This is part 2/2 about St. Petersburg benefactor Edwin Tomlinson. Part 1 can be found here.
In part I we found that Edwin Tomlinson did some unusual and intersting things in St. Pete, from drilling the well and building the pier that would later be known as “The Fountain of Youth” and also building two tall towers to hopefully lure Marconi from Italy to do wireless experiments. But in this we are just getting started!
Tomlinson spent vast amounts of money in St. Pete on good works, and helped the city through many times of need and growth. The town of St. Petersburg before 1900 was not wealthy, and Tomlinson worked diligently to fill in the gaps liberally spending his oil and mining fortune on works in the town.
The Open Air Post Office
Ok, not the one you think! If you live in St. Pete, you are very familiar with the open-air post office that still stands across from Williams Park and the Princess Martha downtown. But what you may not know is that concept was first made a reality in 1907 at the Ansonia hotel, located at 4th and Central.
Tomlinson owned the Ansonia. He agreed to let Roy Hannah, the storied postmaster of St. Pete, modify and use the hotel lobby area to create a post office that would allow access to mail boxes 24 hours per day. The concept was met with skepticism and controversy by the US Postal authority, but after a meeting in St. Pete a few months later, the concept was embraced. In 1915, funds were appropriated for the outdoor post office we all know today.
Dedicated to Education
Tomlinson gave much to the growing city and self-funded important early schools in St. Pete. In 1901, he funded the Manual Training School, the first brick school in the city at a cost of $10,000. He later deeded the building to the city. The next year he built the Manual Training Annex that included a large auditorium and intended for gatherings.
Also brick and at a cost of $15,000, it was deeded to the city which subsequently used part of the space as the city hall for a few years beginning in 1903.
A Church and Hospital to Honor His Parents
Edwin Tomlinson and his father who had come to live with him, Peter Tomlinson, were religious men and together donated money and property over a series of years beginning in the late 1800s that helped build the aptly dedicated St. Peter’s Episcopal Cathedral in the city.
To honor his mother, whose name was Augusta, Tomlinson then also donated land and money to build Augusta Memorial Hospital, which later became Mound Park Hospital and then City Hospital. The complex still exists, and is now Bayfront Medical Center.
These were great works, but we aren’t quite done! A few more tidbits.
The Precursor to the Festival of States
In 1896 Tomlinson organized a parade for Washington’s birthday, the city’s first. He donated all decorations for the parade which included 250 American flags and bunting. The festival persisted for many years. When tourism caught hold the parade was reorganized as a patriotic celebration of the people from the many states that wintered in St. Pete.
The City’s First Car
As if all the rest wasn’t enough, Tomlinson introduced the auto age to St. Petersburg when he tooled around town in November 1905 driving an Orient Buckboard.
The car had a one-cylinder gas engine mounted above the rear axle and a tiller for steering. The “speed limit” in the one-car town was 6 mph although the car was allegedly capable of around 35. Allegedly, the car had a propensity for getting stuck in the sandy roads. I like to think after all he did that there was always someone around to help in getting it rolling again.
Tomlinson was an unsung hero of St. Pete who may not have had an equal. A few years before his death in 1938 at age 94, the city dedicated the Adult Vocational School at Mirror Lake to him, calling it the Tomlinson Adult Vocational Center. News of this brought tears to his eyes at age 91. The center has recently been closed, and with it the only reminder of his amazing work for the city has been left to history. Hopefully in the future city leaders may again recognize his amazing contributions and rededicate an appropriate structure to his legacy.
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