TAMPA - Two Civil War cannons rescued from the scrapheap by Henry B. Plant are being restored at the park named for the 19th century industrialist.
The cannons will be placed inside the 50-foot-long, 3 1/2-foot-high limestone wall workers began building Monday.
The nearly $90,000 project has been in the works for years and launches a seven-step restoration of Plant Park at the University of Tampa. The cannon project is privately funded by The Friends of Plant Park and The Fort Brooke Commission.
"To be actively birthing the first project is very exciting for everyone," said Sue Isbell, chairwoman of the Friends' Long Range Planning Committee.
The wall is designed to evoke a similar structure created to showcase the cannons when Plant salvaged the weapons about 110 years ago from historical Fort Brooke, on the downtown side of the Hillsborough River, project manager Christopher Ross said.
Plant called his landscaping concoction Spanish Fort. It was one of many decorative elements on the grounds of his Tampa Bay Hotel, now the university's distinctive Plant Hall.
The original wall was torn down for a university expansion in 1962. It was located in what today is a visitor's parking lot across from Plant Hall.
The new wall will be a few feet beyond the edge of the parking lot, where the cannons have rested atop two limestone blocks. The cannons are expected to be removed from the site this week.
"It's part of history," Ross said. "You lose your history, you lose your sense of place."
The cannons will be placed on military mounts in tribute to their original role of defending the city.
"It's going to be the best of both worlds," said Charles E. Spicola Jr., a former city councilman and chairman of The Fort Brooke Commission, which is dedicated to preserving the legacy of the fort's military and civilian pioneers.
Spicola said Confederate troops at the fort fired 24-pound shot from the cannons at Union gunboats in Hillsborough Bay at least twice. The weapons were disabled near the end of the war.
A third cannon from the fort is said to have been owned by a Bayshore Boulevard resident until being donated for scrap during World War II.
Ross said most of the wall and the associated landscaping and sidewalk reconfiguration will be completed before the Friends of Plant Park holds GreenFest, its annual fundraiser in the park, on March 29-30. Admission is $3.
A Picnic in the Park event from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday is sponsored by the Henry B. Plant Museum.
The cannons are expected to be returned to the park by mid-April.
The barrels will point toward the Kennedy Boulevard bridge and the mouth of the river.
Spicola said organizers are reviewing bids for the cannon preservation work.
Other elements of the park project, such as restoring a flagpole, adding signs and replanting gardens, are expected to take five years to complete.