of interest to Tampa...

 

Jean Street Shipyard first came into operation in 1843, two years prior to Florida’s becoming a State.  It was an exciting time as Tampa was taking shape as a port city, and river boats were a primary source of transportation.  Large deep draft vessels could only come as far as Tampa’s Ballast Point, and very large vessels could only come to ports such as Ingles, Cedar Key, and Key West.  Most of Tampa’s shipping needs were serviced by riverboats and large wooden vessels, both power and sail, that although often 100 feet or more in length, drafted less than 4 feet of water.  It was a time when people and cargo traveled in slow moving boats powered by sail or steam; and local cargo was often moved from small docks and landings to the bigger port areas and loading docks of Tampa by hand poled skiffs and shallow water barges.  

Jean Street Shipyard was ideally suited in its location to serve these boats as it was just about as far up river as one could consistently navigate such vessels without running aground.  The water depth was a minimum of six feet from Tampa Bay to Jean Street Shipyard, but it diminished quickly to two feet or less just up river.  Jean Street Shipyard had a massive wharf for loading local cargo, which included citrus, cotton, sugarcane, cattle, and turpentine.  The primary function, however, of Jean Street Shipyard was servicing and repairing the river boats, barges, and skiffs that navigated the river of that day.  The shipyard was well equipped with a modern machine shop, a wood shop, one of Tampa’s first marine hardware supply stores, and a marine ways (marine railway) which was possibly the first in the Tampa area. 

Jean Street Shipyard, quite by coincidence, became the site of the start of the only major civil war battle in the Tampa area, known as The Hillsborough River Raid, and the Battle of Ballast Point.  Jean Street Shipyard, although spared from destruction during the Battle, disappeared from history for a few decades, along with the rest of Tampa as the Civil war destroyed much of the town and the way of life.   

(click her for more on the Hillsborough River Raid) 

 

 

It was not until the 1880’s that things began to pick up again in Tampa, trade started again, and the city was rebuilt.  Starting in 1904 the Federal government, in part, funded the dredging of the channels in Tampa and Tampa Bay, opening it up again to be a significant port.  Tampa quickly rebounded and boomed.  In 1909, the channel up the Hillsborough River was deepened to 12 feet from Tampa Bay to Jean Street Shipyard.  Jean Street Shipyard had been back in operation by the 1890’s and somewhere around 1907, came under the new ownership of the young Harry C. White, his wife, Louise B. White, and his father, Perry White.  White, although a skilled boat-wright, listed himself with the city as simply a “repairman” running a low key boat repair and boat building business in the remains of what was once a very busy shipyard.   

White’s business grew steadily as Tampa grew, soon servicing barges, and riverboats, in the 30 to 100 foot class, and sailboats in the 30 to 60 foot class.  In 1928, White founded “White’s Marine Ways and Boat works” at Jean Street Shipyard, and although he listed the name that way with the City of Tampa, the sign at the yard read only “White Shipyard” where he had simply painted the name “White” over where the sign once read “Jean Street.” The sign remained that way until 1946, about the time of the end of the second World War, when White retired.  As such, most Tampa residents from that time period remember the yard by its shorter and unofficial name, “White’s Shipyard.”  A sign on another building at the Shipyard read “White Marine Supply.” That sign is now a souvenir owned by a neighbor who worked there in the 40’s and 50’s.

 

 

 

 

 

During the late 1920’s and early 1930’s Tampa was a progressive and fun loving city,  one of the first American cities to have auto racing (as early as 1909), and well known as a pioneer of powerboat racing.  Tampa held many exciting races and regattas on the river, including in front of what is now Davis Islands.  It was very common to see powerful race boats and sporty runabouts at or around Jean Street Shipyard, and the daring race boat pilots noisily tooling about the river.  One such boat, an early racing hydroplane, decayed to almost nothing but a frame, was discovered under a dilapidated shed at the Shipyard in the 1980’s.  During these years Jean Street Shipyard was one of many small boat builders in Tampa that built these custom speed boats, race boats, and runabouts, which were the birth of modern power boating.  Many of Tampa’s wealthy owned such power boats, not so much to race, but as a symbol of the success and the frivolity of the times. 

When the Second World War broke out, the Shipyard got even busier, thriving through the war years on many war contracts and repairs.  After the war, Harry White, now almost 70, retired and sold the Shipyard to a local sail maker, Clinton J. Johnson, who founded “Johnson’s Boat Works”.  Then in 1947, using war-surplus building material, he constructed three large covered boathouses to cater to the growing private motor-yacht market and Johnson founded “Hillsborough Yacht Storage, Inc.,” the name that was associated with the Jean Street Shipyard for the next few decades.  As the racing powerboats were fading away, the Jean Street Shipyard became the home of large and leisurely power yachts belonging to Tampa’s affluent.  Jean Street Shipyard, and Hillsborough Yacht Storage, Inc. were later sold to the Harrison family, whose children and relatives grew up at the Shipyard, and still live in the neighborhood, just blocks away.  In fact, the Harrison family still work on their own boats at Jean Street Shipyard. 

In the 1960’s the Shipyard was purchased by the Williams brothers, who are also well-known in Tampa history.  At that time, the machine shop and wood shop were in part converted for antique car restoration, a business the Williams’ were already engaged in, but boat building and boat repair work continued.  The marine hardware store was expanded to sell fishing supplies to local sport fishermen.  The Williams brothers also manufactured boat engines at Jean Street Shipyard.  

The last boats were built at Jean Street Shipyard in the mid 1970’s when fiberglass boats became the fashion and wood boats were on their way to a threatened extinction.  The Shipyard was thereafter primarily used for repair and storage.  Very few fiberglass boats were ever manufactured at Jean Street Shipyard.  Also in the 1970’s, the large covered boathouses were torn down, the overhead gantry which once stepped large sailboat masts was demolished and replaced with a slightly more modern Marine Travel-Lift for pulling boats in the 30-60 foot class.  By that time, the neighborhoods north of downtown Tampa were being torn apart by the new interstate highways and the construction of several government assisted housing projects.  Along with the closing of Sulpher Springs, these changes contributed to nearby neighborhoods quickly deteriorating almost to slums.  The affluent of the neighborhoods surrounding the Shipyard moved elsewhere, and the Shipyard, although still in operation, faded from history again for a while. 

 

 

By the early 1990’s, the Shipyard, which although still in operation, had fallen into significant disrepair.  The current owners began a clean up and renovation of the Shipyard to keep pace with the rest of the clean up and historic restoration of that part of Tampa, Historic Seminole Heights.  Seminole Heights rebounded, and again became one of Tampa’s most beautiful neighborhoods.  The original Jean Street Shipyard woodshop and machine shop building survived and was restored.  The old “Jean Street Shipyard” sign, with Harry White’s name painted over it in faded black and white paint, was recovered from a deteriorated winch-house and preserved.  The Shipyard reassumed its oldest known name, Jean Street Shipyard, and the historic Shipyard thrives again today, busily serving boats in the 30 to 60 foot class with an emphasis on antique and wood boats, and continues to supply boaters and boat builders with marine hardware and supplies.   The original railway from the 1840’s is still one of two railways still in operation at the Shipyard today, and is probably the oldest marine railway in the area.  The shaft and pulley system which once ran the massive power tools in the wood and machine shop, is also still in place in the shop building today, although it is not used and sits perched high above the more modern shop machinery like an onlooker from the past. 

 

 

Although the Shipyard is equipped with the tools and equipment to meet the requirements of modern boating, enough of the historic ambiance of the Shipyard has been preserved so that driving through the gates of the Shipyard is a journey into the past.  Although Jean Street Shipyard works on boats from all over Florida, and beyond, and now supplies marine hardware and supplies to customers nationwide, we strive to still be just the neighborhood boatyard, still repairing Tampa’s boats, and supplying Tampa’s boaters with marine hardware and supplies.  We are extremely proud to tout a business reputation of providing over 160 years of service to our community.

 

Note:  We give our thanks to the Tampa History Center for the use of their research materials and records, and we graciously give our thanks for the many neighbors and residents of Tampa who provided us with the pictures and stories to reconstruct the history of Jean Street Shipyard for this Website.   We would be very happy to hear from anybody who can provide further pictures and stories of interest to Tampa.  Please e-mail us at history@jeanstreetshipyard.com 

Thank you, 

John W. Brotherton, Owner and Operator of Jean Street Shipyard, Inc.

We Specialize in Wooden Boat Repair and Restoration.

on the Hillsborough River

just up river from the Hillsborough Ave. Bridge

 

Jean Street Shipyard, Inc.

337 W. Jean Street

Tampa, FL  33604

Tel:  813-239-2526

E-mail:  johnb@jeanstreetshipyard.com