Towns and Cities

[PHOTO CREDIT: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/118145]


Twelve miles to the south of Bartow is an important centre of business, in a remarkably fertile and delightful locality, that since 1852, at least, has borne the name of Fort Meade. A fort was built here during the Indian war, to keep the uneasy Seminoles in check, and the population has slowly but steadily increased during the past few years. It is doubtless the most fertile and productive section of Florida, but it awaits the near advent of a railroad to give it the necessary transportation facilities and save the twelve miles freightage by team to the terminus of the South Florida Railroad at Bartow. Several roads are chartered that will, without doubt, soon be built through this, one of the most attractive parts of Florida, and then its development cannot fail to make astonishing strides, giving fortunes to those who have been sufficiently far-sighted to invest here.

The busy village is located just west of Peace River, across which the corporation lines extend to the east. Sturdy and vigorous live, water and other oaks give a delightful shade, and thrifty groves of orange trees are very prominent. Lemons, limes, guavas, bananas, etc., flourish and yield very desirable returns. Within the corporation, and within a mile of the post-office, some four hundred acres are set in orange groves, while the trees in nursery can be counted by millions.

Approaching Fort Meade from Bartow, the regular route of travel, by any one of the several roads, you are sure to be much pleased by the attractive beauty of land and landscape. The frequent homes of settlers with luxiriant orange groves; the numerous cultivated fields, chiefly of corn, pease, sweet potatoes and sugar-cane; the running streams through the beautiful valleys, the hills and the broad swelling plains, all clothed with a luxuriant vegetation, a dense carpet of grass, magnificent pines, sturdy live oaks, water oaks, with their wide branching and dense shade, under which the children can pass many a pleasant hour shielded from the rays of the semi-tropical sun; thrifty post, willow or turkey oaks, haw bushes that have become trees, wild plum, cherry and persimmon; though the chief growth is pine, with scattering oaks, except along the water courses; all give rise to emotions of pleasure.

The streams all flow into Peace River to the east. Along their banks are dense growths of sweet and black-gum trees, maples, cypress, hickory, live oaks, linden, red bay, cabbage, blue, saw and needle palms, magnolia, whitewood, ash, iron wood, wild sour orange, and other varieties too numerous to mention. Here, too, are wild grapes and running vines that climb the highest trees, too great in number and variety to be enumerated. Surely here is the field for a botanist—for a true lover of nature. Here such can devote their time to study and delightful and refreshing observation.

We must not pause by the way, however, but note as we pass along, that here, as in other parts of Florida, the land is formed in strips, or sections, of varying quality. That near Peace River, or on either side of the creeks that flow into it, is usually of the best quality. The quality of the soil is evidenced by the character of the varied growths.

Having arrived at the edge of Fort Meade, the attention is arrested by the number, the vigor and the beauty, of the orange groves grown without the aid of commercial fertilizers. The vigorous water oaks along the streets and in the yards, also demand and receive our admiration. The lovely carpet of Bermuda, or other grasses, with which the streets and fields are covered, is suggestive of fine, fat cattle and plenty of milk. Bees, too, would evidently do well here, hence it should be "a land of milk and honey."

A knoll to the northeast of the village, whereon is a house, beneath the shade of majestic oaks, and adjoining an orange grove, is pointed out as the site of the old fort. The Methodist Church is to the north of the business centre, and the fine new two-story school building is south of west. Across Peace River, to the east, is along bridge. The town plat is surveyed into lots of four acres, separated by wide streets that cross each other at right-angles. The business houses are located on Main Street, the post office and drug store on the corner of this street and Orange Avenue, being the centre. To the east is the Adams House and to the west is French's Hotel.

Observation shows that there are four general merchandise stores, two drug stores, two hotels, two pool-rooms, a post office and a telegraph office, a millinery store, a barber shop, a livery stable, a blacksmith shop and tools awaiting an enterprising man to put it in operation, a public library, a number of real-estate offices, several physicians, and last, but not least, a live newspaper, the Fort Meade Pioneer. To the north is the Methodist Church, to the west the large two-story school house. The residences are scattered about in country style, the most of the houses and the 20,000 orange trees (about 6,000 in bearing) being within a radius of one mile of the post-office. The population is about three hundred. The voting precinct, of which this is the centre, polled 214 votes at the last election.

From the earliest settlement, Fort Meade has been a trading centre of considerable importance, it being the supply point for a large extent of country, especially to the east and south. Here the traders met the drovers from the outlying ranges; here many a sale and exchange has been made; here for many years has been the camping ground.

Fort Meade was incorporated March 16th of the present year, 1885. It is located in the southeast corner of Township 31 south, Range 27 east. Being four miles square, it covers an area of sixteen square miles of the most fertile, productive and attractive lands in the State. The business part of the corporation is in Sections 26 and 27, Main Street being just north of the dividing line. John Jackson, Deputy Government Surveyor, ran the exterior township lines in 1854, and it was sectioned by W. G. Mosley in the following year. From the Field Notes I quote the following very unusual and very flattering:


"This township is finely adapted for agricultural pursuits, the land being mostly of first and second rate quality pine, with dark brown rocky soil and undulating surface. The Tallakhchopka River, or Pease Creek, runs through it from north to south, with a narrow stream and flat banks, and wide, thick swamps subject to overflow from freshets. "The same deadening extends through it north and south and from two to three miles in width. The western tiers of sections are flat pine and ponds, third rate land. Settlements thick and numerous throughout the whole township."

The early settlers invariably selected the most fertile and productive lands, for they were compelled to secure their subsistence from the soil; hence, as large crops could be raised here without commercial fertilizers, the scenery also being very pleasing and attractive, and the climate delightful, it is no wonder that the residents, and also the increasing numbers of visitors, should deem it the finest section of Florida. Its low latitude gives it great advantages in the raising of citrus and other semi-tropical fruits, frosts and freezes being very rare. The thrifty orange groves show the excellent adaptation of both soil and climate. Here vegetables grow with wonderful luxuriance all the year, well rewarding the cultivator's attention. The town has two telegraph lines and a daily mail, and will doubtless have a railroad within a year, surveys having already been made.

A stopping place is necessary for the prospector while he is determining where to locate. In this respect Fort Meade is fortunate, having two pleasant hotels. The ADAMS HOUSE, just east of the post-office in the centre of a four acre orange grove, and near the beautiful live oaks and delightful scenery that adorn the river's banks, is a very pleasant and convenient stopping place. Mr. A. H. Adams, with his agreeable family, from Seymour, Ind., is the obliging and attentive landlord.

V. L. TILLIS finds himself equal to the task of running the post-office, a drug store and two telegraph lines, though he has to get around lively at times. In fact, he is always busy.

MRS. EDNA HAYMAN has a very neat and quite attractive millinery store, and is emphatically a woman of business, as well as polite, agreeable and entertaining. She naturally has hots of friends and, we understand, gives excellent satisfaction.

HENDRY & CARTER, dealers in general merchandise, are located on the corner opposite the post-office and are doing an immense business. They are active young men, and their store and warehouse is literally packed with goods of every variety and description in general use, as well as a great variety of miscellaneous articles, their endeavor being to supply every demand.

J. N. HOOKER & CO. are located to the west, and appear to be doing their full share of the trade. They have a large and well-assorted stock of general merchandise, suited to the needs of the country. This store was opened previous to the one at Bartow, and Colonel Hooker makes it frequent visits, though it is under the management of able and trusty clerks.

The LIVERY STABLE of Wilson & McKinney next attracts our attention, being a great convenience, as well as necessity. The building is commodious and well-arranged for the large number of horses and carriages that are kept on hand, for sale, or for the benefit of the travelling public.

The FRENCH HOUSE, just beyond the livery stable, is situated about half way between the post-office and the fine, new school-house. J. L. Bettis, the genial landlord, was recently from Jacksonville, and has a wide acquaintance and an extended knowledge of the country. The rooms are pleasant and the table attractive, while the quality of the cooking, etc., is of exceptional excellence.

C. C. WILSON, the practicing attorney, has a very pleasant residence half a mile west of the post-office, where a new centre is being established. Though comparatively young, he is a representative man, being the Delegate-at-large for Polk and Manatee Counties to the Constitutional Convention. He has several promising groves, a great variety of choice and rare fruits, is a practical experimenter, and is largely interested in the lands of this section.

The SUNNYSIDE NURSERIES of Mitchell & Hester, to the extreme west, with their choice varieties of oranges, lemons, limes, plums, persimmons, figs, grapes, peaches, mulberries, roses, cedars, arbor vitæs, etc., besides a few each of plants too numerous to mention, must be seen to be fully appreciated.

Capt. F. A. WHITEHEAD, one of Fort Meade's leading and most active and influential citizens, has a delightful residence amid towering oaks and a fruitful orange grove, in the heart of the village. He also has a variety of pleasing growths, such as Japanese plums and persimmons, Peen-To peaches, lemons, limes, pine-apples, strawberries, bananas, mangos, sapadillos, grapes of numerous kinds, flowers in great variety, and other things too numerous to mention. He also has a large number of acres of the choicest citrus fruits in grove. A native of New York Cit, he has made good use of his thirteen years in Florida. Resigning his position in the navy at the close of the war, he made a thorough acquaintance of California, and has been in the fruit and stock business ever since, yet having a farm in Delaware. He prefers Florida to any State, has large tracts of land here and is doing a very extensive real-estate business.

E. E. SKIPPER is an extensive dealer in lands, knows the country thoroughly, and can suit every taste or condition, as he has every variety and price, both unimproved and improved. HIs faith in the country is shown by the fact that he has some 3,000 trees in grove, of which about 400 are bearing, some being from twelve to fifteen years old.

R. C. LANGFORD has a very pleasant and productive place in a pine and oak clearing about a mile southwest of the postoffice, with which he is connected by a private telegraph wire. Here he has a superabundance of fruits, vegetables and other farm and garden produce that would astonish those who think nothing can be produced in Florida. He raises them in his grove year after year. He has choice tracts of land all over the country, and makes a business of buying and selling lands.

J. E. ROBESON, a practical surveyor and dealer in lands, has been thoroughly identified with the interests of Fort Meade since 1872, the past eight years being chiefly devoted to surveying and selecting lands. He graded large quantities of the Disston and also of the Sir Edward Reed lands, and is now devoting his time and knowledge to the benefit of the public who are so fortunate as to secure his services.

Dr. M. O. ARNOLD, recently from southeastern Iowa, charmed by the attractive beauty of the country, located at Fort Meade. Finding the country very healthful and desiring a broader field, having had five years practice in his profession, he has become interested in aiding others to secure homes in this delicious land, and many are being benefitted by his efforts. He was formerly treasurer of the South Florida Land Company, of which Dr. C. C. Mitchell, the present State Commissioner of Lands and Immigration, was president. He is now agent for the Florida Land and Improvement Company; The Kissimmee Land Company; The Atlantic and Gulf Coast Canal and Okeechobee Land Company, and The Florida Land and Mortgage Company (limited). He gives special attention to tracts for colonization, and to town plats for settlement, both large and small. He has a tract of 12,000 acres, suitable for towns or colonies, for a nominal figure; also, several miles of gulf frontage, in a tropical climate, with some very fertile lands, as well as large tracts with fine natural grasses, especially suitable for stock ranges. Besides these heavy and desirable outlying lands, he has extensive interests at Fort Meade and vicinity.

Dr. C. F. Marsh, recently from Mount Pleasant, Iowa, has a high reputation as a skillful practitioner.

Dr. J. WEEMS, formerly of Missouri, is also a pleasant and capable physician, ranking high in the profession.

BLACK & EDWARDS, real estate agents and civil engineers—J. F. Black, of Illinois, and J. A. Edwards, of Alabama—have a good line of grove property, town lots and wild lands. They buy and sell on commission, give careful attention to surveys and titles, and give all possible assistance to those who desire to better health or fortune by locating on the fertile lands in the delicious climate of Polk County.

JAMES WYNN, a competent builder and contractor, is about to establish the saw-mill, which he has purchased, convenient to the town, and will furnish lumber and erect buildings at favorable prices.

PHILIP DZIALYNSKI has, for a number of years, been prominently identified with such interests as tended to the development of the town, and largely interested in its affairs, during the several stages of its growth.

G. W. HENDRY, who became a resident of Fort Meade in 1852, being then a stout boy, has written and published an interesting descriptive pamphlet of Polk County. When he came , this section was occupied by a company of troops at the fort, but there were no settlers, unless hie elder brother, F. A. Hendry and family, with his father-in-law, Louis Lanier and family, who had the first herds of cattle driven east of Peace River, and were engaged in supplying the soldiers with beef, be so considered. Mr. Hendry is and has been actively engaged in locating land, having a thorough acquaintance with all South Florida, and unquestionable authority.

[Source: Homeland; a description of the climate, productions, resources, topography, soil, opportunities, attractions, advantages, development and general characteristics of Polk County, Florida. By Sherman Adams, 1885.; Tigner, Tatum & Company, Bartow, Florida. Transcribed by Sheila Pitts Massie, Coordinator.]

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