Carrollwood is one of Tampa’s most iconic suburbs. Though the community’s story often starts in the 1950s, it is actually quite a bit older than that. Lake Carroll appears, unnamed, on maps of Hillsborough County dating to the 1870s. The earliest references to the lake — found in Tampa newspapers — date to the 1880s. It is likely that the lake was named by a pioneer resident from Maryland for Charles Carroll, a wealthy Maryland landowner, Revolutionary-era figure and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Though the lake was only 8 miles north of Tampa’s city hall, it could have been in another time zone during the early part of the 20th century. Tampa’s road network ended at Sulphur Springs, as did the streetcar. Only a couple roads led north out of town — Florida Avenue out of downtown and Armenia Avenue out of West Tampa. Lake Carroll was due north of West Tampa, and Armenia ran just to the east of the lake.
Finally by the 1920s, Tampa’s growth began reaching nearer and nearer to the lake. The Sulphur Springs neighborhood continued developing, and a new subdivision called Forest Hills (also known as the North Side Subdivision) put residents even closer to Lake Carroll. The city of Tampa expanded its city limits up to and through Lake Carroll in 1925, which put the lake squarely in the sights of real estate developers. In the spring of 1925, a group of Tampa businessmen bought a 90-acre tract that had previously been used as a Boy Scout Camp for $20,000. That same day they sold it to a group of out-of-state investors for $30,000. A few weeks later, advertisements began to appear for Lake Carroll Estates.
The development was marketed as both an opportunity for investment and a place to live. As it turned out, the homes that were built were largely used as vacation homes for Tampa residents. While some people had beachfront vacation homes, it was much more popular to have a second home out in the country — preferably on a lake. The arrangement remained largely unchanged until the late 1950s, when the county began extending Dale Mabry Highway from its terminus at Hillsborough Avenue north to Pasco County. The Dale Mabry Extension, as it was called, passed just to the west of Lake Carroll. Matthew Jetton, president of SunState Builders, Inc., saw an opportunity and acquired 310 acres of land, consisting of orange groves owned by the Ingram Fruit Company, to build a new subdivision.
Much had changed since the 1920s, and key among those changes were the quality of the area’s roads and the quantity of automobiles on those roads. Where previous developers would have worried about how people would get to places like Lake Carroll, Jetton knew that he could build a suburban community centered on the convenience of the car. Jetton’s company planned 800 houses for a new community he named Carrollwood, located on the west side of Lake Carroll. In addition, the company built an office, a shopping center, a recreation center and a community beach. The company also launched a neighborhood newsletter, garden club and women’s club. All of this was situated around curved streets that did not conform to the normal grid pattern seen in older neighborhoods. The design and amenities led to Carrollwood being named U. S. Subdivision of the Year in 1961 by the National Association of Home Builders. In 1962, it won the Best Homes for Families award from Parents magazine.
Other developers soon saw Jetton’s success and created new subdivisions along other parts of the lake. Interestingly, there were sections of the lake that were open to the public. Even though roads were better and cars were more numerous, it was still difficult to get away to the beach on the Gulf Coast. Lakeside outings were common, with Lake Carroll, Lake Ellen and Ralston Beach at Egypt Lake — all in the same general area — popular swimming and picnicking destinations.
As the city grew and buildable land became less available, these bathing beaches eventually gave way to development. Larger lots, too, gave way to townhomes and condominiums in places like Carrollwood Village, which SunState developed in the mid-1960s on 1,900 acres of land on the west side of Dale Mabry. As the suburbs crept farther and farther away from the city center, places like Carrollwood did not feel quite as removed. This had both positive and negative consequences. The positives were that the conveniences of city life, like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and professional services, were closer at hand. The downside was traffic and congestion. Dale Mabry became like another member of the family for Carrollwood residents.
Today, most of the vacation homes from the 1920s-era Lake Carroll Estates are gone, and Original Carrollwood would qualify to become a historic district. Older Tampans would scoff at such a notion; to them, Carrollwood is that new place out in the woods. The truth is, it is a charming and — dare I say historic — neighborhood that has maintained its quiet charm and relaxing feel in spite of the growth surrounding it.