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Geography of Central Florida


This extends, from a few miles north of the northern boundary of the state southward through the western half of the peninsula to the neighborhood of Tampa. Its southern limits are ill-defined, or at least insufficiently explored, but there is at least one area of considerable size in Hillsborough County, entirely disconnected from the rest, It reaches the coast in Pinellas County, which seems to be the only place in peninsular Florida where any high land other than dunes and shell mounds can be seen from the ocean. Its area in central Florida is about 2,400 square miles.


The greater part of the area is underlaid at no great depth by a comparatively pure limestone now regarded as of upper Eocene age, which is practically the oldest rock outcropping in Florida. Toward the southern end of the region - this is supposed to dip southward and be overlaid by the Tampa limestone, of Oligocene age. Extending nearly the whole length of the region are irregular deposits or pockets of hard-rock phosphate, apparently derived mostly from a re-working of, the underlying rock by geological processes, but- containing many, vertebrate fossils of Pliocene age, and designated by geologists as the Alachua formation. Practically the whole surface is covered by several feet of incoherent sand whose age is problematical, and there may be a stratum of clay between the sand and rock in some places, not as extensive in central Florida as farther north, however.

The underground water, tapped by many artesian wells at depths usually from 50 to 100 feet below the surface, is good to drink but unsuited for boiler purposes on account of the large amount of limestone dissolved in it. For this reason the Atlantic Coast Line R. R. uses water-softeners at its tanks at Ocala junction, Dunnellon and Croom, and rain water cisterns are used in some of the towns

Topography and Drainage.

The highest elevations known are a little over 200 feet above sea-level. The topography is everywhere undulating, with many basins of various sizes and shapes, presumably formed by the solution of underlying limestone. Some of these have sink or caves in their bottoms, some are sandy and always dry, some are inundated part of the time, and some contain permanent water, making ponds or lakes (fig. 10). The dry basins are commonest northward, and the lakes most numerous in Hillsborough County, where the ground-water is nearest to the surface. (This southern portion is not very different from the lake region farther east.)

Streams and swamps are' rather scarce, on account of most of the drainage being subterranean, through the deep sand and cavernous limestone. There 'are several large limestone springs, the most noted being Silver Spring (fig. 8), a few miles east of Ocala, which is one of the largest in the world.


The greater part of the soil is a cream-colored or light buff fine-grained sand, varying toward white or brown, and usually quite uniform in texture to a depth of several or many feet. About half of this region in central Florida is now covered by soil surveys, from which it appears that by far the greater part of the soils are referable to the "Norfolk" series, with a scattering of "Gainesville," "Hernando," "Leon," "Fellowship," "St. Lucie," etc (which names however may mean little to persons not thoroughly familiar with the publications of the U. S. Bureau of Soils, to which they are at present chiefly confined). The leading texture classes are fine sand (about 75% of the total), sand, fine sandy loam, scarce, and Leguminosae (leguminous plants) seem to be more abundant here than (in most other parts of central Florida, which indicates that the soil is not as poor as it might look to a new-comer who had spent most of his life in clayey regions.

The long-leaf pine is, and doubtless will long continue to be, an important source of lumber, fuel, and naval stores. Near some of the phosphate mines it has been cut off pretty completely to furnish heat for drying the phosphate rock, leaving a very desolate-looking country, but it comes back as fast as it is allowed to, without any assistance. The wire-grass and other herbage of the pine lands afford an abundance of free pasturage for cattle.


This region does not cover enough of any one country to enable us to estimate the density of population very accurately, but there are probably at least thirty inhabitants per square mile. It includes most of the settlements in Levy and Citrus Counties from the statistics of which we can approximate the composition and some other characteristics of the population.

These two counties have no places with over 2,500 inhabitants, and therefore no population classed as urban by the U. S. census, but 8.7% of the people were living in the three incorporated towns in 1915. The largest towns in the region at that time were, Tarpon Springs, with 1938 inhabitants, Clearwater, with 1932, Inverness, with about 1000 (but not returned separately from the precinct including the town), Dunnellon 979, Williston 800, Dunedin 429, Anthony 406, and Wildwood 385. (The 1920 census puts Clearwater ahead of Tarpon Springs, but returns for the smaller places have not been published yet).

In Levy and Citrus Counties in 1910 about 50.1% of the inhabitants were native white, 1% foreign white, and 49% negro. At the same time 5.9% of the native whites, 14.876 of the foreign whites, and 30% of the negroes were illiterate. The illiteracy percentage for foreign whites is considerably higher than it usually is in primarily agricultural regions, and probably indicates a considerable number of foreign-born unskilled laborers employed in the phosphate mines. The foreigners came mostly from Italy, Greece, England, Germany, Canada and Sweden; but of course there is no telling how many of them are fishermen and spongers, living on the coast of these two counties, and therefore entirely outside of the lime-sink region. There is a large colony of Greeks, supported mostly by the sponge, business, at Tarpon Springs in Pinellas County.

In 1916 the leading religious denominations among the white were Baptist, Methodist (southern), Church of Christ, Episcopalian and Presbyterian; and among the negroes Baptist and African Methodist.


Agricultural conditions here are, more like those of the typical South or cotton belt than in most other parts of central Florida. The ratio of farm land and improved land to total area is indeterminate, for the same reason as density of population, but in Levy and Citrus Counties in 1900 and 1910 there, were 2.56 improved acres per inhabitant, a lower figure than in a purely agricultural region with American standards., and indicating the employment of a considerable part of the population in mining, lumbering, fishing, etc. (This is especially noticeable in the case of the negroes, who have less than one improved acre per inhabitant). Although it is impossible to get any accurate data on the subject from existing census reports, there are probably nearly as many families supported by phosphate mining as by farming, and even more may be engaged in exploiting the forests for lumber and turpentine.

The salient features of agriculture for the last three census periods previous to 1920 are shown in the' following table.

The leading crops in these two counties in 1909, in order of value, were "vegetables", peanuts, corn, cotton (both kinds), sugar-cane, oats, sweet potatoes, oranges, hay, peaches, grape-fruit, pears, and Irish potatoes. Peanuts had probably increased in relative importance since 1899, judging by the increase in number of hogs per farm.

In 1917-18, according to the state agricultural department, the leading crops were sea-island cotton, peanuts, corn, sweet potatoes, velvet beans, (including hay thereof), sugar-cane, cucumbers, cow-peas (including hay), cabbage, oranges, (grass) hay, oats, watermelons, pecans, Irish potatoes, peaches, eggplants, squashes, pears, castor beans (a "war crop," not raised much before or since), tomatoes, string beans, upland cotton, lettuce and plums. If we had data for the lime-sink portions of Hernando, Pasco, Hillsboro and Pinellas Counties no doubt oranges would take a much higher rank and peanuts and cotton a lower. This region leads the rest of central Florida in the relative importance of peanuts, as it does in hogs.

Harper, Roland M. "Peninsular Lime-Sink or Hard-Rock Phosphate Region."
Geography of Central Florida, Apr. 1921, Pgs. 84-87


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