Why do they call it that? How the Crosstown became the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway and history of Mulberry, Florida

7:08 AM, Jul 9, 2010   |    comments
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It's the 50th place we've covered in our "Why do they call it that?" series. So we have a special guest: the man who shares his name with one of Tampa Bay's main highways. Also, the tale behind the tiny town of Mulberry.

Why do they call it the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway?

Well, let's ask the man himself: Lee Roy Selmon.

With a broad smile, Selmon starts the story. Two radio hosts at 970 WFLA in Tampa were chatting about how to honor Selmon, who'd just become the first Tampa Bay Buccaneer to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"And they just said, 'Well, we should name an expressway after him! We should change the name of the Crosstown to the Selmon Expressway.' And I was surprised by how quickly that caught on," Selmon said.

By 1999, it was official. The announcement caught Selmon off guard -- partly because he was still alive.

"I understood that most times, these things are done when you're passed on. So I asked them, 'Do you know something that I don't know? Because if you do, especially about that, please let me know!'" he laughed.

The expressway authority keeps Selmon posted on what's happening with his highway. But they do not cut him a check.

"Do you get any of the toll that comes on it? No, I don't get any of the toll that comes on it," the former Bucs star said with a smile.

"My worst fear is getting a ticket on the Selmon Expressway."

After retiring from the Bucs, Selmon served as USF's athletic director and founded his own chain of restaurants. Among all of the honors he's received over the years, Selmon says the expressway stands out as truly unique and special.

"To me, it reflects the love that the community has. And the relationship that I've enjoyed with the community ever since I got here in 1976," Selmon said.

And there's another surprising Selmon street story that dates back to his arrival in '76. When they first came to Tampa Bay, Lee Roy and his brother Dewey went for a drive.

They came across two streets -- right next to each other -- named "Leroy" and "Dewey." And the streets were just blocks from Tampa Stadium.

It was just a coincidence; the roads had held those names for decades before those two young draft picks came to town. But to this day, Lee Roy takes it as a sign that he was meant to spend his life in Tampa Bay.

Why do they call it Mulberry?

This Polk County city started off so small, it didn't even have a railroad station.

So conductors had instructions to drop off cargo -- even people -- at a mulberry tree alongside the tracks here.

The city of Mulberry survived and grew in that spot.

That mulberry tree also grew -- but it eventually died, as trees do.

A new tree was planted in the same spot as the original, so folks can still come and sit in the shade of their city's namesake.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

There are a lot more places out there with names that could use explaining. If you want to ask "Why do they call it that?" send an e-mail with a name that has you curious to Grayson Kamm using this link.

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