White sand paths connected the community of Dobyville, forming play places and walkways with soft edges. Nearby, in the wealthy section of Hyde Park, streets paved in red brick were neat and definite. So were the era’s social courses.
White plans framed Dobyville’s sole schoolhouse at 307 South Dakota Avenue, where black students read and studied and learned, then danced in all white for May Day celebrations.
White sand in the cold concrete of the Crosstown connects the community today, though it buries much of Dobyville’s tangible existence. Records refer to the area as West Hyde Park. The borders, variable by accounts, were never marked. It can’t be found on Wikipedia [Editor’s note, August 2020: Dobyville now has a Wikipedia entry]. So, historians and preservationists continue to conserve its story.
In the early 1900s, many of Hyde Park’s black residents worked the homes of the area’s wealthy whites. And on the west side of the affluent community, the built a community of their own. With the help of Richard C. Doby, its namesake, Dobyville grew.
R.C. Doby couldn’t read or write, but he helped pen the history of Dobyville and Tampa. At the turn of the 20th century, he donated land for public purposes — for churches and for a school. Dobyville School’s beginnings date back to 1910. It was the heartbeat of the village.
Rodney Kite-Powell, curator of the Tampa Bay History Center, remembers his sixth grade year at Roland Park Elementary School and his principal, Mary Bryant.
“You don’t think about your principal going to school,” Kite-Powell says. “Mrs. Bryant lived there and went to school at Dobyville Elementary. It was severely underfunded and underdeveloped, but it produced leaders.”
He scoured old phone books and directories to find the names and addresses of Dobyville residents. In 1927, the total population of black residents in Tampa was 23,323. Dobyville’s population was 2,835.
“You hear so much, and rightly so, about Central Avenue, about the businesses and the famous people who lived there,” Kite-Powell says. “But there are other neighborhoods that you just don’t hear about. This hidden away place caught my interest. It seemed special.”
According to Kite-Powell’s research, Dobyville’s rough historic boundaries run from North Willow and Fig streets south to Swann, west to South Albany, north to Kennedy, east to Rome, north to Fig and back east to North Willow.
A neighborhood cohesive in spirit, its residents were tied by the school, businesses, churches and kinship. Railroad lines, including H.B. Plant’s original 1889 rail extension, moved through Dobyville, servicing warehouses and small businesses. Mt. Zion AME Church, built in the 1910s, is one of Dobyville’s only surviving structures — the rest lie beneath new construction. Standing proudly at 111 South Dakota Avenue, facing a fast food restaurant, it has been the meeting place for Hyde Parkers of Dobyville who gather each year for a reunion in the old neighborhood. They are running out of places to meet [Editor’s note: The congregation relocated to Riverview in February 2007, and the church was demolished in 2008. The site is now the location of Exeter House, the headquarters of the travel company Exeter International].
“Dobyville’s almost gone, almost forgotten,” Kite-Powell says. “But a few people still remember it. They point to their youth and say that’s where they learned right from wrong. I’d just like people to know it was there.”