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Central Florida

The March of Progress

Circa 1930s

In the central section of Florida we include all the strip of ridge land, with its hills and lakes, extending from the Georgia border south to Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades and bounded on the west by the Suwannee River and the West Coast counties, and on the east by the East Coast counties already described.

It is a delightful region, presenting great variety in appearance and products, from the cotton and tobacco fields of the northern counties down through the citrus region to the tropic edge of the Everglades. Its lakes, numbering some two thousand, abound with fish and water-bird life. The last haunt of the flamingo in America is here.

Over some of our country's finest highways, we meander through cities and groves, winding among lakes and along streams, seeing the beauties and wonders of this land—the heart of Florida.

Entering Central Florida from the west over the Old Spanish Trail, one crosses the Suwannee River, made famous the world over by Stephen J. Foster's song. The first stop will be at Live Oak, a pretty little city whose name is most appropriate. Entering by Route 2 from Valdosta, Georgia, one crosses the beautiful Suwannee further upstream, passing through White SPRINGS, a health and summer resort on the Suwannee.

Lake City is the junction point of the Old Spanish Trail and Route 2 leading south. This city vies with Jacksonville as a point of contact for tourists entering the state. It is an enterprising town in the midst of an agricultural region, sixty-two miles west of Jacksonville. Many pecans are grown in this district.

On the road to Jacksonville, we pass the Olustee battlefield of Civil War days, with its monument. Another monument to the soldiers who fell here is in the plaza at Lake City.

Bass fishing in lake and stream is good and much small game is to be found.

At High Springs, twenty-six miles south, the roads divide, Route 5 leading to the West Coast and Route 2 to the Central Ridge region.

At Gainesville, metropolis of Alachua County, is the University of Florida. It is quite an historic town, having been a fort during the Indian wars and a field of battle during the War Between the States, in memory of which a statue stands in the courthouse square.

Alachua is an Indian term, meaning water jug, from the great sink south of town where the waters of Newnan's Lake and Prairie Creek disappear underground to reappear no man knows where. 15 miles west are rich phosphate mines.

Alachua is one of the richest agricultural counties of Florida. It has excellent drainage, parts of the land being two hundred feet above sea level.

There are natural wells in the limestone of this section, being perfectly round and as smooth as if carved by hand, about two and one-half feet in diameter and an average of thirty feet deep. The water is pure and cool. In one dry well it is possible to descend thirty-eight feet, travel an underground tunnel and come up in another dry well a mile away.

Another natural wonder is the Devil's Millhopper, a great bowl one hundred feet deep into which some twenty streams pour continuously without raising the level of the pool in the bottom. No outlet has ever been discovered.

Ocala is in Marion County, Kingdom of the Sun, of the natureworshipping Timuquan Indians, whose robust physique stimulated the Spaniard's belief in fountains of youth and health It is a region of rich agricultural products and citrus fruits, as well as phosphate mines and limerock quarries. The city is a progressive commercial center, and has beautiful homes, splendid water and a delightful climate.

Silver Springs, near Ocala, is a marvel defying adequate description. A great punchbowl of rock, three hundred feet in diameter, has, gushing up from orifices in its bottom, mighty springs which fill the bowl and flow away as the Silver River. Through glass-bottomed boats one sees canyons with multi-colored walls, geyser-like and boiling paint-pots, Niagara Falls in miniature, great and small fish and turtles-all seemingly within arm's reach but really in eighty-nine feet of crystal water. The hues and shades of this vision are beyond description.

This water is excellent for bathing, its temperature of 72 degrees never varying throughout the year. Yachts may come here from the sea through the St. Johns, Oklawaha and Silver Rivers.

Southward, amid the slopes and waters of beautiful Lake County, are Leesburg, Eustis, Tavares, and Mount Dora, all possessed of excellent tourist accommodations and such natural and man-made beauty, combined with all sorts of sport advantages, that the sport-loving visitor is thrilled.

Bass fishing surpasses anything you have ever known in that line. Citrus fruits and other products abound. Golf courses are found in every community. As an all-year resort section, this is hard to equal.

Umatilla and Clermont partake of the same advantages as the Lake County communities already mentioned.

West of Lake County lies Sumter County, a pleasing bit of country. In this county the historian will find the site of the Dade Massacre in the Indian wars. There is the ruin of the fort and monuments to the brave soldiers and to Major Dade at the spot where he fell.

Orlando, the chief city of Central Florida, is in the heart of Orange County, whose very name suggests the beauties and delights of this section. Luxuriant semi-tropical foliage and flowers surround beautiful homes. Good fishing and much game, big and small, is easily found. Orlando is built among thirtyone lakes. Golf, lawn bowling, roque, horseshoe pitching, fishing and major league baseball are among the amusements found here.

Winter Park, another fine Orange County community just north of Orlando on Route 3, is the site of Rollins College.

Kissimmee is the seat of Osceola County, south of Orlando on Route 3, and is a charming place for tourists who desire quiet beauty and restful recreation. Golf, hunting, fishing and boating are offered, as well as many tourist games in the town. Kissimmee possesses a splendid zoo.

Polk County, next to the southwest, has a group of pleasing cities, all of which offer the traveler excellent entertainment amid scenes of beauty. Haines City, Auburndale, Polk City, Winter Haven, Lakeland, Mulberry, Fort Meade and Frostproof all have charm and many attractions. The Orange Festival at Winter Haven is an annual event of much interest. This section is the very heart of the citrus fruit country.

Bartow, county scat of Polk County, had its beginning in a fort back in Indian days and is now a pleasing community of beautiful homes, with tourist sports and recreations. Nearby are large phosphate mines.

Lake Wales, an enterprising town seated on hills and amid a wondrous landscape of lakes and groves, has good hotels and entertainments. Mountain Lake, a suburb, is one of the highest points in Florida and the site of the world famous Singing Tower. This tower, with its bird sanctuary round about and its architectural beauty, mirrored in the surrounding lake, is a new wonder of the world. Edward William Bok has given this to the people as a memorial to his beauty-loving grandparents. The total weight of the carillon bells is 123,164 pounds. Anton Brees, of Antwerp, Belgium, is the carillonneur. Thousands have made pilgrimage here.

The Scenic Highlands and Ridge—From Davenport to Childs stretches a dune or ridge about one hundred miles long and from one to four miles wide, and includes the most elevated spot in Florida—Mountain Lake, just referred to as the site of the Bok Tower.

On this Ridge the following towns occur: Davenport, Haines City, Lake Hamilton, Dundee, Babson Park, Frostproof, High Land Lakes, Avon Park, Sebring, De Soto City, and Lake Placid.

At Avon Park is a lookout tower from which four thousand acres of citrus can be seen. Lake Placid is the home of the Lake Placid Club. Much attention has been paid to development along lines of beauty and this, together with the natural features of the Ridge, always arouses exclamations of delight on the part of visitors.

Sebring is a citrus center, with beautiful drives along lake shores, excellent golf, playgrounds, municipal pier and beaches. Good hotels in and near this city, with its surroundings of hills and sparkling lakes, make it exceedingly attractive to the tourist.

Highlands Hammock, near Sebring, is one of Florida's greatest attractions Fine roads wind through this tropic paradise of unusual beauty.

Wauchula, in Hardee County, is an inland resort with good hotels and excellent hunting and fishing.

Arcadia, in DeSoto County, is south of Wauchula. It is the home of the Chautauqua Assembly of Florida. Golf, bathing, other amusements are offered.

Okeechobee is at the upper edge of the great lake of that name. Following Route 8 on to Fort Pierce on the East Coast takes one through typical Everglades country. Lake Okeechobee is an immense body of water, but so shallow that wading birds may be seen standing in the water a mile from shore. The soil surrounding this lake is a muck which produces abundantly when planted.

Brighten Valley Dude Ranch is located twelve miles west of Okeechobee. It offers roundups and rodeos, pack trips, outdoor camping and other features common to western ranch life. The surrounding country yields excellent fishing and hunting.

And here, at the Everglades' edge, ends Central Florida. We may turn cast or west to the Atlantic or Gulf coasts. To the south lies the primeval fastness of the Everglades, known only to the roving Indian. Little towns on Lake Okeechobee's margin are civilization's only evidence save the Tamiami Trail far to the south.

Excerpt from "Florida: The March of Progress" published circa 1930s by the Florida Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Immigration.


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