Oldsmar is a city of 13,591, as of the 2010 census, in Pinellas County, Florida. The Oldsmar name dates to 1913 when automobile pioneer Ransom E. Olds purchased 37,541 acres (151.92 km2) of land by the northern part of Tampa Bay to establish "R. E. Olds-on-the-Bay". The name was later changed to Oldsmar, then to "Tampa Shores" in 1927, and finally back to Oldsmar in 1937. Ransom Olds named some of the original streets himself, such as Gim Gong Road for Lue Gim Gong.
Oldsmar includes several parks along Tampa Bay, historic bungalows, a quaint downtown, and a commercial area along West Hillsborough Avenue. The historical society operates a museum in Oldsmar, and the city erected a new library in 2013.
In hopes of returning to the days of "Old Florida", Oldsmar's downtown is currently undergoing redevelopment efforts. Oldsmar celebrates its history every year with Oldsmar Days and Nights, including parades, car shows (featuring the Oldsmobile), and carnival rides. Notable Oldsmar businesses include the nearby Tampa Bay Downs and the production office of Nielsen Media Research.
Aerial view of Oldsmar from the east
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Location in Pinellas County and the state of Florida
Oldsmar is located at .
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 9.7 square miles (25.0 km2). 8.7 square miles (22.5 km2) of it is land, and 0.97 square miles (2.5 km2) of it (9.83%) is water.
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There were only a handful of settlers in the area in 1913 when Ransom Eli Olds decided to purchase 37,541 acres (151.92 km2) on the northern tip of Tampa Bay from Richard Peters in what is the present-day Oldsmar. At the age of 52, the inventor of the Oldsmobile and REO cars embarked on a grand undertaking, turning the untamed land in northern Tampa Bay into a bustling community. He paid $400,000 for the land: $200,000 in cash, $75,000 in bonds and a $125,000 apartment house in Daytona Beach. The town was originally named R. E. Olds-on-the-Bay. The name was later changed to Oldsmar. In 1927 the name was changed again to Tampa Shores, and finally in 1937 it was changed back to Oldsmar.
The early settlers had to contend with water from cisterns and individual wells. Cheesecloth was used to sieve the mosquito larvae out of the water. The city built a water tower in the 1920s, and water was pumped into it every morning; sulfur water flowed from the taps. Somehow a faucet with St. Petersburg water was installed by the railroad tracks, and everyone brought jugs to fill for drinking water. The nearest stores were in Tarpon Springs and Dunedin.
Strategically situated between Tampa and St. Petersburg, Oldsmar was ripe for development. The long bridges across the bay had not yet been built, and the shortest way from Tampa to St. Petersburg was through Oldsmar. Olds designed a community for working people rather than for the wealthy. He used engineers and surveyors from Boston to design a well-platted community, modeled after Washington, D.C., with tree-lined boulevards leading from the bay to downtown. A power plant that served parts of Safety Harbor, Dunedin, and Clearwater was constructed. The streets were paved with oyster shells obtained nearby. R. E. Olds named many streets himself. Woodward, Jefferson, and Congress reminded him of Detroit. Olds named Gim Gong Road after a Chinese American horticulturist from DeLand, Florida. Gim Gong was working on developing frost-resistant citrus crops. The streets of Oldsmar were unusually wide, and more than 20 miles (32 km) of sidewalk were installed. Over the years much of the sidewalk was buried under a layer of sand.
Advertisements glorifying the virtues of Oldsmar were placed in the Detroit papers. He used the slogan "Oldsmar for Health, Wealth and Happiness". He tried to entice Northern companies to move their businesses to Oldsmar by offering cheap labor. Olds spent $100,000 drilling the infamous oil well that yielded water, not oil. It has been said that oil was poured into the well each morning to make it look like they had struck black gold. The oil well is now capped and sits on the grounds of the Tampa Bay Downs racetrack. (There were three other oil wells in Florida, one in Sarasota and two in the Panhandle, but none of them possessed the technology to drill through the Florida aquifer).
Special excursion trains ran from Detroit. The first regularly scheduled commercial passenger flight in the United States began operation in 1914 between Tampa and St. Petersburg. A yacht serving liquor from the islands would bring prospective home owners over from St. Petersburg. A 60-room hotel, the Wayside Inn, was constructed in 1921. It was a lively place catering to tourists. The bottom floor housed a grocery store, drug store and a hardware store.
The first library in Oldsmar was started by the Woman's Club in 1919. In 1977 the Oldsmar Library was donated to the city and moved from the Woman's Club building to State Street in the City Hall Annex. At this time the Friends of the Library was established to help promote the library. The first school in town was located in a church at the intersection of Buckingham and Jefferson avenues. Another early school had one room for first, second, third and fourth grades, a second room for sixth, seventh and eighth grades, and high school was in the hall. The post office was downtown in the middle of an animal display park featuring alligators. During the 1921 hurricane, all the alligators escaped.
Original plans for Oldsmar included a golf course and a luxurious hotel on the bay, but neither ever materialized. A sawmill and foundry that made cast-iron engines for tractors and grove heaters became established. The mill produced the Olds Chair (also called the Oldsmar Chair), a sturdy chair made out of either yellow pine or cypress. The Olds Chair was similar to the Adirondack chair, and it was sold throughout the United States.
Olds provided financial backing for Kardell Tractor and Truck Company to move into town. Renamed Oldsmar Tractor Co., Olds was hoping they could devise a machine to cut through the palmetto roots. Building roads and clearing land was frustrating and expensive in Florida. The palmetto roots were impervious to bulldozers and other northern machines.
Oldsmar had dairy farms and farms of peppers, tomatoes, corn, gladioli and grapes. In the early days, it was not uncommon for cattle and hogs to run loose through town. A huge banana plantation was established on the bay, but the winters were too harsh for it to flourish for long. The waters at the northern end of the bay were clean during the 1920s and '30s. Fishing, oystering and crabbing were wonderful. Townspeople could take their catch to the Rex Cafe to be cooked. Big fish fries and dances were a weekly event.
A casino was constructed by the bay, and busloads of people from Tampa and Pinellas County would flock to the Oldsmar Casino to spend the weekend. The Oldsmar pier stretched out a thousand feet into Tampa Bay, and during Prohibition, boats loaded with coconuts would arrive at the end of the pier with bottles of rum hidden in with the coconuts. The pier was so sturdy and wide that two cars could drive side by side all the way to the end to pick up cargo. The Oldsmar Casino later changed its name to the Two Bits Club.
Oldsmar sits like a plateau where the land elevation never rises higher than 20 feet (6.1 m) above sea level. In 1921, the town was hit by a devastating hurricane. Large pine trees were uprooted and most of the town flooded by water levels 14 feet (4.3 m) above normal. Some of the oldest homes built in Oldsmar remain on Park Boulevard. Many homes still standing after the hurricane were moved by barge to St. Petersburg during the 1920s and 1930s.
Olds had over 4.5 million dollars invested in the community in 1923. When he realized Oldsmar was not growing as he had anticipated, he started liquidating his assets. He started selling the unplatted parcels of land. The racetrack was nearly completed when he traded it for theFort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater. The rest of the land was traded for the Belerive Hotel in Kansas. Ransom E. Olds left the town of Oldsmar after suffering a financial loss of nearly $3,000,000. Olds envisioned a city of 100,000. The population of Oldsmar was only about 200 when he left.
Harry A. Prettyman, a St. Louis promoter, and his associates continued to sell lots in town after Olds left. Prettyman staged promotional gimmicks like Gold Rushes where pieces of gold were buried on a vacant lot and everyone got to dig for it. In 1927 Prettyman was caught selling underwater lots. To avoid scandal, the town of Oldsmar was renamed Tampa Shores. It wasn't until 1935 that the last of the property owned by R. E. Olds was finally sold.
As of the census of 2000, there were 11,910 people, 4,536 households, and 3,329 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,335.9 inhabitants per square mile (515.5/km²). There were 4,839 housing units at an average density of 542.8 per square mile (209.5/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 90.44% White, 2.96% African American, 0.29% Native American, 2.80% Asian, 0.16% Pacific Islander, 1.29% from other races, and 2.07% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 6.67% of the population.
There were 4,536 households out of which 37.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 56.9% were married couples living together, 12.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 26.6% were non-families. 19.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 5.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.60 and the average family size was 3.00.
In the city the population was spread out with 26.6% under the age of 18, 6.6% from 18 to 24, 35.2% from 25 to 44, 20.4% from 45 to 64, and 11.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 93.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 90.5 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $50,354, and the median income for a family was $53,142. Males had a median income of $37,083 versus $30,329 for females. The per capita income for the city was $21,671. About 2.8% of families and 4.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 4.6% of those under age 18 and 4.9% of those age 65 or over.