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Indian River, Florida

Camp Life in Florida; A Handbook for Sportsmen and Settlers.


Beginning some thirty or thirty-five miles to the southward of St. Augustine, and extending along the coast of Florida about one hundred and seventy-five or eighty miles, are two salt water-lagoons, separated from the ocean by a mere narrow fringe of sand. The larger and more southward of these is known as Indian river, and the other as Mosquito lagoon. They are separated by a low belt of sand, resting upon a bed of shell conglomerate scarcely two miles broad.

It is, however, with Indian river that I have present concern, as it is possessed of peculiar, extraordinary, and little known attractions and resources, which, if properly developed, would make it an unequalled sanitarium for pulmonary subjects. With its northern extremity near Cape Canaveral, this sheet of water stretches southward for about one hundred and fifty miles, with but one narrow communication with the ocean-Indian River Inlet, latitude 27 deg. 30 min. north. The long, narrow strip of sand on either side of the inlet, which, as I have said, separates the lagoon from the ocean, is nowhere broader than one mile. Here and there the winds and waves have heaped up the sand into clusters of low dunes, but next to the waters of the lagoon there is a dense growth of the mangrove (Rhizophoracea), wood of small diameter, but of a beautiful red color, and takes a very fine polish, and the whole zone is thickly dotted with the graceful, picturesque, and useful cabbage palmetto tree, which is valuable as a timber for many purposes, and its leaves also, while its unexpanded young foliage is a delicious vegetable. Other and even more valuable trees of the same (palm) species might be largely introduced, as, for example, the cocoanut, which has been shown to flourish there. It is in part this low-lying skirt of luxuriantly wooded, dry sandy soil, breaking the force of tempestuous winter winds, met at times on the southern Atlantic coast, which makes the western shore of Indian river so highly favorable as a winter residence for invalids.

Near Indian River Inlet, upon the main land, a military post (Fort Capron) was established in November, 1849, and careful meteorological observations were taken for a series of years, which show rare climatological characteristics peculiarly favorable for pulmonary patients, that is to say, a singularly equable temperature with comparative dryness. For example, during a period of five years ending with 1854 the mean temperature of the winter months was 63 deg. 20 min., with a relatively small rain-fall during the late autumn, winter, and early spring months, or 217 fair-weather days for the year.

The lagoon has a coralline bed, and is free from marshes. Communicating with the sea by Indian River Inlet, as I have stated, it -likewise receives a good deal of fresh water through Santa Lucia river, which is an outlet of the Everglades. It teems to an almost incredible degree with fish of the finest and most palatable varieties, including that most delicate and toothsome of all American fish, the pompano. Never, indeed, on either the Atlantic, Gulf, or Pacific coast have I seen fish so fat and well flavored. The ordinary mullet, here very fine, is found in extraordinary shoals at certain seasons, and nowhere else is the sheepshead so fine and dainty a fish as in Indian river. As for the oyster, it is worth a visit to Indian river to eat those found there, especially those which have been transplanted; their flavor is the finest in the United States.

Some four miles southward of the inlet, the western shore rises some thirty feet above the level of the sea into a bluff of compact, broken, or decomposed shell, for some, distance. Here there are fine situations for building, with the necessary space for small plantations of tropical fruits and plants, which thrive so well in all that region. There are already orange orchards which have been planted for a quarter of a century. The pineapple, found in most of its numerous varieties, and other intertropical fruits, do as well here as in the Antilles. Northward the shore is skirted in large part by narrow reaches of dry hammock land, covered with the live-oak. This soil is shallow, but underlaid by a marl, which keeps fresh its virgin fertility, and is found particularly well adapted to the growth of sugar-cane, which comes to flower or tassel on Indian river as in Cuba, but not habitually in Louisiana. Therefore, the cane of Indian river is richer in saccharine matter to the pound than that of Louisiana.

Immediately back of these arable tracts, the very timber of which is so valuable in ship-building, there runs a sand ridge, which here and there abuts directly upon the water of the lagoon, and is everywhere covered with noble pines, affording an exhaustless supply of accessible building timber. Rearward of this ridge the country, somewhat lower than the ridge, stretches out into great spaces, of pine barrens, which afford, however, a fine range and pasturage for cattle, and abound in game, such as deer and wild turkey, while in winter the lagoon is alive with wild duck. On the slope of this ridge, toward the lagoon, by digging wells of ten or fifteen feet, an abundance of pure, delicious water is developed, being simply the rain-water of the great pools in its rear, filtered through the sand ridge.

A glance at the map discloses the fact that for more than thirty miles of its upper course, the St. Johns river, flowing northward, is parallel with Indian river lagoon, at an average distance of not more than ten miles. At several points, indeed, the distance is reduced to eight miles, so that a canal of that length, through ground peculiarly favorable for cheap and easy construction, would give water communication by steam with Jacksonville, and, in fact with Charleston. At the same time, during the late fall, winter, and early spring tides, the inlet affords passage to steamers drawing from eight to ten feet of water, with a completely sheltered harbor immediately within the bar. Beside fish to so marvelous a degree in variety, numbers, and excellence for food, Indian river is likewise the resort for turtle. The vegetation and flora, by no means so luxuriant as that of inter-tropical regions, are, however, largely of the same description. The trees are covered with beautiful airplants, and other parasitic plants, which open a broad field of interesting investigation. The tree yielding gum caoutchouc by exudation, for example, is there, although not in quantities for commercial purposes, and is an interesting feature of the landscape from its peculiar growth or habit of climbing and staying itself by the trunk of another tree, which it finally envelops, crushes, and destroys. Several species of very closely grained, heavy, high-colored woods, susceptible of fine polish, and adapted to the uses of the cabinet-maker, are there in abundance. Undoubtedly, the Campeachy or logwood, would thrive, if introduced upon the beach or seaward shore of the lagoon, or would soon so multiply (as in Santo Domingo, where it was first planted for hedges) as to become a valuable product.

And so I might go on enumerating what nature has planted or supplied in forest and stream, and what man might easily do to make at least a charming health resort of Indian river, but I will only add that I have myself seen some remarkable evidences of the benefits which persons of both sexes, having diseased lungs, have received there—benefits that proved lasting—with some yet more remarkable instances of persons so diseased that elsewhere they were in constant pain, who yet were able to live a prolonged and comfortable life in that singularly equable temperature. I likewise passed one summer upon the lagoon, and never found the beat oppressive, as it was habitually tempered by a soft, gentle breeze. The only discomfort was the mosquito, against which, however, it was not difficult to guard by proper precautions.

It is a misfortune that the real climate and general sanitary advantages of Indian river are not widely known to the thousands who suffer from weak lungs and bronchial affections in the New England and Middle States.


Excerpt from "Camp Life in Florida; A Handbook for Sportsmen and Settlers." Chapter 10, pages 102-106. Compiled by Charles Hallock, published by Forest and Stream Publishing Company. American News Company, Agents. 1876.


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