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Why do they call that? Small street helps solve big mystery | News

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Why do they call that? Small street helps solve big mystery

Divers from The Florida Aquarium will be heading "down below" this week.

They're going to check on an underwater piece of Tampa Bay history that was lost for nearly 150 years.

It was found, thanks to a connection to a humble street in Downtown Tampa.

Why do they call it Fortune Street?

This tiny, five-block-long twig of a road has one big story behind it.

"It's named for a woman named Madame Fortune, which is unusual for the downtown streets. It's the only street named for a woman in downtown."

Oh... and even more unusual?

"She was an African-American woman, and very few African-Americans owned land in the area," said Rodney Kite-Powell, curator of history at the Tampa Bay History Center.

He says in the years around the Civil War, Madame Fortune -- real name Fortune Taylor -- owned a sizable swath of land. To see it all, you have to head up 35 stories, to the roof of the new Element luxury apartments.

Her land ran along the Hillsborough River's east bank in modern Downtown Tampa, between where the Straz Center and Interstate 275 now sit.

And Madame Fortune's land helped solve a history mystery more than 100 years after she died.

At the Tampa Bay History Center, you can see two relics from the Scottish Chief. It's a southern ship, burned and sunk somewhere in the Hillsborough River after a Union sneak attack during the Civil War.

Archaeologists from The Florida Aquarium set out to find the Scottish Chief a few years ago.

But there's a lot of river here. Where should they look for this ship, this so-called "blockade runner?"

They found a critical clue:

"A diary entry from the time when it burned, from a young woman who was staying here in Tampa," Kite-Powell said.

"And she referenced seeing the blockade runner burning from Madame Fortune's property. And so, to see it burning there, she said it was just around the bend of the river, places it right where they found it."


A sonar search in the spot pinpointed by the diary turned up the outline of a sunken ship more than 100 feet long: the Scottish Chief.

Divers and archaeologists from The Florida Aquarium found more evidence in the mud and murky water ten feet below the surface.

Madame Fortune passed away and left no heirs.

With her blessing, developers transformed her land into what was then called North Tampa. At its heart, they created Fortune Street to honor this remarkable woman.

Since then, Downtown Tampa has changed and swallowed up most of Fortune Street.

Even the Fortune Street Bridge is now called the Laurel Street Bridge, because when I-275 was built, many of the roads in the area were re-routed.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

We feature new "Why do they call it that?" stories each Wednesday on 10 News at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Check out previous editions of the Emmy-nominated series at our "Why do they call it that?" website: wtsp.com/callitthat.


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