Thursday, April 28, 2005

Florida Past

Florida may well be the most misunderstood state in the union. As a vacation destination, it is internationally known. It is hard to imagine a more sought after retirement destination than the beckoning, planned communities around central Florida, retirement communities attracting thousands upon thousands of new residents annually. Retirees moving to the Sunshine State is nothing new, but the efficiency of the newer developments offer a glimpse of the machine-like development of former pastoral and forest land, and the veritable explosion of new construction, along with the development of infrastructure that it necesitates.

Palmettos and pines, you can still find them if you know where to look

Still, Florida has a rural and agricultural past. As a state in the very eastern part of the lower 48, Florida has a young history compared to those states on the Atlantic seaboard and those in New England , as well as with those in the deep-south colonies. Access to Florida as far as lines of communication was difficult in the 1800s, and nearly all economic activity was limited by transportation. Coastal cities, like Miami, were accessible by steamers, and developed accordingly. Florida developed along a timeline very similar to that of West Texas, and even shared the same malady of hostile natives.

As the land in Florida was slowly settled, and trains and roads found access, the state started to develop economically. Of course, the history is rich and varied, but the state's economic output hinged on agriculture and marine products. Culturally, the state was firmly rooted in the deep south, although many would not believe that today. The link between Florida and its neighboring states was firm, Florida seceded from the union on January 10th, 1861, Alabama seceded the next day. Compare the flag of Florida and the Flag of Alabama. Notice the similarities. Of the states to secede from the union, Florida was third only behind South Carolina and Mississippi.

The Rainbow river, near Dunnellon. It is a river so clear, you can see my shadow on the sandy bottom when I photographed it...

Florida's treasure is its natural beauty. Of course, this is a two-edged sword. Since Ponce DeLeon, settlers have been smitten with the beauty of the Sunshine State. It is a beauty not defined by its granduer, however, for Florida has a very flat topography. Florida's beauty is found in the small, secret places. Crystal clear spring-fed rivers. Live Oaks and Spanish moss, thousands upon thousands of acres of piney-woods. Pristine coastlines stretching for miles and miles, and bayous and lakes teeming with life. Palmetto flats and hammocks. Florida is singular in its beauty, and it is its beauty that may be its very undoing.

Cypress and crystal clear waters

Advertising their wares near Chiefland, Fl

Agrictulture continues to play a major role in Florida's economy, although it now competes heavily with urbanization. Florida is a citrus powerhouse, of course, but it also harvest strawberries, melons, cataloupes and other truck crops. South Florida has a very active tomato harvest and squash and other gourds grow easily in the well-drained soil. Florida is not well-known to people outside of the cattle industry as a cattle producer, but it is. My friend who runs a large feedlot operation (a big one!) in San Angelo, Texas has the utmost respect for Florida's cattle. He regularly buys cattle from a rancher in Bonifay, in the panhandle. The word is that these cattle outperform others in the feedlot, have less disease (are more hearty), and are cheaper to buy. I'm so convinced they are good, I may start investing in them myself.

Levy county Florida crossbreds doing what they do best: making money

I'm perpetually fascinated by the post-WWII years, and I love stuff from that era. Florida was a destination then, as well, and in that simpler time catered to families that were road-tripping from up north or from other places. It wasn't the pure-perfect environment offered by a Disney resort, but it was just as cool...

Perry, Fl's Motor Lodge, long since gone away

The Putnam Lodge near Cross City

Click here to learn more about the role the Putnam Lodge played in Dixie county history.

The picture-perfect Two Rivers motel in Dunnellon, Fl

Can you go wrong staying at the Cadillac? Near Fanning Springs, Fl

Florida is now slated to displace New York in population by the year 2025. I expect lots of the old places to go away, and a lot of the memories to go with them. Change is our old friend. The indians I'm sure bemoaned the changes brought by the Spanish, and the Spanish bemoaned the changes brought by the settlers, and so on and so on. Nonetheless, it is difficult to look back, as a guy who grew up in Florida, and see the old places going away. The old, secret, quiet places. The tube floating down the Rainbow or the Ichetucknee rivers, the cow pastures, the melon patches, the morning dew on the squash before a ten-hour day of picking. The towering live oaks, the sun filtering through the long-leaf pines on a perfect October afternoon. Working cows back when central Florida had some cattle, bailing hay, putting it up in a tin roofed pole barn.

Florida really is a paradise, she is all that she is claimed to be. Ironically, her charm may never be known by the throngs that flock to her, because they can't see past their neighbor's privacy fence. I'm very, very happy that I got to know her the way I did.

A common sight in central Florida, Sable palms in a pasture

Show barn

Aftermath of a Hurricane, a sailboat grounded on a shoal near Ft. Walton Beach


Blogger prairie biker said...

Now that's a beautiful picture!

7:55 PM  
Anonymous MikeC said...

I believe the American cattle industry was started in Florida. We had our share of old west outlaws as well. I believe John Wesley Hardin ended up as a grocery clerk in Gainesville.


6:02 PM  
Blogger Mark A. said...

Hey, don't forget the Ma Barker, I think they were from Oklawaha!

6:29 PM  

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