Letter from Florida, January 1876

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Letters from Florida

WOODLAND, FLA., JAN. 1876.

To the Editor of the Caledonian:

One day last week Richardson and myself started off for a trip to Dunn’s Lake and some orange groves situated thereon. Teams are very scarce here and we used the means of locomotion furnished by nature. We first passed by Mr. Jarvis’s, whose homestead adjoins mine, and called in to see his place, and the “Floating Island.” He has quite a little grove stared, besides some peach trees; and quite a lot of grape vines. Immediately north of his house is Lake Bernard, a fine sheet of water two mile long and one half mile wide, surrounded by pine woods, that reach to the water’s edge.

Between the house and lake is a little pond, circular in form and perhaps sixty feet in diameter. In this pond is the floating island oblong in form, being about ten feet one way and perhaps eighteen the other. It is covered with a growth of small trees, bushes and vines. Some of the trees are twelve feet high. It is generally against one bank or the other, according as the wind blows. When the wind changes, the bushes act as a sail for this new kind of ship, and away it goes to the opposite side. Mr. Jarvis takes a great deal of pride in showing it to visitors, and altogether it is quite a curiosity.

From here we proceeded in nearly a straight line to the saw mill landing on Dunn’s Lake, a distance of two and one-half miles. After waiting awhile, the “Lollie Boy” came up the lake, but did not stop at the landing, so we concluded that our goods were not on board, accordingly we footed it to Mr. Hutchinson’s, two miles farther south.

He calls his place “Oakwood,” on account of the number of hickory and white oak trees thereabouts: and a postoffice by that name has been established here. He was born in Haverhill, N.H., emigrated to Georgia when young, and came here since the war. He believes in seedlings, (that is orange trees raised from the seed of sweet oranges,) rather than sour stumps budded. he showed some very fine trees six and seven years from the seed, that were in bearing, and claims that the fruit will improve very time it is planted. He called our attention to a lemon tree that had no less than 4,000 lemons on it; also citron bushes with fruit on them six inches in diameter, and so heavy that it pulled the branch to the earth and rested there. He has a tree now four years old that has borne two years. he has quite an income from raising orange trees and selling them at four years of age, for four or five dollars each. He brought his step ladder and invited me to climb up and pick some of the large oranges near the top of the tree, and see what kind of fruit he raised, which invitation I was not slow in accepting.

Next south of him, but adjoining his place, is Perry’s grove, and beyond that Newbold’s. The two first are made or transplanted groves, but Newbold’s is from a wild or sour grove. he first began here nine years ago, and in order to make room for his little house, cut down 29 orange trees. He then began to cut off the tops of the trees and set sweet buds into the shoots that came up from the stumps. He now has about 600 trees in bearing, and several hundred more coming on, besides having sold several hundred budded trees. He estimates his crop this year to be 70,000 oranges, and is now selling them for $25 per thousand. I offered him $25 for a thousand to be taken by March 1st, which he refused, but would accept the offer if I would take them now. He expects that by that time there will be a greater demand and consequently a higher price. Some of the fruit was dropping off, and he was then at work in his boat house on the wharf making them into wine, which he thought would be better than champagne.

In the north end of the grove in some low ground, is a strong sulphur spring, and in the lake about a rod from the shore, is another one, both quite strong. Most of the trees are situated on “Hammock land,” about fifteen feet higher than the surface of the lake. The space not occupied by orange trees was originally covered by live and water oaks, bay and magnolia trees, and some cabbage, palmetto or palm trees. A few years ago there came up an immense quantity of young sour trees, which he gave away, but as the demand for them increased, he sold them for ten or twenty cents each. He took us through the grounds and showed us the different varieties, such as mandarin, tangerine, novel, bergamont, and some buds that came by mail from California.

I bought 50 seedlings for 15 cents each, a novel and a bergamont (budded) tree. The latter he said bore a few oranges this year and I paid him $3 for it. Several of the trees had blossoms, two sizes of green and ripe oranges, on the same tree, but generally they bloom in February or March, and the fruit ripens in October or November. Two years ago he sold the place for $15,000 but there was some doubt about the title on account of minor children, and the trade fell through. When the trees are in bloom the fragrance is perceptible for quite a distance, and is very pleasant, but Mrs. Newbold said that she could not smell it at all.

On our way home we stopped to see Priest make sugar. He has about an acre of cane in some Hammock land, which had been cropped several years, without any manure, and this year he had made eleven barrels of syrup, of about 40 gallons to the barrel. He sold it for about 70 cents per gallon on the average, which would make an income of over $300 per acre. His apparatus was rather primitive, consisting of two iron rollers set in a wooden frame, and turned by a horse and mule attached to a sweep. The cane was crushed between these rollers, and the juice was caught in a barrel underneath. he gave us some of it to drink, and we found it much sweeter than sap. he boiled it down in two large iron kettles, and made it all into syrup instead of sugar. The canes were some larger than corn stalks, and about six feet long, although I have seen some eleven feet. The juice forms about 70 per cent of the weight of the green cane. I don’t think he got out that amount.

This man is what is called a Florida Cracker lived in a log house a great many years, and raised a family, without a door or window in the house. He thought he was living in comfort, which shows that comfort, luxury, and such terms, have different meaning in different places; and that folks might be comfortable with very little, if they did not know of any thing better. What we call necessaries, he would call luxuries. But then on the other hand, he owned a double barreled shot gun, two dogs, and thought he could not keep house without them. We arrived at home before dark with good appetites, having walked ten or twelve miles that day.

In 1512 Ponce de Leon, a cavalier then verging upon old age, who had been a comrade of Christopher Columbus, set forth from Porto Rico to find a certain island called Bimina, where was said to be the fountain of youth. If he could only find this fountain and bathe in it, he would be restored to perpetual youth; and raising a company of enthusiasts like himself, set out on this romantic expedition and voyage of discovery. He saw the coast the first time on Easter Sunday, in April, 1512; which day the Spaniards call Pasqua Florida, and he accordingly named the newly discovered country “Florida,” in honor of the day he landed, and not by reason of the great profusion of flowers, as some people think. This landing was made near the site of the present city of St. Augustine.

The cavalier’s search for the immortal spring was fruitless. The Indians harassed and picked off his men with poisoned arrows, till he was finally forced to quit the country. He carried with him to Cuba a mortal wound which caused his death soon after his arrival there.

Last Saturday Richardson and myself started off on a similar expedition of discovery; but we had an idea that if we went in a south-west direction a distance of about four miles, we should be rewarded with a sight of the renowned fountain of youth for which De Leon searched in vain. The day was warm, reaching 83 degrees in the shade, but we struck out through the pine woods regardless of roads, and in the course of an hour arrived at the log house of Mrs. Mizell, (otherwise called Aunt Maria,) a lady of African descent, without any mixture of Caucassian. She wished to sell me a bearing orange tree in order to obtain funds to go to the U.S. land office and complete her title to her homestead. I offered her $8 for it, but as she asked $25–we did not trade. Her house is situated on the banks of Lake Marguerite, a very handsome sheet of water, but not as fine as Lake Como, which lies just north of it.

From this place we proceeded west about a mile, and finally came in sight of a patch of perhaps five acres of Hammock or hard wood land. The springs are in the centre of this Hammock, and the land and springs are owned by the Florida Improvement Company, who have laid out a town (on paper) and cleared up somewhat about the springs. They are described as follows, by the vice president of the Company; Studnell Park, in the centre of the town, contains three very valuable springs of sulphur, magnesia and iron, which have been analyzed and are said to contain valuable medicinal properties. Many speak of the smaller spring, the Lucia, as equalling if not surpassing any of the springs at Saratoga or Richfield. Many persons have been cured permanently of rheumatism, by bathing in the sulphur spring water. The Mary spring is 80 by 100 feet square, and 6 to 8 feet deep. The Lucia spring, 15 by 30 feet square, and 4 to 5 feet deep. The outlets of the three unite and form a creek two rods in width, and from 8 to 30 inches in depth. These springs are situated two miles from the river, in open pine woods, making a most desirable resort for invalids. They will be known hereafter as the “Beecher Springs.”

I think that the above is correct, except that there are in my opinion, only two springs, which unite and form a large pool which he calls the Mary spring. The water in the two springs and in the stream before they unite, is clear as crystal, but in the large pool it is slightly milky, which may be produced by the water of the different springs containing different minerals which united cause a slight precipitation. However, the water was not so milky but what we saw a large turtle swimming about and occasionally stopping to look at us. We could smell the sulphur quite a distance from the springs. There are a great many live oak palm and prickly ash trees scattered about and altogether it is a very desirable place to hold a picnic. We drank some of the water, ate our lunch, and then I went in bathing. The water was of about the right temperature for comfort, not any too warm, and I found it much more buoyant than our river water at home. Since then I have felt much younger than before, but am not now prepared to state the exact number of years my life was renewed. I write this for the benefit of life insurance agents, so that they need not be importuning me to insure my life, for I don’t need to have it done now.

Very respectfully,

HORACE K. IDE.

Originally published in the St. Johnsbury Caledonian, February 18, 1876.

Letters from Florida

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *