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The Central Section of Florida

Florida: Empire of the Sun


From the point where the famous Suwannee River, originally called by the Spaniards Little San Juan or Sanjuanee, crosses the Georgia line into Florida, down the high limestone ridge to the vast shallow bowl of Lake Okeechobee, is the section known as Central Florida. A delightful variety of rolling hills, enormous springs and thousands of lakes characterize this great agricultural and health resort region. Florida ranks second in the United States in number of lakes, having over thirty-five thousand, the majority of which are located in Central Florida.

Lake City–Surrounded by lakes, where good fishing is a year-round pastime amid pecan groves of the delicious "paper shell" nuts, this pleasant little city offers much of interest. Falling Creek, nearby, is a waterfall which disappears in a "sink hole" or break in the limestone strata, and White Springs, a lovely summer resort beside the Suwannee River, boasts of fine bathing in its great spring. The Indian town of Alligator stood on the site of Lake City in early days, but as an American town it will celebrate its centennial in 1932. Nearby, also, is Olustee, where a great battle was fought in 1864, resulting in a victory for the Confederates, and preventing Federal troops from reaching Tallahassee, the only Southern capital which did not surrender during the War Between the States.

Live Oak–A town of lovely trees, as its name suggests, Live Oak has all modern improvements and hotel facilities. South of here the mission of Santa Cataline Afuica was sacked by Creek Indians in 1685, and the inhabitants sold as slaves to Lord Cardross of Port Royal, South Carolina. Live Oak is known as an important tobacco market.

Gainesville–The University of Florida, with its eighteen college buildings and student life, casts a collegiate atmosphere about this attractive old Southern town. The surrounding country is chiefly interesting to the tourist for its water holes or "Alachua," as the Indians called them. Into one of these, the Devil's Millhopper, a bowl one hundred feet deep, twenty streams pour their waters without raising its level. The hotels of this part of Florida, with a just pride in their Southern cooking, offer unusually delicious sweet potatoes, which with their fried chicken, savory hams and sweet corn lead the visitor to believe that he has stepped back into that charming era "before the war."

Four million tung oil trees, as beautiful in their pink bloom as the cherry tree, and a new source of wealth for Florida, are being cultivated on the extensive University farm acreage.

The recreational facilities of Gainesville include a golf course, tennis courts, swimming and boating. There are ninety crystal clear lakes within an hour's ride of the city. Quail, doves, squirrel and rabbits provide plenty of game in season for the huntsman. The lakes afford excellent duck shooting.

Starke–Near Starke is Kingsley Lake, and farther south, Lake-of-Bays, on which is located Camp-of-the-Palms, a tourist winter resort. Hunting and fishing is good throughout this section.

Ocala–Ocala is named for the great Timuquan town of Ocali, meaning "abundance," visited by Narvaez and De Soto who met with fierce resistance here. Later, in 1835, the Seminole chiefs, Osceola, Micanopy and Charlie Amathla, chose this section for their tribes as the most fruitful to live upon. Fort King was built here in 1823 to control these Indians, and later still, Union troops searched in vain for a great sugar mill concealed in Marshall's swamp which furnished the Confederate army with sugar. With its moss-draped trees and beautiful homes, Ocala retains much of the old Southern atmosphere. Between here and Lake George lies Ocala National Forest. Many phosphate mines and lime rock quarries are located in this region. Good hotels, golf courses, fishing and hunting are available.

Silver Springs–Six miles east of Ocala is Silver Springs, site of the largest spring in the world, with a flow of twenty-two million gallons per hour. According to the State Geological Survey, six hundred tons of solids are carried off in solution daily from the springs but it will be five thousand years before this will make any appreciable difference in the surrounding terrain. So clear is the water that every portion of the great basin, eighty feet deep and three hundred feet in diameter, can be seen from glass-bottomed boats.

The spring flows into the beautiful Ocklawaha River, called the crookedest river in America, and is large enough to permit small steamers to come up from the St. Johns River. This is one of the most picturesque motor boating trips in the country. To this water route may be added the chain of scenic lakes connecting Leesburg, Eustis and Mt. Dora, where fishing, hunting, golf and other sports are to be found.

Leesburg–The annual National Fresh-Water Bass Tournament, from January 10th to March 10th, draws many freshwater fishermen to Leesburg for the unsurpassed bass fishing. The official record bass taken here weighed eighteen and one-half pounds.

Groveland–Practically in the geographical center of Florida is Groveland, with hills on all sides several hundred feet above sea level. Many sparkling spring-fed lakes are in the vicinity. Bass fishing is good sport here.

Eustis–The Washington's Birthday Festival at Eustis is attended by many visitors. The home of Frank Waterman of fountain pen fame is located here. A quiet atmosphere for healthful outdoor sport and relaxation distinguishes this charming little town. Bass fishing, golf, motor boating and famous winter trap-shooting tournaments are among the attractions found here.

Mt. Dora–Set upon a high point between three lovely lakes, Mt. Dora has a very active yacht club, resulting in much boating enthusiasm among the residents here. Cruises from Jacksonville to this beautiful little city have become popular and motor boating regattas are held each year. Golfing, hunting and fishing are added tourist attractions.

Mt. Plymouth–Five miles from Mt. Dora is Mt. Plymouth, where golfing, fishing and hunting bring many sportsmen and tourists each year. Quail, wild turkey, opossum and squirrel are plentiful in the nearby Wekiva River forest.

Orlando–Fort Gatlin, one of the chain of Seminole War forts which extended from Lake Monroe to Tampa, stood two miles southeast of Orlando. Will Wallace Harney, pioneer journalist and poet, settled here in 1869. Built around thirty-one lakes, it is now a most beautiful modern city, with many varied tourist recreations such as golf, lawn bowling, rocque and fishing. Orlando is often called the "capital of Central Florida."

The original pair of swans from which came those now adding to the beauty of the Orlando lakes was presented to the city by King Edward of England. Oranges in this locality are delicious, and the groves beautifully kept. The tangerine flourishes here, and its small, looseskinned fruit is unusually delicious when eaten fresh from the trees.

Winter Park–Winter Park was formerly called Osceola, for that famous Seminole leader captured under a flag of truce during the Seminole Wars. In 1885, Rollins College was established at Winter Park. This remarkable little university has attained a national reputation and has drawn a distinguished colony of literati here. Winter Park itself is unusual, even in Florida, for its flowers, trees and homes.

Altamonte Springs–The resort at Altamonte Springs is near good fishing lakes, including Lake Apopka, second largest lake in Florida.

Sanford–On beautiful Lake Monroe, head of navigation on the St. Johns River, is the interesting town of Sanford. Many miles of boating may be enjoyed in this vicinity. Hunting and fishing are excellent. It was formerly called Mellenville, as the site of Fort Mellen, favorite meeting place between whites and Seminoles in early days. In 1879, General Sanford, U. S. Ambassador, brought Swedes as settlers for the orange groves, but since the great freeze of '95 it has developed even greater prosperity as a celery and trucking center. Fresh peppers, celery, beans, squash, eggplant and lettuce are produced on surrounding farms. A municipal pier, band shell and fine yacht basin are but a few of Sanford's many facilities for entertaining visitors. Between here and Longwood stands one of the oldest trees in the world, an enormous cypress, whose age was determined by cutting a section to measure its rings. It was found to be twenty-seven hundred years old and is called the "oldest living Floridian." Nearby, Wekiva Springs has a fine pool fed from five sources, surrounded by a moss-draped oak grove which is set aside as a park.

Green Cove Springs–Settled in 1830 by oak cutters who found relics of a great Indian village here, Green Cove Springs is built around the remarkable spring which now flows into a fine, large swimming pool. The town, just thirty-five miles south of Jacksonville, is quaint and unspoiled and the hotels afford good accommodations. Boating on the St. Johns River and hunting in the surrounding woods bring many visitors here. Especially appetizing are the large Japanese persimmons and delicious grapes grown eight miles west of the village at Penney Farms, a community of farms run on a cooperative plan. Independent of the farms is the Memorial Community for retired ministers, a group of twenty-two brick buildings of artistic Norman French architecture. There is a chapel, community room and a library, all built as a memorial to the parents of J. C. Penney.

Palatka–A trading post for the Indians in 1821, Palatka is now a thriving mid-state city. In river-steamer days, it ranked with St. Augustine as a tourist center, and William Cullen Bryant was a frequent visitor. Both yachts and small water craft stop here on their way up the St. Johns River.

James R. Mellon, brother of Andrew Mellon and a winter resident here, has given a public library to Palatka, and nearby is an interesting Indian burial mound, with skeletons and relics on exhibit. A golf course, a weekly band concert, tennis courts and boating and fishing on the beautiful St. Johns River make vacation days pleasant here.

Crescent City–This little city, nestled amid orange groves between two lovely lakes, has many delightful forms of outdoor recreation, including fishing, boating and hunting.

De Land–Named for Henry De Land, of Fairport, New York, who came in 1876 and bought a plantation where the business section now stands, De Land is noted as a picturesque lake town, and as the site of Stetson University. Here the Florida State Historical Society is bringing much of Florida's forgotten and colorful history to light. A city of quiet beauty with many educational advantages, as well as three fine golf courses and many tourist amusements, it is accessible to numerous nearby lakes where fishing and boating may be enjoyed and within easy motoring distance of the ocean bathing beaches.

De Leon Springs–Nine miles from De Land, in a beautiful park, is De Leon Springs, famous for its great natural spring from which flows a million gallons of clear water an hour. Ruins of an old mill may be seen, which stood here when Audubon, famous naturalist, visited it in 1822.

Kissimmee–On the shores of Lake Kissimmee is the town of Kissimmee, in the center of a great fish and game country. Many Canadian visitors winter here, enjoying golf, fishing, boating and hunting in a country charming for its unspoiled wildness. A beautiful scenic cruise through Lake Kissimmee, across Lake Tohopekaliga, through numerous lakes and canals into the Kissimmee River, and finally to Lake Okeechobee, is a delightful trip for the yachtsman.

Lakeland–With nineteen lakes inside the city limits, Lakeland is a beautiful tourist resort town, noted for its dry, healthful climate. A handsome municipal recreation center has been developed around Mirror Lake. Bowling on the green is one of the favorite sports here. Southern College, a coeducational institution, is located at Lakeland amid beautiful surroundings.

Winter Haven–Ninety-seven lakes are located within a five-mile radius of Winter Haven, fifteen of which are connected by canals to form a fifty-mile boat course where national races are held. Recreations under a department supervisor assure visitors of well-planned entertainment. Winter Haven is called the citrus capital of Florida and is surrounded by twenty-five thousand acres of grove land.

Bartow, Haines City, Auburndale, Mulberry, Fort meade, and Frostproof–All these cities offer tourist accommodations and a pleasant vacation in a countryside of unusual natural beauty.

Lake Wales–Amid high hills, covered with orange groves which descend to the edges of the myriad of clear lakes, Lake Wales is a most modern community, equipped with one of the best children's playgrounds in Florida. Every kind of adult amusement and outdoor sport add to the tourist attractions. At Mountain Lake, a beautiful suburb, looms the rosy column of the Bok Tower from the top of Iron Mountain, beckoning to thousands of visitors daily. This nationally famous shrine was built by Edwin Bok in memory of his grandparents. The carillon, largest and finest in the world, is played every evening at sunset by one of the most famous of the world's carillonneurs, from December until May each year. With its beautiful bird sanctuary and its picturesque outlook over miles of surrounding hills and lakes, the Singing Tower has become one of the tourist shrines of the world.

Wauchula, Arcadia, Avon Park, and Sebring–The charm of the hill and lake country near these cities is enhanced by splendid groves of oranges and picturesque wooded slopes. Tourist amusements and good accommodations are offered in each locality. Avon Park has a fine club, where golf, fishing, horseback riding, tennis, trap shooting and hunting are included in the winter schedule. Sebring, "the orange blossom city," has a beautiful eleven-mile drive around Lake Jackson.

Okechobee–Located on the north shore of the second largest lake entirely within the borders of the United States, Okeechobee is known for its unequalled fresh-water fishing. Nearby is a "dude ranch," offering rodeos, pack trips and comfortable cabins. Across Lake Okeechobee to the south is Clewiston, surrounded by immense sugar cane plantations. A great state and national drainage program is reclaiming here the most fertile area in the United States.

La Belle–The year-round season of flowers at La Belle is ideal for bees and one of the state's largest apiaries here produces over one hundred thousand pounds of delicious honey a year. La Belle is located on the Caloosahatchie River, which is a part of the only cross-state canal in Florida. This is an interesting and picturesque route for yachtsmen and motor boating enthusiasts.

Excerpt from "Florida: Empire of the Sun" Published by the Florida State Hotel Commission, Tallahassee, Florida. 1930.


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