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Indian River RegionFlorida for Tourists, Invalids, and Settlers
The Indian River region is the most widely known of any portion of all South Florida, but it is visited by very few tourists and travelers, owing mostly to its general inaccessibility. The shortest distance from Jacksonville by the usual—and at present only—method of transportation (the St. John's River route) is upward of two hundred miles, and this long journey ends at Titusville, located almost on the head-waters of the famous river. A detailed description of the journey from Jacksonville, also a description of the various places which I visited on the Indian River, is given elsewhere, in the chapter containing an account of the writer's tour of the state with Hon. Seth French. The purpose of this chapter is to give a more comprehensive description of the resources and advantages of the region regarded as a whole.
Indian River runs parallel with the Atlantic coast, northwest and southeast, extending South of latitude 27°, and running north of 28.5°, measuring from one and a half to seven miles in width, and from four to sixteen feet in depth of channel, though in many places one may wade more than half a mile from shore.
It abounds in every variety of fish, but is distinguished for its superb mullet, the general weight of which is from two to five pounds, but in many instances they weigh from six to nine pounds, measuring twenty or twenty-two inches in length. The sheep's-head, sea-trout, cavalier, and bass are superior flavor, and these are so accessible that the canning of them would prove a profitable occupation. Turtling is carried on to some extent and proves quite lucrative. The river is separated from the Atlantic by a narrow strip of land from one to three-fourths of a mile in width, the majority of which is poor sand-scrub, though it contains bodies of very rich hammock. Approximating near the Atlantic, it has the benefit of the sea-breeze in its pure state, and this, combined with the mild, genial climate of a southern latitude, is what renders it so famous for health—such a thing as sickness being scarcely known upon the river.
The pine-lands largely predominate, some of very fair productive quality, with beautiful sites immediately upon the river having an altitude of eight to sixteen feet above the water. There are also fine bodies of the most splendid hammocks peculiarly adapted to the growth of tropical fruits, the leading varieties of which are the orange, lemon, lime, citron, banana, plantain, pineapple, guava, pomegranate, tamarind, sapodilla, avocado, pear, French lime, mama apple, sugar-apple, mango, papaw, cacao, date, cocoanut, English walnut, pecan-nut, yam, ginger, cassava, etc. The orange is the leading crop. It requires three years from transplanting to commence bearing, then pays hundreds of dollars per acre, and soon runs to thousands, there having been four to six thousand dollars per acre realized in one season. Bananas grow considerably north of this, and pay from twelve hundred to two thousand dollars per acre. Pineapples promise from eight to twelve hundred dollars per acre. Sugar-cane grows astonishingly, attaining a height of twelve to sixteen feet, single stalks yielding more than a gallon of juice, which, being boiled down, makes over a quart of thick sirup, and produces five or six hundred gallons of sirup per acre. Of peas and pumpkins, two crops from the same vine are raised in abundance, and potatoes flourish the year round. The natural growth of the hammock is the sturdy live-oak, measuring from two to six feet in diameter; the stately hickory, two to three feet in diameter, and twenty to forty feet to the first limbs; the red elm, mulberry, wahoo, cabbage-palmetto, with an undergrowth of hack-bush, torch-wood, marl-bush and vines. There are also the iron-wood and crab-wood, approximating in weight to the lignuin-vitae, and susceptible of the finest polish.
There are numerous springs of good water just under the bluff, and by sinking wells twelve to sixteen feet, water is obtained almost anywhere. The water in the hammocks is more or less impregnated with lime, there being a stratum of coquina-rock underlying the surface, forming an inexhaustible supply of the most valuable fertilizer. The woods abound in small game and in deer, bears, and an occasional panther, with the most superior range for every kind of stock. Four-year-old steers weigh from four to five hundred pounds, two-year-old heifers from two hundred and fifty to three hundred pounds, and they calve at that age. Hogs are raised, with but little attention, to weigh one hundred and fifty to two hundred pounds at two years old.
The labor of one man, when once properly established, may make his thousands. The great need is transportation. By referring to the State map, it will be perceived that a canal eight miles in length will connect the Halifax and Mantanzas Rivers; then a little work upon the Haulover, between Halifax and Indian Rivers, puts it in connection with St. Augustine. So that a line of light draught steamers plying through these rivers, a distance of over two hundred miles, connecting at St. Augustine with large-class steamers outside, and by railroad to Jacksonville, gives a direct communication with the world. It will also attract the trade and develop an extensive section of country, the Kissimmee, that is now lying almost in obscurity. It needs an outlet or pass from opposite the mouth of the St. Sebastian into the Atlantic (there being eight feet of water in the river, and a steep shore on the Atlantic, which will prevent its ever being filled with sand), admitting large-class steamers and increasing the turtle interest.
With these connections, the Indian River will come into repute for vegetables. It can supply even New York in the months of January, February, and March, with the most delicate varieties—tomatoes, peas, beans, green corn, cabbages, melons, etc. I have reason to believe that varieties of grapes can be grown here with success—the Scuppernong to perfection. The base of all Southern Florida is limestone; this it is that prevents miasma, and it is this decomposed limestone that makes the soils of that region so fertile.
In describing this Indian River region it is appropriate to include the regions about Lake Worth and Key Biscayne Bay, both places being in fact a continuation of that special class of soil and products. It is hardly necessary to mention that all this region, including the Indian River, is entirely below the frost-line. The thermometer throughout the year shows a temperature of about 75°, the extremes being 49° and 92°.
Excerpt from "The Indian River Region and the Inland Lakes" Florida for Tourists, Invalids, and Settlers, 1882.
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