By Charles Nelson
Where would you go to find Florida’s ‘Spotless Town’? Here’s a hint: try as you might, you won’t find it. This once charming example of a complete industrial town about 3 miles southeast of Plant City no longer exists. Yet, from 1908 until mid-century, the little village of Coronet was a shining example of the phosphate industry’s company towns.
Phosphate mining is an essential part of our county’s history. Millions of years ago, Florida was underwater, and phosphate mined in eastern Hillsborough County comes from sediment deposited on that prehistoric sea floor. Beginning in 1908, the Coronet Phosphate Company pioneered pebble phosphate mining near Plant City. (Earlier river mining had been occurring in the Alafia River basin.)
Almost immediately, the Coronet mine, along with its processing plant, was very successful. Tampa’s newspapers credited the Coronet mine as a boon to downtown Tampa’s new port.
It was also a new, major employer for much of Eastern Hillsborough’s unskilled labor force.
The company quickly realized that to stabilize that workforce, it would have to create a new town at the mine site. Existing roads to and from the mine and plant were poor to nonexistent and sure to hinder steady employment. For the plant to be successful, workers would have needed to live on-site.
The new small town of Coronet, with a little over 300 people, was an instant success. About 100 wooden company cottages were built (in three different sizes) with galvanized tin roofs. To maintain segregated living quarters, 72 of those cottages were for white workers and situated south of the plant. To the east, the company constructed another 24 houses to house black workers.
At first, workers lived in the houses rent-free. Later, tenants paid a small rent. The company maintained all of the community’s homes and grounds to ensure its pristine appearance.
A 1910 newspaper reports, “[Coronet] is a beautiful little town, well-equipped in every way. True, you may say that it is a ‘private town,’ as the phosphate company owns it. Still, it is there and is unmistakable evidence of prosperous conditions.” Only the hum of the nearby plant and mine gave proof of the industrial nature of the town.
The community also boasted a clubhouse, a library, a swimming pool, tennis courts, a movie theater, a nine-hole golf course and a church. (In 1930, the company dismantled the church as worshippers started finding more familiar nearby denominations.)
Company-based baseball teams, including the Prairie Pebbles and the Miners, were cheered on by hundreds of fans as they played other Hillsborough County and Polk County teams. (In many regards, the community was idyllic and remembered as such by residents reminiscing later.)
A commissary, or company store, existed on the property until 1973. Here residents bought necessities, rather than being forced to face the long trek to Plant City. In true company town fashion, ‘chits’ were sometimes provided in workers’ paychecks to cash in at the company store for needed supplies.
In 1912, the company built a beautiful bungalow-style home for the director of the plant. This remarkable structure is the only building still standing in what was once Coronet. The house is listed on Hillsborough County’s Historic Homes inventory. Today, it sits well back from Coronet Rd., but it is still visible through the trees.
The community did not last, however. The town was purely a company town. When area phosphate mining began to slow, starting in the late 1920s, the company found it more challenging to maintain the village. By 1953, Coronet Phosphate sold the plant and all its assets to the Smith-Douglas Companies of Virginia.
The new company began offering residents the opportunity to buy their homes for the fair price of $200 to $500. The company also paid to move many of the structures to other parts of Hillsborough County. By 1964, all of Coronet’s homes were gone. Later owners dismantled the plant, and today, there is scant evidence that this booming little town of Coronet ever existed.