By Charles Nelson
If you were pressed to name the location of the first teacher training school in Hillsborough County, would you answer: Bloomingdale?
The Bloomingdale School, for the primary grades, opened its doors in 1884 thanks to the efforts of Ludwig W. Buchholz. Buchholz completed his formal education in his native country, Germany, and continued his education in France and Italy. By 1880, his health began to fail, and he immigrated to Tampa after his doctors recommended a warmer climate.
Buchholz intended to make his living by cultivating orange groves. However, he found Tampa town land unsuitable for citrus farming and moved to Bloomingdale. There he bought an 80-acre plot of land from the John Carney family for his groves. (John Carney, another famed Bloomingdale resident, was ambushed and killed by Seminoles on this farm in 1856 during the Third Seminole War.)
In 1883, Buchholz began urging Bloomingdale area residents to build a school for their children. The community responded enthusiastically by collecting sufficient money for building materials and educational supplies, and the Bloomingdale School accepted its first students in September 1884. Buchholz was named its first teacher and taught students there until 1886.
The wood framed, one-room building was located about one mile north of today’s intersection of Lithia Pinecrest Rd. and Bloomingdale Ave. on Pearson Rd. It was the second school building constructed in Hillsborough County and the first built outside of the City of Tampa. (In 1876, the first Hillsborough County school was constructed in downtown Tampa. Beginning in 1885, that building served as Hillsborough High School’s first home.)
In 1887, Buchholz was named superintendent of public instruction for all of Hillsborough County. Before he took the job, Buchholz extracted a promise from the County to provide better teachers. He believed that the same kind of rigorous training he had received in Germany should apply to educators teaching Florida’s children.
While college-trained teachers did hold jobs in some Florida towns, there were not enough trained teachers to meet demand. That shortage was particularly acute in rural schools, where teachers were often appointed, with no real experience or training, simply because they agreed to do the job. His answer was to create the state’s first county ‘normal school’ for teacher training at the Bloomingdale School.
‘Normal school’ is the historical term for an institution created to train primary grade teachers how to teach. His school for teachers operated at the Bloomingdale School house for its first two months with 22 students enrolled from as far away as Gainesville and Dade County. Classes were held after the local children left for the day and taught by Buchholz himself, but space was limited in the small school.
Buchholz was forced to move the normal school to the nearby Presbyterian Church. Attendance averaged 54 students, and by 1893 that location was also bursting at the seams, so Buchholz moved the normal school to Plant City for more room and again in 1901 to St. Petersburg. The normal school merged with the University of Florida in 1905.
Buchholz went on to serve as an instructor and dean at both Florida State and the University of Florida before returning to Hillsborough County to serve as superintendent of schools. The Bloomingdale School served students until it was closed in 1920. At that time, students were sent to Brandon for schooling, and the building was converted into a private residence.