Hillsborough County, which takes its name from Wills Hill, British Secretary of State to the Colonies from 1768-1772, was first mapped and explored by the Spanish in the early 16th century. Between 1559 and 1819, the area now called Florida was under the rule of four nations: Spain, France, Great Britain and the United States. The United States purchased Florida from Spain in 1821 for $5 million.
On Jan. 25, 1834, the U.S. Legislative Council for the Territory of Florida approved an act organizing Hillsborough as Florida’s 19th county. In 1845, Florida was granted statehood.
At that time, Hillsborough County was a sprawling area that included what is now Pinellas, Polk, Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, DeSoto, Hardee and Highlands Counties, most of Glades County, and part of Lee County. Despite its size, Hillsborough’s population was only 836, not including soldiers or Native Americans.
When the first Commissioners met in 1846, the topics were taxes, transportation, a new courthouse and jail, and downtown development. The County tax raised $148.69 that year. Commissioners were paid $2 per day while in session.
In 1846, Commissioners approved plans for a new courthouse, since the original building, a small log cabin, was burned during the Second Seminole War. The project was turned over to Capt. James McKay in 1847, and he completed a two-story house, 20 feet by 45 feet, at a cost of $1,358. Commissioners later paid McKay an extra $10 for additional work.
In 1892, a red brick courthouse with a silver dome was built, occupying one square block in downtown Tampa. The building was designed by J.A. Wood, who also designed the Tampa Bay Hotel. Torn down in 1953, this distinctive courthouse is preserved in the County seal. The next courthouse was built in 1952, and is still used as an administrative building for the court system. The current main courthouse, the George E. Edgecomb Courthouse, opened in 2004, was built at the corner of Pierce Street and Twiggs Street. The current County government administration building, called County Center, opened in 1994. County Center was renamed the Frederick B. Karl County Center in 2000, in honor of the County Administrator who was instrumental in the purchase of the building.