POLK COUNTY, FLORIDA
Polk County's Fertile Ridge.




A RIDE THROUGH THE BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY ALONG PEACE RIVER.
[Special Correspondence Florida Times-Union.]

FORT MEADE, JUNE 20, 1885.

Thinking that a few words regarding this section of rapidly-developing South Florida might be acceptable to the thousands of your readers in various parts of the Union, I contribute my mite for their benefit. Your valuable journal is not only a recognized authority in regard to matters in all parts of the State, but is is also a very important factor in aid of the remarkable progress that is being made. It is, in fact, a necessity to all who desire correct knowledge regarding the capabilities, advantages and progress of the varied sections of this great State, destined, ere long, to be one of the most wealthy and prosperous States in the galaxy of the Union. This is to be a land of lovely and attractive homes, as well as the chief resort of the invalid and tourist.

Leaving the busy cars of the South Florida Railroad, and bidding adieu to Captain Badeau, the genial and accommodating conductor of the branch road, at Bartow, I take a look about the pleasant and fast-growing town. Its steets are wide and cross each other at right-angles. Numerous new buildings, completed or in progress, are seen in every direction. The fine court-house, the most attractive and commodious in South Florida, arrests our attention. It is situated on a commanding rise of ground, the centre of the business portion of the progressive town. The square acre that surrounds it is inclosed with a row of live-oak posts, painted red, through which cable chains are run. Sixteen feet within is a neat picket fence, painted white. The court-house roof, with its four gables, has just been covered with cypress shingles and painted a dark red.

But the most attractive feature of the town, not excepting the indications of solid progress, evidenced by the numerous new buildings, is to be found in the beautiful oaks, that greet the view in every direction, and afford such delicious shade. They even enhance the feeling of sure solidity that is derived from the firm tread of the ground, which is quite in contrast with many other sections.

But it is dinner time, and at half past one, P. M., the demands of the inner man override, if not suppress, the desire to indulge in contemplations of the beautiful. An abundant and toothsome meal, wherein home-grown vegetables play an important part, neatly-served and well-cooked, is secured at the Bartow House, and I devote the balance of the day to observation and reflection on the many advantages that this section affords to enterprising men from all sections of the Union, and especially to men of moderate means with families.

Here I find an extensive tract of fertile pine and oak lands, and learn that the settlers have been self-supporting from the very first. The South Florida Railroad now has its terminus here, to the southeast, and a survey of the Florida Southern runs through the corporation, just to the west of the centre of this attractive capital of Polk County.

During the evening it was my good fortune to make the acquaintance of Dr. C. C. Mitchell, a distinguished resident of Fort Meade, who has been very appropriately appointed as Commissioner of Land and Immigration, by our able and clear-headed Governor, General Perry. The result of our interchange of ideas was an earnest and courteous invitation to visit that noted section of balmy Florida, of which I had heard much but had seen nothing. Cancelling some other engagements, I cheerfully accepted the proposition, and early the next morning we were whirling rapidly to the southward.

The genial doctor is a good judge of horse flesh, and drives an excellent team. The country through which we sped was a surprise, it was so different from many other sections that I had visited. The roads were hard and firm, and as easily traveled as those at the North. There was an absence of deep sand and of annoying dust. New buildings, some of them of an elegant character, were seen on either hand; also, many a beautiful orange grove, whose thrifty growth and exceptionally dark green leaves, betokened a fertile and productive soil. Promising fields of vigorous corn are quite numerous, indicating that the people are inclined to raise their own supplies, and not put all their trust in the orange crop, not at least until a railroad should be extended from Bartow or Lakeland, to give them better facilities for transportation and ready access to Northern markets.

The general aspect of the country was very pleasing and attractive, be described as a broad plateau of fertile and productive lands, extending some three miles west of Peace River, from Bartow to Fort Meade, and a few miles beyond to the north and to the south. The surface is generally undulating in broad swells, with here and there a handsome knoll that would furnish an exceptionally pleasant and salubrious building site. Numbers of them are so occupied, and pleasant homes with luxuriant groves of orange trees, laden with abundant promise of the golden fruit, as well as varied farm crops, the most notable of which are thrifty corn, pease and sugar-cane, occupy occasional clearings.

The forest growth, away from the river bank, is chiefly pine, interspersed here and there with wide-branching live oaks that, with the firm tread of the ground, gives an impression of substantial and enduring stability. There are also many water oaks, whose thrifty and vigorous growths give a delicious shade that is highly appreciated, especially by visitors from the North and West. Post or willow oaks are also quite numerous, and attain a greater size than in many other parts of Florida. Here, too, the haw becomes a handsome tree, instead of a bush by the wayside. The wild persimmon is also abundant.

As the genial and thoroughly-informed doctor and myself speed over the country, by the west road, known as Broadway, as we leave Bartow, we make occasional detours to the right or to the left, either bodily or mentally, by the doctor's intelligent and far-reaching descriptions, intermingled with scraps of history or personal adventure.

The population is very much scattered, every settler evidently endeavoring to secure all the elbow room possible, that there might be no danger of conflicting interests and consequent animosity. Though since the first settlement of this section, in the fifties, some thirty or more years since, the people have raised considerable quantities of corn, pease, sweet potatoes, rice and sugar-cane for domestic use, as well as some cotton for shipment their chief wealth has been in their fine herds of cattle and countless swine, which are here of much more pleasing form and quality than in the tier of counties to the north. Here, the shafts of wit leveled at the "razor-backs," the "pine-rooters," the destructive and remorseless vagrants of other sections that have all the worst characteristics of the creatures by courtesy called "hogs," have no place. They appear to be of good form, sleek and fat, evidently do not have to root very hard or persistently for a living. The hog here, undoubtedly, has found his paradise, the abundance of mast from the numerous oaks and the esculent roots, found in the lower lands and along the courses of the numerous running streams that wend their way to Peace River, supplying them with an abundance of nutritious food.

The water courses are quite numerous, flowing from the flat woods of the west, and serving as natural drains to the section between them and Peace River. These creeks break the plateau along the river into ridges and give a great and pleasing variety to land and landscape, which give an attractive homeland character to people from the North, making them feel much more at home than is possible in unbroken tracts of strictly pine country.

In valleys along the banks of these creeks, and beyond, are magnificent and enduring live oaks, choice sweet-gums, majestic cypress, cabbage palm, beautiful water oaks, attractive maples, wild sour oranges, black-gums, turkey oaks, tall and sturdy hickories, sweet bays, magnolias, whitewood, haw, persimmon, abundance of beautiful pines, wild cherry, and quite a number of other forest growths. There are also numerous vigorous and thrifty climbing vines and creepers, a great variety of shrubs, wild plants, weeds, etc.; in fact the natural productions of all the zones, except the frigid, seem to have centered here. The country is very pleasing, but quite unlike either the pine or hammock sections of other parts of Florida, and people from all portions of the country can here find particular attractions. The slopes of the valleys gave me especial pleasure.

Reaching Dr. Mitchell's pleasant residence, on the west of the village, we found his men busy in the branches of a wide-spreading oak that overhung the yard, brushing a swarm of bees off a large limb, and cooling down their aggressiveness of disposition with a plentiful supply of fresh water. But an excellent dinner was ready for serving, and I will defer remarks upon his fine groves of orange trees and his many acres of nursery, wherein are growing not only orange and lemon trees, ready for transplanting, but also thousands of roses and a great variety of small fruits, shrubs, grasses, etc. In fact, I understand that the intention is to grow every species that may prove to be desirable or useful, and I shall watch the progress of the experiments with great interest, as it may be the means of adding many thousands of dollars to the value of the annual producitons of this delightful land.

"SHERMAN."

[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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