By Tamas Mondovics
Standing in front of a large crowd with a giant pair of scissors at hand, Sheriff David Gee officially cut the ribbon on the front doors of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) History Center, located at 2001 N. 19th St. on the corner of Ninth Avenue and 19th Street in Ybor City.
The opening of the History Center earlier this month was more than just an outlet to display the various aspects of sheriff’s office history. To those that worked on the project, making the museum a reality was also a celebration of 170 years of law enforcement excellence.
The facility will now showcase the evolution of the Department of Detention Services, historical uniforms, law enforcement technologies and equipment, and a Fallen Heroes room, in addition to an extensive badge collection and hundreds of photographs.
“We’ve been diligently working to make this a reality,” Deputy Jerry Carey said just before Gee cut the ribbon.
Carey emphasized that the History Center is an opportunity to interact with the community when he said, “It is a great place for people to visit and to share their experiences.”
First inside the renovated and tastefully decorated building, Gee spoke proudly about the making and seeing the project become a reality as he welcomed local residents, friends, and fellow officers along with members of the media.
“It is neat to see this project now ready to be enjoyed by the community as it is a great reflection on the history of Hillsborough County,” Gee said, adding that over the years artifacts and photographs, old uniforms, equipment, badges and jail logs have just been laying around or being collected, but are now on display.
To gather 170 years of history and pack them into an approximately 1,200 sq. ft. museum was not an easy task, but thanks to a dedicated team of retired and current deputies led by HCSO Captain Jim Bradford, it is now a part of HCSO’s history.
“The project took five years and everyone who had something to share was more than willing to contribute,” Bradford said. “We are very pleased with how the center turned out and are looking forward to adding to the collection and to our County’s law enforcement history.”
The opening celebration would not have been complete without the presence of many who have been making history including former HCSO Major Ron Hartley, who worked for the Sheriff’s Office for four decades.
As he made his way through the Center, Hartley, 64, visibly took delight in recognizing old friends and recalling various incidents triggered by the photographs scattered throughout the various rooms.
“Things were a bit different back then,” Hartley said, adding, “Times have sure changed, over the years.”
Perhaps one of the most sobering display was the Fallen Heroes room, featuring Sergeant Ben P. Wilder, Jr., who was killed while making an arrest in July, 1962. Sgt. Wilder’s uniform—donated to the museum by his widow 87-year-old Dorothy Wilder Alster,—is now on display behind glass. Wilder was 39 years old.
“I am glad that I was able to donate this uniform to the museum,” Dorothy said. “The Sheriff’s Office has done a wonderful job of making sure that Ben is remembered.”
HCSO hopes to continue collecting artifacts and to bring new displays to the center in the future.
The history center is open Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and Saturday from 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m. For more information about the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, visit www.hcso.tampa.fl.us.