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Inland LakesFlorida for Tourists, Invalids, and Settlers
Another delightful variety of country found in Florida is the central lake region. There are no mountains in the State, and but few hills worthy of mention, and these few are usually in more or less unfavorable localities; but the absence of these pleasant topographical features is compensated by the great number of lakes, scattered thickly all through the central regions away from the seacoasts and large rivers. They are of all shapes and sizes, from ponds of an acre area in extent to spacious lakes of thirty by fifty miles dimensions, with flat, pine-clad shores, or bold bluffs, or rolling banks, or jungle-clad outlines, all pretty, and filled with remarkably pure, clear water which teems with fish.
In the northern counties are many of these lakes, mostly of large size, with high, rolling shores, and in some respects closely resembling the famous lakes of central New York or Wisconsin. In the vicinity of Tallahassee are several all beautiful, particularly Lake Jackson, a large sheet of water that is deservedly one of the choice attractions shown the visitor. Lakes lamonia, Lafayette, Bradford, and Miccosukie, also in the vicinity of Tallahassee, are all beautiful and interesting.
Farther south, in Alachua and Putnam Counties, and lying southeast of the Florida Transit Railroad, is another particularly attractive cluster of lakes. These include Lakes George, Brooklyn, Waldo, Santa Fe, and Deep Lake, all of considerable size, with from three hundred to ten thousand acres area. Lake Santa Fe is the largest of this cluster, and probably the prettiest. On a bold bluff of its fertile shore the Santa Fe Hotel has recently been built, a fine, roomy structure, in the midst of a large, park-like garden, with a charming lawn sloping down to the water's edge. It is only a short drive thither from Waldo Station, on the Transit Railroad. Recently a party of enterprising local capitalists have excavated a series of short canals, thus establishing communication between all the lakes in this chain, and now they have steam transportation from all points on the lakes to Waldo Station.
Farther south again is the famous Orange Lake region, in Alachua and Marion Counties, lying a short distance south of the Transit Railroad. Orange Lake is the principal of these, and is quite a large sheet of water. The famous orange-groves owned by Dr. Bishop and Mr. Harris are located on the shores of this lake, which is skirted by the branch of the Transit Railroad that runs south to Ocala.
Still farther south is found the Lake Harris region, situated in Sumter and Orange Counties, principally in Sumter. These lakes include Harris, Eustis, Griffin, and Dora, all large lakes of four to ten miles in length and width. There are numerous other smaller lakes in their vicinity, but these named are the principal. These lakes, as explained in the preceding chapter, form the bead-waters of the Ocklawaha River, and are surrounded by the richest lands of the most fertile region of Florida. Their shores are everywhere remarkably beautiful, and the land would be highly productive under cultivation. There are already many splendid orange-groves growing on their shores, and settlers are fast flowing in.
Lake Panasofkee, situated a considerable distance west of the Harris cluster, in the same county, is a noticeably large lake surrounded by rich hammock-lands. (This lake is fully described in the chapter on the tour of the State with Mr. French.)
Lake Apopka, just to the south of the Harris group, is a lake region by itself, so to speak, for all that section is known to the people of the State as the Lake Apopka region. It is a large lake, with a coast-line of fifty miles. The surrounding country is quite beautiful in scenery and of rich soil. A number of the best orange-groves in the State are in this region, entirely beyond danger of frosts.
Again passing south and east, the famous inland lake region of Orange County is reached. It is in the vicinity of Maitland, Osceola, Interlaken, and Orlando, that these lakes are most numerous. Looking in any direction from those places, several of these pretty little lakelets can be seen. From a certain standpoint in Maitland nine lakes are in plain sight.
Their sizes vary from ten acres to three thousand acres their shores are, generally speaking, slightly rolling. The land of that region is covered with a heavy growth of pine interspersed with occasional tracts of hammock, and the surface is mostly flat and not very attractive to the eye, nor very fertile in productive quality, except by fertilizing; but an offset to these objections lies in the fact that it is undoubtedly the healthiest portion of Florida.
This lake region is penetrated by the South Florida Railroad, which extends from Sanford on Lake Monroe to Orlando, the county-seat of Orange County, and passes the already-mentioned villages of Maitland, Osceola, and Interlaken. In my tour of the State with Mr. French (Chapter 11), I have already described it at considerable length, and it is also described in the chapter on "The Sanford Grant." I may add that the soil directly around Orlando is probably the best in the region.
Farther south are numerous lakes, many of them quite large, like Lakes Butler, Conway, Tohopekaliga, Cypress, Kissimmee, and Marianna, all situated in the center of the peninsula, and surrounded by a rich hammock-soil. As yet there are scarcely any settlers in all that extensive region, which is quite beyond the confines of civilization at this writing. The country is mostly of a prairie-like character, resembling portions of Illinois, excepting that the vegetation is purely tropical, including many scattered groves of stately palmettos.
Lake Okechobee, still farther south, is the largest in the State, covering an area of upward of six hundred square miles, and extending fairly into the region of the Everglades. The "Everglades" occupy nearly the whole southern extremity of the peninsula, and are, as I have elsewhere said, not so much a marsh as an extensive lake, which is so shallow as to be overgrown with grasses and other vegetation. In the rainy season, in particular, its lake-like character is clearly apparent.
A company of Philadelphia capitalists are proposing to drain a large portion of this Everglade region, by cutting a series of canals connecting it with both the Gulf and the Atlantic. The enterprise is one of considerable magnitude, and, if fully successful, will be of immense value to themselves, to the State, and indeed to the entire country, as it will open to profitable cultivation millions of acres of the richest soil in the world, especially and peculiarly adapted to the production of sugar.
In this cursory glance at the inland lakes which constitute a characteristic feature of the Floridian Peninsula, I have not mentioned the innumerable smaller and detached ones that dot the surface nearly everywhere, nor have I attempted even to name the countless "springs" found in all portions of the State, and attaining in many cases to the dimensions of lakes. A volume would be required in order to do justice to them all ; and even then, probably, that more thorough exploration and survey of the State, that is sure to come soon, would reveal the existence of many more.
They are a great boon to the State, not only for their beauty and picturesque effect, but for the facilities they offer to transportation, and the fertility they impart to the soil. Lands on their shores are everywhere eagerly sought by the settler, it being the ambition of all to own a home nestling on a lovely lawn bordering upon some pretty lake. And surely nowhere can there be found more attractive scenes of picturesque domesticity than is afforded by a lake-side home in Florida.
Excerpt from "The Indian River Region and Inland Lakes" Florida for Tourists, Invalids, and Settlers, 1882.
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