“Mama Allie,” the matriarch of the Lykes Family, mother to seven sons and one daughter, is being honored by the International Museum of Women’s Pillar Program. Almeria Belle Mackay Lykes, youngest child of Captain James Mackay Sr., a Tampa shipping and real estate tycoon and wife to Dr. Howell T. Lykes was known by her family as “Mama Allie.” In order to celebrate her contributions to her community and family, Lykes family members made generous donations to the International Museum of Women Pillar Program in her honor.
Dr. Howell Tyson Lykes grew up in Spring Hill (Lykes Home not later development by same name), became a doctor in the late 1860’s and began practicing medicine in Columbia, South Carolina. He shortly gave up medicine and decided to move back to the Spring Hill family ranch where he got into the cattle and citrus industries. The homestead in Spring Hill, located near present day Fort Dade Ave and Citrus Way consisted of 500 acres. However, it was connections with Almeria’s family (The Mackays) that catapulted the Lykes business ventures.
Almeria’s parents, Capt. James Mackay, Sr. and Matilda Cail, were from Scotland and moved to Florida together in 1846 (nine years after they married).
Upon moving to Tampa, Capt. James Mackay operated a general store, a sawmill and began investing in real estate. He also owned and operated two schooners, shipping cargo between Florida, Cuba and South America.
During the “Great Gale of 1848” the Mackay home in Tampa was destroyed and they had to live in tents for sometime. Mackay then acquired property in downtown Tampa and Ballast Point. In 1858, when Almeria was 5 years old, her father established a business venture purchasing and shipping large cattle herds to Cuba, which made him one of “Tampa’s wealthiest and most respected residents.”
He operated the cattle shipments out of Ballast Point. James Mackay Sr. also served on Tampa’s City Council and was elected Mayor in 1859. During the Civil War, he and his schooners played a central role in blockade running for the Confederacy as well as Tampa’s only Civil War skirmish on Oct. 17, 1863. After the Civil War he returned to his shipping business.
Almeria and Dr. Howell Tyson Lykes probably met during one of Lykes’ business ventures to Tampa. They were married in 1874 and resided on the Lykes Spring Hill homestead for over 20 years. They are well known for building their own school house to educate their 8 children as well as children in the surrounding area. The Lykes children were introduced to the family business at a young age. A member of the Lykes family, Susan L. Mueller, writes in A Lykes Family History, that the children were each given two or three heifers to raise.
In 1879, Almeria purchased from her family, their block in the center of Tampa. Dr. Lykes built the Almeria Hotel on this property in 1886. Hampton Dunn, a noted journalist and publisher wrote a piece on the Almeria Hotel circa 1960 called, “TAMPA’S FIRST ’SKYSCRAPER’ STILL STANDS.” Sadly, it does not appear to be standing any more. Dunn writes,
“When this little fishing village blossomed into a town, back in the 1880s, the center of the community was the intersection of Franklin and Washington streets, several blocks south of the present heart of the city.
Along with a new railroad and a new humming industry, cigar making, the area got a new “skyscraper” in 1886. It was the beautiful three-story brick building housing the Almeria Hotel. It was built by Dr. Howell Tyson Lykes, a wealthy physician and cattleman of Brooksville who contributed much to the progress of Florida in his lifetime. The hotel was completed on Oct. 29, 1886, and was given the doctor’s wife’s name. She was Almeria Belle McKay, daughter of famed Tampa shipmaster and exporter, Captain James McKay, who Dr. Lykes married in 1874.
In fact, the new Almeria Hotel was erected on the birthplace of Mrs. Lykes. The Almeria was for years one of Tampa’s leading hostelries. The building was the third brick structure in the city, and the first three-story “skyscraper.”
When it was built, sand streets and wooden sidewalks served the center of town. In later years, the hotel operated as the Tampa Hotel. In 1947, the building became the operating headquarters for the vast Lykes Brothers, Inc. industrial and financial empires. The firm continued from here until 1968 when it moved to the old Hillsboro Hotel.”
During the 1880’s Dr. Lykes built his fortune by shipping his cattle to Cuba. He purchased the Ballast Point property from James Mackay Jr. in 1886, the same year as construction began on the Almeria Hotel.
Following multiple frosts in 1895, which destroyed a good portion of the Lykes citrus trees, Almeria and Dr. Lykes moved from Spring Hill to Tampa permanently. It was also an important move to prepare their sons to take over the family business. In 1900, Mama Allie’s two eldest boys, Fred and H.T. started Lykes Brothers, Inc., establishing an office in Havana, Cuba. Soon all of her boys were involved in the business. Mama Allie lived to see the beginning of the Lykes Brothers empire which grew to encompass multiple industries including citrus, cattle, meat packing, juice production, natural gas, banking and insurance. She passed away in 1926 at the age of 73.
To learn more about the International Museum of Women, go to: http://exhibitions.globalfundforwomen.org/