OLDSMAR, Fla. — In the early 1900s, automobile mogul R.E. Olds came to Florida with a dream to develop land in the northern part of Tampa Bay.
What You Need To Know
- A hurricane hit the city of Oldsmar on October 27, 1921
- The storm wiped out the city of 200 people
- Luckily the city made a comeback
- A wooden floorboard at the Oldsmar Historical Society serves as a reminder of the century-old storm
His new town of Oldsmar was supposed to be “the City of the Future.” However, the biggest storm in Bay Area history got in the way — the 1921 Hurricane.
“It ruined it,” said former Oldsmar Mayor Jerry Beverland. “Oldsmar died.”
Marilyn Gambel Schoenborn remembers hearing her father, Lown Gambel, talk about the storm. He was a child then.
“He always called it the storm of ’21, not the hurricane, but the storm of ’21,” Schoenborn said. “There was water everywhere. You couldn’t see anything but water.”
She remembers her father talking about all the water that was coming up the stairs into their family home.
“They were afraid of the water,” Schoenborn said. “They didn’t know if their house would be washed out.”
Only about 200 people lived in Oldsmar at that time, but most were left scrambling for higher ground.
“The surge went from the Bay all the way up to Tampa Road and washed away anything that was in its path,” said Oldsmar Historical Society volunteer Mary Ann Kruse.
With the streets filled with water, some people swam to get to the second floor of the only bank in the community. Others made it to a second-story home in the neighborhood. That home still stands on Park Boulevard and serves as a reminder of the hurricane. The former homeowner later used a piece of the floorboard to document what happened.
The inscription reads: “October 27, 1921. 18 inches. My family will be drowned. Neighbors rescued them. I was at work. Not able to get out. The winds too strong.”
The homeowner worked for R.E. Olds.
“He must have been very frightened for his family, not knowing,” Kruse said.
The wooden floorboard is now stored at the Oldsmar Historical Society.
“It was scary,” said former Mayor Jerry Beverland. “No one was prepared for it.”
Beverland has documented the storm’s impact on Oldsmar in several books that he has written about the city.
“Houses were washed off the foundation,” Beverland wrote. “Some totally destroyed. Some under eight feet of water.”
He said the hurricane was the beginning of the end for Oldsmar.
“They just forgot to put it in the coffin,” he said. "It had died.”
Not long after the hurricane, R.E. Olds cut his losses and left Florida. But luckily, the city made a come-back.
“Don’t give up,” Beverland said.”Your city’s dead? Bring her back to life.”
Now, a hundred years later, the city remembers the hurricane and celebrates a community that is stronger than before.