seen.

(1898–99) TECO buys the Consumers Electric Light and Street Railway Company and builds a new electric generating dam downstream of the current site north of Sulphur Springs.

(1899) Tampa's first water plant is built by the private Tampa Waterworks Company. It pumped well water to supply the City of Tampa until March 6, 1923, when the people voted to purchase the Waterworks plant.

(1900) The Sulphur Springs (Sulphur Springs, Tampa, Florida) property is developed and open to the public.

(1910) Hillsborough Bay is channelized to the mouth of the Hillsborough River with the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899. Up to 1913 the Hillsborough River watershed is heavily logged for its valuable cypress, longleaf pine and oak.

(1911–1914) Bertha Potter Palmer (Bertha Palmer) (of Chicago and Sarasota) completes purchases of 19,000 acres (77 km2) bordering the Hillsborough River in present-day Temple Terrace, Temple Crest, Terrace Park, Busch Gardens and the University of South Florida area. She calls her property "Riverhills Ranch", an exclusive hunting preserve where she builds a lodge and guest houses among other structures. She dies in 1918.

(1922) The Temple Terrace Golf and County Club, located on the river in Temple Terrace opens with a Washington Ball.

(1923) The city of Tampa builds a water treatment plant to utilize the water supply from the water above the dam.

(1935) Hillsborough River State Park is opened.

(1933) In a torrential 24-hour rain, floods wash away the Tampa Electric dam. TECO does not rebuild the dam and turns to other locations for electrical generating plants.

(1944) The city of Tampa completes construction on the current dam, to be used for the purpose of containing drinking water for the city, at the site of the old TECO dam. The old Tampa Waterworks Company is abandoned.

(1961) The Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) is created.

(1960s-70s) The 14-mile (23 km) long Tampa Bypass Canal is constructed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD). It includes a constructed canal and several concrete flood-control structures. During construction of the Tampa Bypass Canal the aquifer is accidentally breached.

(1979) The Hillsborough River is closed to swimming at Hillsborough River State Park and a swimming pool is built for public use.

(1982) Lettuce Lake Park opens on the river just north of Temple Terrace

(1986) The Hillsborough River Interlocal Planning Board & Technical Advisory Council is established.

(1986) Sulphur Springs pool (Sulphur Springs, Tampa, Florida) is closed.

(1988) The annual Hillsborough River Cleanup begins.

(1991) Canoe Escape is opened and the owners donate canoes and time to bring the Hillsborough River to the public’s attention.

(1992) The Hillsborough River Greenways Taskforce is established.

(1995) The Hillsborough River is designated as Outstanding Florida Waters.

(1995) The Hillsborough River is designated as a Florida Recreational Canoe Trail.

(1995) The Hillsborough River is named a Florida Sesquicentennial Greenway.

(1999) "Friends of the River" is created by local residents for the purpose of challenging the SWFWMD minimum flow of 10 cu ft/s (0.28 m3/s) of Sulphur Springs water alone for the river's only freshwater flow.

(2000) On the day after a massive Earth Day celebration at Lowry Park, highlighted by a "Flow-tilla" of dozens of boats from the Rowlett Park dam to Lowry Park, Friends of the River settles its legal challenge with agreement with SWFWMD, City of Tampa and Robert Thomas of Zephyrhills Water to study the river for 5 years to scientifically determine exactly how much freshwater is needed to restore and maintain the river's estuarine function. Friends of the River had maintained that the establishment of the minimum flow of 10 cu ft/s (0.28 m3/s) of Sulphur Springs water was a politically expedient solution with no basis in scientific data. Findings of the 5-year study to be used by SWFWMD as sole basis for modification of minimum flow.

(2002) Tampa Bay Water places a pipeline to the Morris Bridge Sink (

(2006) "The Hillsborough River Task Force", Temple Terrace, is created.

(2007) Alan Wright, "Mr River", dies of cancer, December 21.

(2007) "The Lower Hillsborough River Minimum Flow Recovery Strategy" is adopted, based upon SWFWMD's 5-year study that documented a need for freshwater over twice that provided by its original rule as challenged by Friends of the River. A minimum flow of 20 cu ft/s (0.57 m3/s) is adopted, combining the original 10 cu ft/s (0.28 m3/s) of Sulphur Springs water with 10 cu ft/s (0.28 m3/s) added to the river from water stored in Tampa Bypass Canal. Minimum flow adjusted upwards to 24 cu ft/s (0.68 m3/s) in spring months (April, May, June) when fish spawning activity occurs in restored estuary. Daily minimum flow begins December 31, 2007.

The river today

The Hillsborough River is home to many species, and several large bird rookeries exist. When local students reach sixth grade in Hillsborough County, they take a visit to the river for one to three days to learn about the ecosystem, watershed, and native Florida animals at a place called 'Nature's Classroom'. The Hillsborough River dam (originally built in 1895 and since rebuilt) at Rowlett Park creates a lake covering 1,300 acres (5 km2) and containing 1.6 billion US gallons (6,100,000 m3) of water,[2] providing for the supply of water for the City of Tampa. The Hillsborough River was immortalized in 1973 by author Gloria Jahoda in her book River of the Golden Ibis.

With the construction of the dam in 1945, the portion of the River above the dam to approximately Fletcher Avenue is where the City of Tampa is permitted to withdraw water to supply to its citizens and those in Hillsborough County. In addition, Tampa Bay Water is permitted to withdraw water from the River during "high flow" times and under specific conditions. The Southwest Florida Water Management District, the agency required by Florida law to protect and manage the waters in the state, authorizes the permits.

With the establishment of the minimum flow of the upper and middle river by the Southwest Florida Water Management District in 2007 and its supporting Recovery Strategy, the City of Tampa and the District in partnership are implementing measures and projects to achieve the required flow in the lower river, while preserving the pristine nature of the middle and upper rivers.

The river above the dam to roughly the 56th Street bridge passes through the neighborhood of Temple Crest. The river above the 56th Street bridge passes through the City of Temple Terrace and it is one of the many scenic portions of the river. The City has a river cleanup of its river portion twice a year.

Hillsborough River State Park

Hillsborough River State Park includes 2,990 acres (12 km2) along the Hillsborough River in northeastern Hillsborough County. It supports many Floridian environments such as swamps and oak hammocks and many endangered species. The park's purpose is to preserve the "real Florida". Visitors to the park can participate in picnicking, camping, canoeing, hiking, fishing and swimming in a constructed pool. There is also a designated place to observe the river's class II rapids. It is one of the only rivers in Florida with rapids. The park opened in 1935 making it one of Florida's oldest state parks.

The middle river

The middle river is the portion of the river north of the dam at 30th Street and is the primary source of water for the City of Tampa. The middle river is located in the middle portion of the river extending from its dam with the water contained back to Fletcher Avenue. The Hillsborough River has its headwaters begins in the Green Swamp and utilimately flows into to Tampa Bay.

Water was supplied in Tampa's early days by private wells, cisterns and tanks. Tampa's first water plant went into operation on April 20, 1899, operated by the private Tampa Waterworks Company. It pumped well water to supply the City of Tampa until March 6, 1923, when the people voted to purchase the Waterworks plant for the city. The middle river has been Tampa's official source of water since 1944.

But the middle river is far more than just the source for some of Tampa's drinking water, it is a wonderfully diverse river ecosystem within the larger urban area surrounding it. Orange Lake, in the Temple Crest neighborhood, is an Audubon Society bird nesting and sanctuary, is also a living wetlands.

Upstream along the banks of Temple Terrace's Riverhills Park is a scene from old Florida, with cypress trees dotting the watery landscape.


A 34.5-mile (55.5 km) canoe trail is designated by the State of Florida, starting at Hillsborough River State Park and ending at Rowlett Park in Tampa. Morris Bridge Park, Trout Creek Wilderness Park, Hillsborough River State Park Lettuce Lake Park, Riverfront Park, Riverhills Park, Angel of Hope Park, Rogers Park, Sulphur Springs Water Tower, and Rivercrest Park are all are located along the Hillsborough River.

List of crossings

Crossing Carries Image Location Coordinates
140024[3] US 98 Branchborough
140009 CR 54 Branchborough
CSX Rail Bridge Vitis Subdivision
CSX Rail Bridge Yeoman Subdivision
140007 SR 39
Buchman Highway
144002 Crystal Springs Road Crystal Springs
Confluence with Blackwater Creek
100434 US 301 Fort Foster
Confluence with Flint Creek Fort King
Morris Bridge
CR 579
Morris Bridge Road
Pine Ridge Estates
Water control structure Hillsborough River SP Main Trail Temple Terrace
100387/100388 Interstate 75 Temple Terrace
100276 CR 582A
Fletcher Avenue
Temple Terrace
100084/100402 SR 582
Fowler Avenue
Temple Terrace
104143/104144 SR 580
Temple Terrace Highway/Bullard Parkway
Temple Terrace
Tampa Bypass Canal Temple Terrace
56th Street Bridge
SR 583
N 56th Street
Temple Terrace
40th Street Bridge
CR 585A
N 40th Street
Del Rio
Hillsborough River Dam Tampa
Rowlett Park Drive Bridge
Rowlett Park Drive Tampa
CSX Rail Bridge Clearwater Subdivision Tampa
Nebraska Avenue Bridge
US 41
Nebraska Avenue
100217/100218 Interstate 275 Tampa
James N. Holmes Bridge
Business US 41
Florida Avenue
Sumter L. Lowry Bridge
Sligh Avenue Tampa
Hillsborough River Bridge
(drawbridges) 100618/100920
US 92
Hillsborough Avenue
Paul H. Smith Bridge
SR 574
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard
Columbus Drive Swing Span
Columbus Drive Tampa
Eugene Holtsinger Bridge
North Boulevard Tampa
100135/100136 Interstate 275 Tampa
Fortune Street Bridge (drawbridge)
Laurel Street Tampa
Cass Street Drawbridge
Cass Street Tampa
CSX Rail Bridge Tampa Terminal Subdivision (Port Tampa Spur) Tampa
Kennedy Drawbridge
SR 60
Kennedy Boulevard
Brorein Street Drawbridge
Brorein Street Tampa
Crosstown Viaduct
SR 618
Lee Roy Selmon Expressway
Platt Street Drawbridge
Platt Street Tampa
Confluence with Seddon Channel and Garrison Channel
Plant Street Bridge
Davis Boulevard
Plant Avenue


  1. ^ U.S. Geological Survey. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data. The National Map, accessed April 18, 2011
  2. ^ Hillsborough River Reservoir, SWFWMD
  3. ^ FDOT Florida Bridge Data 01-05-2010
  • Gunter, Booth. 1990. Hillsborough River. in Marth, Del and Marty Marth, eds. The Rivers of Florida. Sarasota, Florida: Pineapple Press. ISBN 0-910923-70-1.

External links

  • Southwest Florida Water Management District
  • Southwest Florida Water Management District Watershed Excursion
  • The Hillsborough River Interlocal Planning Board & Technical Advisory Council
  • Hillsborough River Basin Board
  • Tampa Bay Water
  • Tampa Bay Water Future Water
  • Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County
  • Hillsborough River Watershed
  • Hillsborough River Watershed - Florida DEP
  • Tampa Bay Conservancy
  • Tampa Bay Estuary Program
  • Tampa Bay Water Atlas
  • Tampa Bay Watch
  • Nature's Classroom
  • Friends of the River
  • Hillsborough River Watershed Alliance
  • Temple Terrace River Task Force
  • "River Task Force Seeks Support"
  • City of Temple Terrace
  • City of Temple Terrace Public Works
  • Morris Bridge Sink
  • City of Tampa
  • City of Tampa Water Department
  • Canoe Escape
  • Save the ORANGE LAKE Wetlands
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