Just when you think that designing and mass-producing the first low-priced American motor vehicle would keep one satisfied while building a legacy, Ransom Eli Olds has shown us otherwise. When the sky is your limit, you can always do more. Even build a whole town from scratch. Yes, even at the beginning of the 20th century, when logistics was “slightly” more complicated than today.
Oldsmar, a small city located on the northern tip of Tampa Bay in Florida, is living proof of what a single man can achieve. Named after its creator R.E. Olds, Oldsmar today is one of the safest and coziest places to live in Florida. Even though 2000 marked the end of the Oldsmobile, the first historic achievement of Olds, his other creation, Oldsmar, continues to live and prosper to this day.
How did Oldsmar begin?
In 1913, at the age of 52, after living for most of his life in Michigan, R.E. Olds moved to Daytona Beach. He was enchanted by the warm and relaxing beach lifestyle of Florida, so he decided that he wanted to leave a legacy in the Sunshine state.
A bold idea required brave action. The audacious entrepreneur sold some valuable real estate in order to buy 37,541 acres of land for around $400,000 (or the equivalent of $10 million today). He wanted to build a city, a real community. Olds already had a vision and a plan for it.
What was R.E. Olds vision for Oldsmar?
“Oldsmar for Health, Wealth, and Happiness.” This was the slogan used to attract residents and investors in Oldsmar. This motto explains a lot about what R.E. Olds dreamt the city would represent. He wanted to build a community of workers, not just of wealthy people, who would cooperate and enjoy their family lives.
With wide tree-lined boulevards and road names such as Congress or Jefferson, Oldsmar resembled the Washington DC city plan. It was also designed and built by some of the best Boston engineers.
At some point, he also wanted to build a golf course and a luxury hotel to attract visitors, but this plan was unsuccessful. Instead, the city received its first inn: Wayside Inn, which became a central landmark for Oldsmar. A casino and even a horse racetrack became part of the community, as the city’s population grew. Yet, even though R.E. Olds has envisioned Oldsmar to have 100,000 residents during his lifetime, the population only reached 200 – a stretch too far from his vision.
Considering that R.E. Olds had spent almost $5 million in investments for the city, he must have left disappointed of not making it grow as in his dreams. In fact, he lost $3 million more in the process of selling some of his land and properties there.
What is Oldsmar like today?
It is true that in the past Oldsmar has been a part of a few different scandals, especially during the time of Harry E. Prettyman, when charges of fraudulent sales made the headlines. However, today, Oldsmar is a cozy small town surrounded by farmlands. The city population has grown throughout the years, and as of 2019, counted around 15,000 inhabitants.
Some small businesses have decided to invest in the area, opening restaurants, cafes, and shops. But also larger firms such as Nielsen Media Research has chosen Oldsmar to place its main offices and increase local employment. Oldsmar has its own website, where any resident or visitor can find useful information on events or city services. Definitely, this place has come a long way from its inception.
So, is Olsdmar a failed dream or a long-lived heritage of R.E.Olds?
While there have been attempts to change the name of Oldsmar to Tampa Shores, they were unsuccessful. Probably because they were not representative of the city’s identity and origin.
Even though the city had its ups and downs, it has managed to thrive, while providing employment and safety for its people. Most importantly, every year, Oldsmar celebrates its origins and history during different city events, honoring its founder R.E. Olds.
This shows that although in the short term, R.E. Olds may have not fully completed his vision of a large city, the fact that a town carrying his name has lived to this day is evidence of his long-lived heritage. Because, after all, dreams have their own ways of eventually becoming true, following curious paths.
Have you heard of Oldsmar before? Are you also inspired, like me, to pay this little city a visit? Who knows, one day, you might find yourself driving your epic wheels on an epic road trip to Florida.