Peter Oliphant Knight (1865-1946)
Prepared by the Historical Monument Trail Selection Committee, Friends of the Tampa Riverwalk. For further information, contact Robert Kerstein, BKerstein@ut.edu
Peter O. Knight was an influential member of Tampa’s business and professional community for over forty years. He was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in Indiana, and graduated from the law school at Valparaiso University. After moving to Florida in 1884, he was active in the incorporation of Fort Myers and was elected mayor of the new city. In 1888, he was elected to the state legislature. In Tallahassee, Knight met Hillsborough County State Senator Joseph B. Wall. Knight moved to Tampa in 1889 to become Wall’s law partner.
Knight served on the Tampa City Council and was the Hillsborough County solicitor. Knight also served as the state attorney for Hillsborough County from 1893 to 1899, the last political office he would hold. Knight played significant roles with several businesses in a variety of capacities. He was the attorney for the Ybor City Land and Improvement Company, which was formed by the founders of Ybor City. Knight and others organized the Exchange National Bank and the Tampa Gas Company. Further, Knight was the lawyer for the Florida Central and Peninsula Railroad, the Seaboard Air Line Railway, and the Tampa Northern Railroad. He served on the board of directors of the Tribune Publishing Company and was an ally of Tribune publisher Wallace Stovall on several political issues. Knight was the primary local representative of the Boston-based company, Stone & Webster, which played a significant role in developing and promoting Davis Islands. From 1924 to 1946, Knight served as the president of Tampa Electric Company, at the time owned by Stone & Webster.
Knight had detractors as well as supporters. He antagonized many cigar workers by consistently supporting factory owners during labor unrest in the industry, and by traveling to Havana in 1901 to recruit strikebreakers during a cigar strike in Tampa. In 1900 a political organization named the Citizens’ League gained control of Tampa’s city government by defeating Knight and his allies.
Knight was granted the Civitan Award in 1934 for his service to Florida. Also the municipal airport on Davis Islands for which he helped secure financing bears his name, as does his former house on Hyde Park Avenue that serves as the home of the Tampa Historical Society.