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Sources of Florida's ProsperityThe Semi-Tropical
Florida is rapidly developing; the long sleep is over, the fetters that have bound her are taken off, and hereafter she must progress. The people in other States and countries are beginning to comprehend the fact, that within the United States there is a country far superior to Italy in climate, readily accessible, with a population speaking our own language; a country where the consumptive may have a reasonable hope of being benefited
Those who are acquainted with the past history of Florida, know that under the proscriptive policy of the Spanish Government towards her colonial possessions, development proceeded slowly; that the Indian wars, continued through a long series of years, destroyed a number of settlements and stopped immigration, and the result of the confederate war, left the people almost destitute of money. These were not all the difficulties and drawbacks that Florida has had to contend with. Erroneous ideas in regard to the climate, soil and general character of the state for health was entertained, and to great extent yet prevails among those who have not visited the country. To correct these false impressions, by showing what Florida is, both in soil, climate, healthfulness, and resources, is the object of this article, as they prove conclusively that the development taking place is permanent and must be progressive.
The first objection against Florida is founded upon the idea that the State is a vast swamp, only fit for raising mosquitoes, alligators and frogs, with an occasional spot sufficiently elevated, where man can eke out a miserable existence. This error no doubt had its foundation in the report of the commissioners appointed for the State to select swamp and overflowed lands. In their desire to obtain as much land for the State as possible, a very large quantity of high land was places upon the list, and also many bodies of land and fractions of lots that bordered upon the innumerable lakes scattered over the country, were included under the head of swamp land.
Instead of swamp being the general characteristic of the State, the reverse is the case, a large proportion being high and rolling; many parts ma justly be called a hilly country, covered with a growth of oak and hickory. Except on hammock lands the prevailing growth in South Florida is pine. From the foregoing description, every candid mind must concede that the oft-repeated declaration that Florida must necessarily be unhealthy, has no foundation in fact. The highest medical testimony concurs in declaring Florida to be one of the healthiest states in the union.
Another objection urged, is against our summer climate. But comparatively few who reside outside of the state, know anything about the summer or winter climate; they have heard that our winters are mild, but it seems almost impossible to convince them that our summers are cool and pleasant. They think because a portion of Florida is in the same latitude as the Desert of Sahara in Africa, that the same hot and suffocating blasts that sweep across that section and make it an uninhabitable waste, must blow upon us. They forget that like causes must produce like results. Florida is not a desert. Throughout the winters, as well as summers, the butterfly is seen sipping nectar from the flowers, and the land is clothed with semi-tropical verdure; gentle breezes fan the cheek and make our summers the most delightful portions of the year.
There are several causes which combine in producing our peculiarly pleasant climate, determining the genera and class of trees, shrubs, vines, and grasses. Among these causes, is the general peninsular form of the State, ensuring a constant succession of sea breezes from both the Atlantic ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, ladened with saline particles, producing an atmosphere that is pleasantly cool both day and night. There are other causes that assist in producing an equable temperature. The Gulf Stream passes along our eastern coast bringing warmth from the Caribbean Sea, and inside or coastwise comes a body or stream of cold water from the North. Our climate thus modified, must and does differ from any other State; as a result, the thermometer seldom gets down to the freezing point and never so high as to be unpleasant in the shade.
Climates determining the character and the products of the soil, we are enabled to raise many articles that cannot be cultivated at the North or West. Sugar-cane is one of the plants that must take a front rank among our field crops, and proves to be well adapted to this section as it fully matures and tassels. Mechanical skill has perfected the necessary machinery for is manufacture, so that its culture need not be confined to those who have large capital, but is brought within the means of most of our farmers.
The raising of starch-producing plants, such as arrow-root and cassava, is beginning to attract the attention of our people. A great advantage we possess over other countries where these plants are raised, is that the roots can remain in the ground all winter, and can be manufactured at leisure, and we are not troubled by the destructive inroad of rats to devour the roots, as in the West Indies. Florida arrow-root has brought fair prices in New York previous to the war, and with the same care in preparing the farina, its character will be re-established in market, and again become a paying crop. Fruit culture, especially that of the orange, is receiving increased attention, is assuming large proportions and is destined to become the leading fruit crop of the State, and must in a few years entirely supersede the foreign fruit in the northern market, already it has the reputation of superior flavor over all others. It is estimated that in Orange county alone, there are one million of orange trees, besides a large number of lemon, lime, shaddock and grape fruit.
The lumber business is bringing into the state a large amount of capital. Our fine pine timber covers an immense area of land and it will be many years before the supply is exhausted. There is money to be made from our cypress, cedar, hickory and the various ornamental woods, found in our hammocks. We want manufacturers to bring their varied machinery for making up our raw material and putting it into a salable form.
With a climate unsurpassed, water facilities for getting our products to market and a large varety of paying crops, it is not surprising that Florida should be rapidly filling up with energetic population, who are showing what industry and perseverance can accomplish in building up our waste places and making, what a few years ago was a wilderness, now present the appearance of older settled countries. Orange county, in common with many other sections of the state, is developing much faster than the most sanguine could have anticipated, and as the country becomes better known and its various resources more developed, the greater will be the influx of immigrants, not only those who come for health, but those, also, who wish to better their condition.
Thus I have briefly given an outline of the combination of causes that are producing the rapid development that is taking place, and is in happy contrast with the situation a few short years ago.
Apopka, Orange Co., Fla.
Excerpt from Mason, G.H., "Sources of Florida's Prosperity" The Semi-Tropical, July, 1877, pp. 391-393.
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