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Florida, Overview

Florida for Tourists, Invalids, and Settlers


Florida! What kind of a place is it? How does it look? What does it produce? What are the conditions of success there? How do the people live? How do they like it? These are a few of the multitude of questions that are eagerly showered upon a resident of this sunny, genial clime, when visiting, the less favored regions of our country.

Those who ask them commonly suppose that they can be answered as compendiously and precisely as the somewhat similar questions in a geographical text-book; but, unfortunately this is not possible, and the numerous pages comprising the present volume are none too many to answer them in full. In fact, it is for the sole purpose of answering a multitude of similar inquiries that I have written the following book; and I trust that, when he has finished it, the reader will acquit me of having made any larger demands upon his attention than was necessary to the accomplishment of this object. I might say, indeed, in response to the first question, that it is a delightful place; to the second, that it looks like a region perpetually breathed upon by airs from Araby the blest and to the other, that it produces nearly everything, with less expenditure of labor than is the case in any other portion of the wide domain included within the United States. There are few, however, who will be satisfied any longer with such glittering generalities—a surfeit of them having already been dealt out by previous writers on the subject; and my own aim has been to give as clearly and specifically as I can such information as may prove helpful to the three classes of readers to whom the book is addressed: the tourist who comes for amusement, sight-seeing, or sport; the invalid who comes in search of that more genial climate which shall prolong his days in the land; and, even more especially, the settler whose aim is to make himself a home under pIeasanter and more promising conditions than those which he encounters on the stern soil or amid the harsh blasts of the northern sections of our country.

Florida has a history (as will be told in the chapter on that subject) that extends back to 1512, covering a period of nearly four hundred years; yet in spite of this, and in spite, too, of its unequaled natural advantages, it has a smaller population in proportion to its great size, than any other state in the Union, except, perhaps, Nevada and Colorado. A constantly rising tide of immigration is now flowing in, and there has been a surprising increase in the number of inhabitants during the past ten years; but some of the very choicest localities in the, State are still in a state of nature, and there is room to verge enough for an additional million of busy and prosperous workers. For Florida is a very large State—one of the largest in the Union with an area of nearly sixty thousand square miles; and, in proportion to its size, it has as large an acreage of productive soil as any other, except the prairie States of the West. Many portions, no doubt, are ill adapted for what are commonly regarded as the great staples of the country; but in the range and variety of its productions it is hardly equaled, and is certainly not surpassed by any other section of equal area.

This fact in regard to Florida is usually overlooked by those who derive their ideas from the hasty conclusions of transient winter visitors. Each so-called "season" witnesses an in flux of thousands of these visitors, in search of health or "on pleasure bent," usually wealthy, and equipped with more prejudices than their well-filled traveling-bags would contain. Their chief desire is to find an elegant hotel, having "all modern conveniences" and, once established there, to secure some cozy nook on a broad veranda, where they may watch the fruits and flowers growing in the open air, brethe the, soft, balmy air, and lazily enjoy all the luxury and delights of June in January. For recreation, they ride to the nearest orange-groves, or indulge in a moonlight sail, or, if a little more adventurous and "masculine," take a few quiet fishing-trips, or hunt quail and duck. Once, at least, during their stay, they make the "grand tour," by the regulation route—up the St. John's to Palatka, Enterprise, and Sanford, up the darkly-mysterious Ocklawalia (very few, on this excursion, even leaving the boat), then down the river again and over to St. Augustine, where the longest stay is apt to be made, as its many points of interest and its animated social life render St. Augustine peculiarly attractive to the average pleasure-seeker. This, in the great majority of instances, is the full extent of their study and observation of the characteristics and resources of Florida; and, such being the case, it can hardly be regarded as surprising that they should represent it as a pleasant enough place of resort in winter for invalids, but a hot, unwholesome region in summer, poor in soil, arid of aspect, the haunt of alligators, reptiles, and insects, with nothing especially good in it but oranges.

It need hardly be pointed out, however, that the true capabilities of a great State can not be dealt with adequately in this summary fashion; and, as a matter of fact, Florida has a soil in which can be grown every variety of fruit, flower, garden-vegetable, field-crop, or forest product, that grows in any temperate or semi-tropical region of the world. Every one has heard of its fabulous yield of oranges, lemons, and the like; and the stories told on this bead are not always exaggerated. I have seen groves of orange-trees which produced from two hundred to four thousand dollars to the acre, and know of an acre of pineapples that, within two years after the trees were cleared from its surface, yielded the owners (two bright young New York lads, by-the-way) eighteen hundred dollars. But these, and such as these, by no means exhaust the list of valuable products which Florida yields to the cultivator. I have seen fields of wheat ripening in January that produced twenty-eight bushels to the acre; corn that produced in the same month seventy bushels to the acre; sugar-cane that yielded one hundred and sixty dollars net profit to the acre; common Irish potatoes producing two hundred bushels to the acre; fields of rice that paid a net profit of two hundred dollars an acre; and cassava that netted a hundred and fifty dollars per acre. Watermelons and garden-vegetables grow rapidly, attain great size, are of excellent quality, and, where convenient to city markets, or to lines of transportation, pay the producer from one hundred to one thousand dollars per acre. Of garden-vegetables three and even four crops are sometimes taken from the same tract within twelve months; and of the entire list of strange or familiar farm and garden products, fruits, and flowers, you may, in a trip through the State, find each and every one growing in abundance. The largest peach-tree, undoubtedly, in America, is near Orange City, in Volusia County, with a spread of branches over seventy feet in diameter!

Nor is this all. I have seen bean-vines in their third year bearing as vigorously as when first planted; pears growing on vines; peas growing on trees; and plants growing on nothing at all-the latter being the common air-plants. Of live-stock, I have seen as large, fine, fat swine, and as neat cattle and sheep, as in Vermont, New York, or Illinois; and they can be raised and kept in good condition at so small a cost that comparison with Northern-raised stock is absurd.

The climate of Florida in the winter months is simply delightful, and the summers are about as endurable as in most other portions of the United States. The summer of 1880 was said by all to be the hottest for many years, and the winter of 1880-'81 to be the coldest; yet I can affirm from the sure basis of personal experience that they were both healthy and agreeable, even to a new-comer. It seems absolutely impossible that any human being, or any living creature able to move about, should really suffer from either cold or heat, or from hunger, in Florida. It is asserted (and meets with no dispute) that no case of starvation, of freezing, of sunstroke, or. of hydropliobia, was ever known in the State; and local epidemics have never been heard of.

Consider the terribly cold weather of the long, dreary winter season throughout the North; the suffering it causes; the many deaths among the poor, perishing for want of a little friendly warmth. Consider also the cases of sunstroke, the suffering and deaths caused directly or indirectly by the heat, in those same regions during the summer; and the still more sorrowful cases of actual starvation for lack of the plainest food in many of the large cities. Then contemplate the advantages of this favored clime, where food-even such articles as are regarded as luxuries in other localities-may be had in abundance, for very little cost or labor, and where a genial temperature prevails at all seasons!

But there is one thing to be remembered in connection with all this—and it is forgotten oftener than would be supposed: even Florida is not the garden of Eden, and a man can not live even here like the lilies of the field, "which toil not, neither do they spin." Florida soil and climate can and will do a great deal; but living without labor is not possible, and here as elsewhere the great law prevails, that in the sweat of his brow shalll man eat his bread. The true advantage which Florida offers is, that by little labor can much comfort be enjoyed, and the better directed the labor the greater the comfort. To those who have but little capital (or none), and who are anxiously seeking for a home with ill the comforts of life, I believe that this State offers the best chances of any in our country.

Finally, as a compendious answer to the many inquiries upon the subject that have come to my knowledge would say that a settler in Florida—whether he comes as a capitalist, as a farmer, or as a laborer—can live cheaply, more ease and personal comfort, can live more cheaply, can enjoy more genuine luxuries, can obtain a greater income from a smaller investment and by less labor, and can sooner secure a competency, than in any other accessible portion of North America.

Excerpt from "Florida for Tourists, Invalids, and Settlers" by George M. Barbour. Published 1882 by D. Appleton and Company, New York. Questions and Answers (pgs. 11-16.)


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