Some residents push to add 'Dobyville' to Hyde Park's historic district

Some residents in the Hyde Park area of Tampa want to expand local historic district designation and protection to include where a formerly thriving Black neighborhood once existed.

For Tara Nelan, moving into a new home on Azeele Street meant inheriting the legacy that comes with it.

"This home was once occupied by Richard Doby," said Nelan, who bought the home and moved in in April 2020. "He donated land for churches, a school, a cemetery, which I think is one of the lost cemeteries of the city."

Richard Doby’s name is etched in a historic marker for the historically Black neighborhood named after him, Dobyville. 

"Dobyville was a section of the Hyde Park neighborhood in South Tampa, and it was one of the larger African American neighborhoods in the era before integration" said Rodney Kite-Powell, the director of Touchton Map Library at the Tampa Bay History Center.

Many residents of Dobyville worked for white families living in Hyde Park in the early 1900s to 1920s, walking to work from their working-class homes, Kite-Powell said. It was also a thriving community.

"It wasn’t solely about people who worked in those homes. There were churches and there was a school and there were businesses and there were actually middle-class families who had their own businesses," said Kite-Powell. 

But more than a 100 years later, the schools, the churches, many homes are all gone. Dobyville, which was once a thriving African American neighborhood, is now almost entirely gone.

"Why is Dobyville no longer around? Well kind of one reason is because of integration but also because of gentrification, the construction in part of what is now known as the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway," said Kite-Powell.

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The area’s neighborhood associations are working to preserve what’s left from further change by asking the city to expand the Hyde Park Local Historic District to include the area formerly known as Dobyville. 

"Applications to the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) were submitted in May 2021 by the Spanishtown Creek Neighborhood Association and the Historic Hyde Park Neighborhood Association for consideration to expand the Hyde Park Local Historic District," the City of Tampa’s architectural review and historic preservation manager Dennis Fernandez said to FOX 13. "The discussion on the expansion of the Hyde Park Local Historic District has been going on for quite some time and Historic Preservation staff has presented information to property owners in both associations multiple times over the past couple of years." 

The Spanishtown Creek association president told FOX 13 the process has included multiple community meetings over the last few years and momentum stalled during the pandemic. After a meeting on August 10 where Fernandez spoke to residents about the process, neighbors said they hope this latest effort will be the catalyst to launch permanent change.

"It’s interesting. These two places are adjacent, and one is incredibly popular, and we know all about it and the other is kind of shrouded in mystery," said Kite-Powell of Hyde Park and Dobyville. 

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Nelan wants to bring that mystery into the light. She keeps a map of Dobyville in a picture frame inside her house.

"It sometimes gives me the chills. I like to think that it still holds some of the character, the walkable streets, the treelined streets," said Nelan. "If you talk with people who lived here for quite some time, they’ll tell you it used to be dirt streets and things like that."

"The expansion would provide heightened protection for the historically-significant buildings in the area and ensure that new buildings are architecturally compatible with the character of the neighborhood," Fernandez said. "Areas designated as a local historic district engage in a design review process with the Architectural Review Commission."

There is a public hearing set for August 30 at 5:30 p.m. before the Historic Preservation Commission to consider the expansion. If it’s recommended by the Historic Preservation Commission, then the request will go to Tampa City Council for two public hearings for final consideration.  

The city said the expanded designation would protect historic buildings like Nelan’s home.

"This is the only building still standing that he had something to do with and it’s so important to keep that story alive," said Nelan of her historic home.

It’s a process years in the making, and some neighbors hope it ends with preserving Tampa’s Black history.  

"It’s pretty special to be part of this story and even more important now for me to keep this house standing," she said.