Former resident returns to changed Progress Village

Alfred Sheffield, 66, recalls his childhood in Progress Village. Courtesy of Samantha Nieto.

 

Progress Village has been a nostalgic childhood home for one resident, who remembers a better time for the neighborhood even though the area’s recent value has seemed to diminish.

Alfred Sheffield moved back to Progress Village, after living in California for over 20 years, to take care of his mother because she had Alzheimer’s. He has acquired his childhood home and remains in the old community.

Progress Village has depreciated, compared with the surrounding complexes that are now being built. It is not as spacious, nor does it look as nice as it used to because so many people have moved in over the decades.

Previously, the houses in the community were all on large lots and similarly built. Which made for more space around each residence.

“It [the village] became depressed. It doesn’t look nearly as nice as it looked many years ago when we moved into the village,” Sheffield said. “It’s kind of sad to see that, because it really was a great community at one time, but just leaves a bit to be desired now.”

Sheffield, 66, began life in Progress Village in 1960. He was nine. His family bought a house in the neighborhood when it was first being constructed.

Jeanette Abrahamsen is a communications professor at the University of South Florida. She and her advanced reporting class teamed up with WUSF to showcase stories from the long-standing community.

“People are proud of this community, but there is also just difficult things they have been through,” Abrahamsen said.

Sheffield explained that over the decades, the village experienced many financial up and downs. Families were seriously affected by disappearance of unions and many people lost their jobs.

The community was established in the late 1950’s to provide affordable housing for black members of Hillsborough County, according to the University of South Florida’s library records.

The village was developed as a model community that would offset major displacements caused by redevelopment in predominantly black neighborhoods.

It grew under the responsibility of local leaders, including C. Blythe Andrews, Cody Fowler, James Hargrett, Sr., and Perry Harvey, Sr. Amongst others, they comprised the original Board of Trustees for Progress Village, Inc.

The Sheffield family moved to Progress Village from Tampa’s Central Park. A sub-section that was an urban area with low-cost housing, which no longer exists.

“Well, I know my mother was very excited. She loved it,” Sheffield said. “I remember how enthusiastic she was about the house, and having our first house like that. It was great.”

Adjusting to the country life came easy for him and his family. They were open to their new way of life.

“I’ve never lived in an environment like that. In no time, I was away from the house and exploring the neighborhood as a 9-year-old,” Sheffield said.

During Sheffield’s time at Progress Village, he learned about life in the country and the importance of a close community.

More than fifty years after Sheffield first moved, Progress Village still stands as a viable example of cooperative neighborhood development and public enterprise.

“I wonder how my life would have been like had we not moved,” Sheffield said. “But I understand now, of course, that that move was better for us as a family.”