Why do they call it that? Tampa International Airport and Lake Istokpoga

6:35 AM, May 4, 2011   |    comments
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This postcard celebrated Drew Field, which is now the site of Tampa International Airport.

Nearly all of us have taken off or touched down from the runways at Tampa International Airport. But back when the first planes landed there, the place had no runways at all.

Why do they call it Lake Istokpoga?

What a peaceful place! But I wouldn't go swimming if I were you.

Early translators connected this Highlands County spot with a single disturbing incident.

To the Seminole Indians, the translators said, "isti" means people; "ak" means down in the water; and "poki" means finished, destroyed, or killed.

That's why at least one old map gives both the Indian and English names: Like Istokpoga or Drowned Man's Lake.

Why do they call it Tampa International Airport

This airport today is a maze of escalators, parking garages, and a half-dozen concourses. But when the first planes landed here, this was a grass field.

"Its roots go back to the 1920s, and to a man named John Drew," said Rodney Kite-Powell, curator of history at the Tampa Bay History Center.

He says this fella John Drew had an open field and an idea: "He and the city got together and opened up a small municipal airport," Kite-Powell said.

"Basically, it was just a cow pasture that had some stumps in it. So if you're taking off or landing there, it was pretty treacherous."

Because of that slight stump problem, mainly daredevils and cargo flew from Drew's field. One old photo shows a truckload of tasty Ruskin corn being loaded onto a plane.

People preferred to fly as passengers from Peter O. Knight Airport on Davis Islands.

"World War II came, and there was the need to establish an Army air field," Kite-Powell said.

Suddenly snazzy runways, buildings -- a whole Army Air Corps base -- appeared at Drew's field.

And it was now officially called -- in the Army's no-imagination style -- Drew Field.

After the war, the Army moved out, and a political dogfight began.

Hillsborough and Pinellas leaders both wanted to establish the area's top international airport on their turf.

So folks on the Hillsborough side set theirs up at Drew Field -- about as close to Pinellas as they could get without building some kind of floating runway.

That move snatched serious flight traffic away from Pinellas County, making the airport in Tampa the main terminal serving people all around the Tampa Bay area.

"It wasn't until 1947 that the name Tampa International Airport was applied to John Drew's field," Kite-Powell said.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

We'll be featuring new "Why do they call it that?" stories each Wednesday on 10 News at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Check out previous editions of "Why do they call it that?" plus links to photos and maps from Tampa Bay's past at our "Why do they call it that?" website: wtsp.com/callitthat.

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Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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