Hillsborough County’s Memorial Highway

Memorial Highway was constructed in 1921 to commemorate those who perished fighting in World War I.   An identical statue was built and placed at each end of the highway.  Names of local soldiers who died in battle were inscribed near the base of the statue.

One of the two original World War I statues.
One of the two original World War I statues.

Today, one of the statues sits in a park along what was the original Memorial Highway.  The little-known park is located in Tampa at the southeast corner of Kennedy Boulevard and Sherrill Street, across from Westshore Plaza.

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The second statue is currently placed at the American Legion Cemetery in Tampa at the intersection of Kennedy Boulevard and Church Street.

Memorial Highway was built as a road to gain access to the Pinellas County line, ending near the newly-incorporated City of Oldsmar.  For people from St. Petersburg, Clearwater, and other Pinellas County locales, it was the quickest way to Tampa, spanning land north of Old Tampa Bay.

When first built, it was one of the finest highways in the state.  The surface of the road was remarkably smooth, a relief to drivers accustomed to bumpy roads.  The road was constructed of asphalt blocks made locally and delivered to the site.

An additional option was available to south Pinellas commuters wishing to go to Tampa, with the opening of the Gandy Bridge in 1924.  A toll was required to cross, but shaved many miles off of a drive from St. Petersburg to Tampa.

Nonetheless, Memorial Highway was still a key option to access Tarpon Springs, Safety Harbor, Palm Harbor (known as Sutherland until 1925), and New Port Richey.

Part 1: Memorial Highway’s Past — Tampa

Taking Lafayette Street and Grand Central Avenue out of downtown Tampa, you’d travel west until reaching Howard Avenue.  Grand Central Avenue west of Brevard Street, and all of Lafayette Street, were renamed Kennedy Boulevard in 1964.  Going straight from that point was the beginning of Memorial Highway.

One of the two original World War I memorial statues was located in a roundabout in the middle of the intersection.  Today, that intersection is Kennedy Boulevard and Howard Avenue.

Memorial Highway and monument - Tampa, Florida. 19--?. Color postcard. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. Accessed 16 Aug. 2016.
Memorial Highway and monument – Tampa, Florida. 19–?. Color postcard. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. Accessed 16 Aug. 2016.

From there, Memorial Highway continued west to an intersection with Henderson Boulevard, a diagonal route ending in South Tampa’s Sunset Park neighborhood.

The highway continued along the same path as today’s Kennedy Boulevard through intersections with Sterling Avenue, Vera Avenue (now Dale Mabry Highway), Lois Avenue, and Westshore Boulevard.

Just west of the current intersection of Kennedy and Westshore, Memorial made a curve to the northwest.  The current westbound curve is almost located in the same spot, though multiple intersection realignments have occurred.

 

Part 2: Memorial Highway’s Past/Present — Tampa International Airport Realignment

The old stretch of Memorial Highway maintained an arrow-straight northwest-southeast alignment for nearly 2-1/2 miles.   Today’s roadway configuration is many lanes wide and features a few curves.

The first intersection along this stretch was with Cypress Street.  As far back as 1938, Cypress Street to the west dead-ended at the shore of Old Tampa Bay.  Today, the Cypress Street dead end is the site of the City of Tampa’s Cypress Point Park.

Spruce Street ended on Memorial Highway where the large spaghetti interchange with Tampa International Airport is today.  Years before Spruce Street’s configuration into Columbus Drive via Boy Scout Boulevard, Spruce was a straight route travelling through the Tampa neighborhood of Carver City.

The next intersection with Memorial Highway was with Columbus Drive.  This provided a route out of the heart of West Tampa directly to Memorial Highway.  The intersection itself, as well as large strips of both Columbus and Memorial, was demolished in the 1960s as Tampa International Airport’s main runway was built.

Columbus Drive was extended west of Memorial in 1934 to reach the Davis Causeway, now the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

Remnants of the old highway still exist today immediately after the old intersection.  However, access is strictly prohibited everywhere east of the Veterans Expressway as its sits on airport property.

Today, as part of State Road 60 and State Road 589 (Veterans Expressway), Memorial Highway loops around the airport until it reaches exit 3, where Memorial resumes.

The northernmost 1000′ of the diagonal section of Memorial Highway is still accessible via Skyway Park.  This stretch is part of a bike and pedestrian path linking Skyway Park with the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

The current Skyway Park parking lot was where this diagonal section of Memorial Highway ended and made its way west.  Dana Shores Drive is now the name of that westbound stretch.

The highway soon curved back to due north again along today’s George Road.  Half a mile to the north came a split in the road.  A left turn was a continuation on Memorial Highway.  A right turn went east towards Tampa on Tampa Bay Boulevard.

Tampa Bay Boulevard went straight through what’s now Tampa International Airport’s Marriott Hotel.  It then curved to the southeast, going through the current Hillsborough Community College campus before curving due east along its current path.

Before Tampa International Airport‘s expansion, completed in 1971, the airport terminal was located at the intersection of Columbus Drive and Westshore Boulevard.  Before that, the runways were part of Drew Army Airfield from 1939-1946 before being turned over to the City of Tampa.

Part 3: Memorial Highway’s Present — Town-N-Country


Westbound now, Memorial Highway runs along its original path, soon curving northwest and running parallel to the shoreline of Old Tampa Bay.

A satellite Army installation took up land on the left side of the road in the current Baycrest Park subdivision.  Bombing ranges also continued northwest in the mangroves and pine scrubs between Memorial and the bay.

An intersection with US Highway 92 was built circa 1926, which also became known as Hillsborough Avenue.  Hillsborough Avenue ended at Memorial Highway, and US Highway 92 continued right–northwest along Memorial Highway.  Hillsborough Avenue was expanded westbound in the mid 1940s, going parallel with Memorial Highway.  US Highway 92 was reconfigured to no longer follow Memorial Highway when Hillsborough Avenue’s expansion was finished.

This intersection was one of two with Hillsborough Avenue.  Today, this intersection is signed as Sheldon Road north of Hillsborough Avenue due to a 1990s redesign.  Continuing west on Memorial Highway today is inconvenient, requiring a u-turn on busy Sheldon Road.

Memorial Highway continued on its path, crossing Rocky Creek and Dick Creek.  A bypass canal was built in the 1950s to relieve adjacent Rocky Creek and divert floodwater from Town-N-Country.  A bridge was never built, making Hillsborough Avenue the official road to the west.  A pedestrian bridge was built in 2006 linking the two stretches of Memorial Highway.

Travel down the present day highway west of the Hillsborough Avenue intersection is possible with some detours.  Bicycling and even walking are possible throughout.  Bicycling and walking isn’t difficult thanks to relatively little thru traffic.

Memorial Highway continues again at the south trailhead for the Upper Tampa Bay Trail, at Montague Street, near Alonso High School.  An antenna farm for several local radio stations is nearby.  The high school sits on the former site of the Hillsborough County Sheriffs Office pistol range.

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Pedestrian bridge over near former passage of Memorial Highway, just east of Montague Street. Part of Upper Tampa Bay Trail.

Memorial shares a roadway with Montague Street until it hits a roundabout, forcing southbound travel down Montague until it reaches Hillsborough Avenue.  Memorial Highway, however, is still visible at the roundabout, despite no motor vehicle access.  This is believed to be a design to keep Memorial Highway to local traffic, encouraging the use of high-speed, 6-lane Hillsborough Avenue instead.

Part 4: Memorial Highway’s Present — Westchase and Oldsmar

The next Memorial Highway intersection is with Countryway Boulevard.  From that point on, travel down the original Memorial Highway is possible.  Also, eastbound travel along Memorial is possible up to and including the Montague roundabout.

Countryway Avenue was built in the early 1990s and Montague Street was built about 10 years later as part of the Westchase expansion.

Westbound from Countryway Avenue, Memorial Highway is a rural, low traffic, 2-lane road.

Memorial Highway, near Double Branch Creek crossing.
Memorial Highway, near Double Branch Creek crossing.

Two bridges cross the branches of Double Branch Creek.  Sawgrass can be seen near the creeks which are near their exit point to Old Tampa Bay.  A few housing subdivisions and an RV park are present.  Few old structures remain, but the narrow road is still much as it’s been for decades.

Shortly after the western Double Branch Creek bridge, Memorial reaches its final present-day intersection–Double Branch Road.  A short jog takes you out to Hillsborough Avenue.

Farther down Double Branch Road is Upper Tampa Bay Park, not to be confused with the trail.  Upper Tampa Bay Park is mainly a nature preserve and is located near Old Tampa Bay.

Near to where Memorial Highway met its second intersection with Hillsborough Avenue, Memorial is now a cul-de-sac.  Memorial Highway west of Double Branch Road serves several small businesses built before the present road configuration was completed.

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The end of Memorial Highway, where it once became an apex with Hillsborough Avenue.  Now a dead end.

The final stretch of Memorial west of Double Branch sat entirely along the current stretch of Hillsborough Avenue, ending at the Pinellas-Hillsborough county line.  Today, Race Track Road sits on the county line.

Memorial Highway became Tampa Road at the county line.  The first settlement along Tampa Road was the City of Oldsmar before continuing westbound en route to the Pinellas Coast.

A World War I memorial statue identical to the one in Tampa sat that the western end of Memorial Highway.

Two memorial trailheads.  One highway skirting the northern and eastern shores of Old Tampa Bay.  One link to Tampa and Pinellas County before bridges and causeways.  One dedication to World War I veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice.

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