Why Is It Called Hillsborough County?

By Damon Duvall
Sun, Nov 19, 2023 at 10:15AM

Why Is It Called Hillsborough County?

Uncovering the Mystery: Why Is It Called Hillsborough County in Florida?

Nestled along the west coast of Florida lies a county steeped in history and mystery. But have you ever wondered, “why is it called Hillsborough County?” Prepare to embark on a journey that unravels the enigma behind its name, explores its rich history, and sheds light on the diverse and dynamic county it has become today.

Hillsborough County

From its early days under the rule of four different nations to its present-day status as a thriving hub of education, economy, and culture, Hillsborough County’s tale is one of transformation and resilience. So, let’s delve into the story behind the name and uncover the secrets that make this county truly unique, answering the question of why is it called Hillsborough County.

Key Takeaways

  • Hillsborough County was named in honor of Wills Hill, the 1st Marquess of Downshire and British Secretary of State for the Colonies under King George III.

  • Hillsborough County has a long history marked by Spanish settlers, Native American tribes, and four different nations before its incorporation into the US.

  • The county is committed to providing quality education and fostering economic growth through tourism, healthcare & technology industries as well as offering various attractions & landmarks with annual events that promote community spirit.

The Origin of Hillsborough County's Name

The name of Hillsborough County is not native to Florida but originates from Great Britain. The county is named after Wills Hill, the 1st Marquess of Downshire, also known as the Earl of Hillsborough. As the British Secretary of State for the Colonies under King George III, Wills Hill played a pivotal role in overseeing colonial policy in the American colonies, including present-day Florida.

Wills Hill’s tenure was marked by his opposition to granting concessions to the American colonists, ultimately leading to the tightening of British control over the colonies. His steadfastness in maintaining Britain’s grip on its American territories was honored by naming the county after him.

Who Was Wills Hill?

Born in 1718, Wills Hill was a prominent British politician who served as Secretary of State for the Colonies during the tumultuous years of the American Revolution. As the son of Trevor Hill, 1st Viscount Hillsborough, and Mary Rowe, Wills Hill was destined for a life in politics. He received his education at Oxford University, where he developed connections that would later prove instrumental in his political career.

The policies implemented by Wills Hill during his tenure as Secretary of State for the Colonies significantly affected the American colonies. He endorsed the Proclamation of 1763 and the Stamp Act, which fueled the colonists’ desire for independence. His steadfast support for British policies in America is the reason why his name is forever linked with Hillsborough County.

The Earl of Hillsborough Connection

In his role as the Earl of Hillsborough, Wills Hill oversaw British interests in the American colonies, including Florida. This connection to the colonies and his staunch support for British control led to the naming of Hillsborough County in his honor.

Though the Earl of Hillsborough’s tenure was controversial, his influence on the development of colonial America is undeniable. In fact, his policies and actions played a crucial role in shaping the history of not only Hillsborough County but also the entire nation.

A Brief History of Hillsborough County

The intricate history of Hillsborough County is a result of interactions among different cultures and nations, including Spanish settlers, Native American tribes, and the dominion of four different nations before it became part of the United States. Each of these significant events has left its mark on the county, creating a rich tapestry of stories that define its identity today.

From its early days under Spanish rule to its eventual incorporation into the United States, Hillsborough County has undergone dramatic transformations over the centuries. We will delve into the pivotal events that influenced its historical trajectory and paved the way for the current diversity and vibrancy of the county.

Spanish Settlers and Native Americans

When the Spanish explorers first arrived in Hillsborough County in 1513, they encountered the Native American Uzita tribe. Over time, a complex history of interactions and conflicts unfolded between the Spanish settlers and the indigenous population.

The Native American population was deeply affected by the arrival of Spanish settlers. Spanish colonization efforts in the 16th century and the establishment of missions aimed to convert Native Americans to Catholicism had lasting effects on the indigenous population. The full extent of this impact, however, remains largely unknown.

Florida Under Four Nations

Before becoming a part of the United States, Florida was under the control of Spain, France, and Great Britain. The transfer of power between these nations was facilitated by a series of treaties and military actions. The United States purchased Florida in 1821, which was the final step in this process.

  • In 1763, Spain ceded Florida to Britain as part of the Treaty of Paris.

  • During the French and Indian War, Britain captured Florida from France.

  • In 1783, Britain returned Florida to Spain in exchange for the Bahama Islands.

  • Finally, in 1821, Spain ceded Florida to the United States under the Adams-Onís Treaty.

The development of Hillsborough County was significantly influenced by this intricate history of changing sovereignties. The county was eventually established in 1834, during the U.S. territorial period, by separating it from parts of Alachua and Monroe counties. Since its creation, the county has experienced significant population growth, becoming one of the largest and most diverse counties in Florida.

The Act Organizing Hillsborough

The Act Organizing Hillsborough, passed on January 25, 1834, created Hillsborough County by carving it out from parts of Alachua and Monroe counties. The act marked the beginning of a new chapter in the county’s history, as it set the stage for its growth and development in the years to come.

At the time of its creation, Hillsborough County had a population of 836. From these humble beginnings, the county has grown and evolved into the diverse and vibrant community it is today. The influence of the various nations that ruled Florida prior to its statehood can still be seen in the county’s rich history and cultural heritage.

Geography and Demographics

Hillsborough County’s geography is characterized by a mix of urban and rural landscapes, access to the Gulf of Mexico, and borders with several neighboring counties. The history and ongoing development and growth of the county have been significantly shaped by its geographical features.

The county’s diverse population is a testament to its rich history and the various cultures that have contributed to its development over the centuries. From its early days under the rule of four different nations to its present status as a thriving hub of education, economy, and culture, Hillsborough County’s demographic landscape is a reflection of its unique past and its position as a populous county.

Land and Water Area

Hillsborough County’s geography encompasses a total land area of 1,022.5 square miles and a water area of 245.55 square miles. Its unique blend of urban and rural landscapes, coupled with its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, has been instrumental in shaping its character and guiding its evolution over time.

The Hillsborough River, which has been a source of sustenance for humans for at least 10,000 years, is among the county’s key geographical features. Native American burial mounds of several tribes can be observed along the river, and Spanish conquistadors also explored its waters. This rich history of human interaction with the river underscores the importance of the county’s diverse geography.

Population Growth and Diversity

Hillsborough County has experienced significant population growth over the years, with Hillsborough’s population now estimated at 1,528,924 according to the latest census. This growth is a testament to the county’s appeal as a thriving hub of education, economy, and culture.

The county’s population is incredibly diverse, reflecting its rich history and the various cultures that have contributed to its development. Hillsborough County is a melting pot of cultures and traditions, with a mix of:

  • White residents

  • Hispanic residents

  • Black or African American residents

  • Asian residents

This diversity, as recognized by the Census Bureau, adds to the county’s unique character and appeal, making the role of a county administrator even more essential.

Neighboring Counties

A map showing the location of Hillsborough County and its neighboring counties, including Pinellas, Pasco, and Manatee. The image is relevant to the topic of why is it called Hillsborough County as it shows the geographical location of the county in relation to its neighboring areas.

Hillsborough County shares borders with several other Florida counties, including:

  • Pasco County to the north

  • Polk County to the east

  • Manatee County to the south

  • Pinellas County to the west

These neighboring counties have their own distinct histories and cultural identities, which have influenced the development of Hillsborough County over time.

The historical connections between Hillsborough County and its neighboring counties are evident in the formation of some of these counties from parts of Hillsborough County itself. For example, Pinellas County was formed from the western section of Hillsborough County in 1911. These shared histories and geographical connections have shaped the development and growth of the region as a whole.

Education and Economy in Hillsborough County

Education and economy in Hillsborough County are driven by a strong public school system, higher education institutions, and various industries. The county’s commitment to providing quality education and fostering economic growth has made it an attractive destination for residents and businesses alike.

From its top-ranked public schools to its thriving industries, The robustness of education and economy in Hillsborough County signifies the county’s resilience and ambition. We will examine the major contributors to the county’s education and economy and their role in its progression and development.

Hillsborough County Public Schools

Being the third-largest in Florida and the seventh-largest in the United States, Hillsborough County Public Schools is a notable school district in Hillsborough County Florida. Established in 1848, the district has a long history of providing quality education to its residents. Today, it encompasses 313 schools, offering students a wide range of educational opportunities and resources.

The district is home to several high-performing schools, including:

  • Plant High School

  • Newsome High School

  • Steinbrenner High School

  • Bell Creek Academy High School

These schools have earned recognition for their academic excellence, making Hillsborough County Public Schools a leading district in the state and the nation.

Higher Education Institutions

Renowned for its diverse educational opportunities, Hillsborough County houses the University of South Florida, Hillsborough Community College, and the University of Tampa. These institutions not only provide quality education to their students but also contribute to the county’s economic growth and development through research and innovation.

The University of South Florida, established in 1956, has grown into a prominent Florida university and a highly regarded research institution. Hillsborough Community College, founded in 1968, offers a variety of majors and courses, serving more than 43,000 students each year. These higher education institutions play a crucial role in shaping the county’s future workforce and driving its economy.

Economic Drivers

The local economy of Hillsborough County, along with neighboring Lee County, is bolstered by key industries such as tourism, healthcare, and technology. The presence of these industries has created thousands of jobs and generated billions of dollars in revenue, making the counties attractive destinations for both residents and businesses.

Tourism, in particular, plays a significant role in the county’s economy, with popular attractions like the Tampa Museum of Art and Busch Gardens theme park drawing visitors from around the world. Healthcare and technology sectors have also experienced tremendous growth, with the county being recognized as a premier high-tech hub in the greater Tampa Bay area. These industries, along with others, have positioned Hillsborough County for continued success and growth in the years to come.

Attractions and Landmarks

Hillsborough County boasts an array of attractions and landmarks that appeal to both residents and visitors. With its cultural and historical sites, as well as annual events and festivals, the county displays its rich history and varied heritage, becoming a favored destination for both tourists and locals. In fact, keeping Hillsborough County vibrant and attractive is a priority for the community.

Hillsborough County caters to a wide range of interests, be it history, art or just a relaxing day out. We will examine some of the county’s most visited attractions and landmarks, alongside annual events that foster community spirit.

Cultural and Historical Sites

The county is home to several museums, art galleries, and historical landmarks that showcase its rich history and diverse culture. The Tampa Museum of Art, for example, houses a wide range of exhibits, from ancient vessels to contemporary sculptures, appealing to art enthusiasts of all ages. The Robert W. Willaford Railroad Museum, on the other hand, offers a glimpse into Florida’s railroad history, housing an impressive collection of railroad memorabilia.

Other notable historical landmarks in Hillsborough County include:

  • The Adams-Thiessen House

  • The Captain William Parker Jackson House

  • The Samuel L Davis Cigar Factory

  • The Riverwalk

These sites not only provide a window into the county’s past but also serve as a testament to its resilience and growth over the centuries.

Annual Events and Festivals

Hillsborough County, home to Tampa - the largest city in the area, hosts several popular annual events, attracting visitors from around the world. The Gasparilla Pirate Festival, for instance, is a signature event in Tampa, featuring parades, a pirate invasion, and a celebration of the city’s pirate history. This festival, which dates back to 1904, draws an estimated 300,000 attendees each year, making it a significant contributor to the local economy.

Another notable event is the Tampa-Hillsborough County Storytelling Festival, which brings together people of all ages to celebrate the power of storytelling. This annual event not only promotes literacy but also preserves the traditional art of storytelling, uniting the community in a shared appreciation for the spoken word.


From its intriguing origins to its rich history and diverse population, Hillsborough County is truly a remarkable place. With its strong education system, thriving economy, and vibrant cultural scene, the county continues to evolve and adapt, cementing its status as a premier destination in Florida.

As you explore the many attractions, landmarks, and events that Hillsborough County has to offer, you’ll undoubtedly uncover even more layers of its fascinating story. So go ahead, immerse yourself in the county’s unique past, and discover the secrets that make Hillsborough County an unforgettable place to live, work, and play.

Frequently Asked Questions

How did Hillsborough County Florida get its name?

Hillsborough County Florida was named after Wills Hill, British Secretary of State to the Colonies from 1768-1772, and was first explored by the Spanish in the early 16th century.

What is Hillsborough County FL known for?

Hillsborough County FL is known for its natural springs, Alafia River State Park and Hillsborough River state parks, the C. W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir, and popular attractions such as Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Curtis Hixon Dog Park and The Florida Aquarium.

What is the ethnicity of Hillsborough County?

Hillsborough County is predominantly White (non-Hispanic), with 679k residents, followed by White (Hispanic) and Black or African American (Non-Hispanic) populations of 236k and 224k respectively.

What is the population of Hillsborough County?

According to the estimated population, Hillsborough County has 1,528,924 inhabitants.

What are some popular attractions in Hillsborough County?

Hillsborough County offers exciting attractions such as the Tampa Museum of Art, Busch Gardens theme park, and the Robert W. Willaford Railroad Museum for visitors to enjoy.

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