Even such magnificent outfits are given the cold shoulder by Palm Beach, which allows no trailers to remain within its sacrosanct city limits for more than one hour; but the rest of Florida’s communities welcome them gladly, provide municipally-operated or privately-licensed trailer parks, complete with electric connections, running water and sewers, recreation halls, cafeterias and soda fountains and even in some instances swimming pools, for fees which range from under a dollar to five dollars or more a week, depending upon the exclusiveness of the environment. There are social castes even in trailerdom.
There has, of course, been a high proportion of Federal money contributed to Florida’s latest wave of physical development. Federal funds have played their full part in highway improvement; the WPA has had a hand in the building of bridges, schoolhouses, parks and recreation grounds, piers and docks and public buildings of all kinds, while the Florida community which has not got a new Post Office since 1933 is rather exceptional.
It must not be inferred, however, that Florida’s present boom is based entirely upon the beneficence of Uncle Sam. Private capital in incalculable but enormous amounts has been pouring into Florida in a swelling stream, not only for the construction of new homes, hotels and business buildings and the establishment of new manufacturing industries, but for investment in strategically located real estate, not for quick speculative sale but to hold, perhaps as a hedge against inflation.
Men of millions are proving their faith in Florida’s future by putting their funds into Florida land which they can carry at small cost under Florida’s liberal tax laws, whenever they can pick up property lying in the path of probable future growth at bargain prices. One very large estate, for example, has been buying cheap pine timber land in anticipation of the paper mill development now in full swing, until it holds close to a half million acres, with a prospective annual net income from pulpwood of $2 an acre or more. Another enormous family estate is still pouring money into the drainage and development of thousands of acres of agricultural land in the Everglades. One nationally-known economist and financier is making his Florida investments in residential building lots in a suburban development close to one of the large cities. Individual investments since 1932 of from $100,000 up to nearly a million could be cited literally by dozens as evidence of the confidence with which capital views Florida’s economic future. They are buying farm land, forest lands, city business property, residential property, factory sites and water frontage. And for every one of these large interests currently putting their money into Florida there are thousands of moderate means doing the same thing on a smaller scale.
This is a real estate boom, of an entirely different kind from the one of the middle twenties. Acting in the light of the experience of that speculative episode, Florida has enacted and is enforcing strictly a code of laws governing real estate transactions which are calculated to protect buyers against misrepresentation by high-pressure salesmen, and to punish severely any real estate broker or agent detected in crooked or unethical practices. Only brokers licensed by the state may deal in real estate and no broker gets a license unless he passes a strict examination as to his character and previous record as well as his knowledge of the business. There is, of course, no way of guaranteeing individual honesty. But the prospective buyer of Florida real estate today is certainly much better protected in dealing with one of the four thousand licensed real estate brokers than was the speculative plunger of 1925 when he was at the mercy of fifty thousand or more irresponsible “wild-cat” salesmen.
Coming back to the important question of transportation over Florida’s enormous area, aviation is becoming more and more an integral part of Florida’s scheme of things. There are few cities too small or too poor to have a municipal airport, with regular airmail and passenger service either a present actuality or a well-founded hope for the near future. Emergency landing fields, most of them with facilities for servicing private planes, are scattered over the Florida landscape almost as thickly as sub-divisions were in the old boom days. Indeed, many of them are what is left of boom-time real estate developments. Every city having a harbor frontage on ocean or gulf has or plans to have a seaplane port in addition to its land-plane facilities. Airmail and passenger flying services are in operation between the major cities of Florida and direct flying routes of the big eastern airlines have their termini at Jacksonville, Miami and Tampa, with strong competition among them for the extension of their lines to other parts of the state. And at Miami, the Pan-American Airways maintains the largest seaplane terminus in the world, in and out of which ply the giant clippers which traverse the West Indies, Mexico and Central and South America.
Transportation to and from and around Florida is not limited to the railroads, the highways and the air. The development of Florida’s harbor and waterway facilities since 1925 is one of the most amazing phases of the growth of the state. There were four seaports capable of accommodating and providing cargoes for large ocean-going freighters and passenger liners in 1926. Now there are ten. The splendid passenger ships of the coastwise lines out of New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore now make Miami as well as Jacksonville, while the new Port Everglades, at Fort Lauderdale, has become a port of call for cruise trips of the Cunard, Canadian Pacific and German liners. Miami has replaced Key West as the northern terminus for passenger traffic to and from Havana, while the railroad freight ferry of the Florida East Coast Railroad now operates its car-floats from Port Everglades. Fort Pierce, on the Indian River, has become an active and busy seaport, primarily because of the needs of the citrus industry for low-rate refrigerated water carriage of oranges and grapefruit to the world markets. Port Everglades has its reason for being, not alone in a similar need of greater facilities for the shipment of the agricultural products of the lower Everglades and the Redlands district, but because the freight requirements of the nearby city of Miami cannot be fully served in its limited harbor space. The new seaport of West Palm Beach finds its cargoes, like Fort Pierce, in the enlarged and still growing output of Florida’s farms and the industries founded upon them. Fernandina, Port St. Joe and Panama City, with their natural harbors, have long been ports of minor importance, now rising to first rank by reason of the new paper-making industries established in those towns. And the old seaport of Tampa is challenging Jacksonville for first rank in annual volume of tonnage.
For fifty years it has been the dream of yachtsmen whose tastes or means limit their navigation to land-locked or well sheltered waters to be able to take their craft from Boston to Florida and around Florida to New Orleans and up the Mississippi to the Great Lakes. That dream has just arrived so near the point of reality that except for the short stretch across New Jersey, from New Brunswick to Trenton, it is possible for the navigator of any craft drawing not more than six feet of water to take his vessel to and around Florida from any point on the Atlantic coast south of Boston or from any point on the Great Lakes or the Mississippi River, without once having to face the open sea or the Gulf of Mexico. The inland waterways which parallel the Atlantic coast from the lower Delaware River and enter Florida from Cumberland Sound have been completed by the dredging of channels and the establishment of navigation lights and channel markers all the way down Florida’s East Coast, utilizing the natural sounds or salt rivers lying between the mainland and the offshore islands and keys. One can take his outboard-motored skiff, his cabin cruiser or his house-boat of whatever pretensions to Jacksonville, Daytona Beach or Miami by this route, or the navigator can turn westward at Stuart and go through the St. Lucie River and canal to Lake Okeechobee, cross the lake or skirt its southerly shore to Moore Haven and the Caloosahatchee River, leading to Charlotte Harbor and the keyguarded shore of the Gulf of Mexico, where behind the shelter of the keys he can voyage safely around the great arc of Florida’s West Coast and so on to Mobile, Gulfport, New Orleans and the Mississippi.
More than four thousand craft passed into Florida and out again through the inland waterway in 1936, the last year for which figures are available as this is written. Pleasure boats, fishing craft and freight-carrying barges utilize the waterway. In the first month after the cross-state canal through Lake Okeechobee was opened more than five hundred vessels made the transit between the Atlantic and the Gulf.
Water transportation does, indeed, play a big part in the economic life of Florida. As this is written private capital is preparing to construct a ship canal forty miles long to con nect the inland city of Lakeland with Tampa Bay and so furnish water transportation for the output of the great phosphate mines of Polk County, which produce 80 percent of the world’s supply of this essential element for agricultural fertilizers. Then there is the highly controversial cross-state Florida Ship Canal, hardly begun before work was stopped, a commercial and economic project which found itself unexpectedly entangled in the turmoil of national politics and whose future at this writing, late 1937, is still beclouded in a fog of doubt as to when its construction will be resumed and the canal completed, if not as to whether it will ever be done. The authors have attempted, elsewhere, to present the facts about the Florida Ship Canal in as detached a fashion as possible, with little hope that even the most cold-blooded and truthful analysis will be acceptable to the violent partisans on either side of the Great Florida Canal Controversy.
If and when the Canal is constructed it will add three more to Florida’s list of seaports accessible to the largest ocean freighters, Palatka, Ocala and Dunellon.
Turning from the surface of the waters to their depths, one of the reasons why folk come to Florida and stay there, the sole reason why many make their annual pilgrimage, is the fishing. With 1,146 miles of coastline on the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, and innumerable sounds, bayous, inlets and salt water creeks, Florida has in recent years become the mecca for salt-water fishermen of all degrees, from the veriest tyro who ever dropped a line off a pier to the sporting enthusiasts with their hundred-dollar rods and reels, who find life’s greatest thrill in landing the leaping tarpon or the acrobatic sailfish. Fish of the tropics and fish of the northern seas swarm in the waters off Florida’s coasts in such profusion as cannot be matched elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere. For the fisherman who prefers the calmer but still often exciting sport of fresh-water fishing, Florida’s almost innumerable lakes and rivers are full of fish of many kinds, including what sportsmen generally are coming to regard as the king of fresh-water game fish, the big-mouthed black bass, with which the State Fish and Game Commission keeps the inland waters stocked. Bass from ten pounds upwards are so common in Florida’s lakes that a six-pounder, such as would be something to brag about in the North, is dismissed as commonplace; many bass of fifteen pounds are recorded annually. Naturally, in a country so completely surrounded and covered by fish-haunted waters, the commercial fisheries of Florida rank, in the aggregate, among its chief industries. It is about a ten to one chance that the shrimp served in any northern hotel or restaurant or offered in cans at the grocery were caught somewhere off the Florida coast, almost anywhere from Fernandina to Pensacola, or canned in a Florida shrimp cannery. A very high proportion of the nation’s consumption of Spanish mackerel, pompano, red snapper and other seafoods has been caught by Florida fishermen and shipped from Florida ports. Even the humble catfish of Lake Okeechobee finds its way to northern markets; many carload lots of Okeechobee cats are shipped to canneries in the Missouri Valley where they are, reputedly, dyed pink and offered to the unsuspecting consumers as a particularly choice brand of salmon! At least, that was the practice a few years ago and doubtless continues unless the Federal authorities have put an end to this particular form of misbranding.
As the waters of Florida teem with fish, so do its fields, forests and swamps teem with an abundance and variety of wild game. There is good hunting of some sort anywhere in Florida. From the omnipresent cotton-tail to the bears which have not yet been exterminated in the dense forests, the list of Florida game animals includes the not infrequent catamounts of the Big Cypress Swamp, and the elusive ‘coon and wary ‘possum in almost every part of the state. There is abundance of deer in the Everglades and in the National Forests of Florida.
Quail abound everywhere and pheasants are not uncommon. Most of Florida’s abundant bird life, except the millions of wild ducks which visit its waters in the migration season, are rigidly protected by law, well-enforced against the rapacious pot-hunter. Most of Florida’s bird-life is either too ornamental or too useful to be sacrificed. Just as a matter of correcting a common misapprehension, the flamingo is not a native Florida bird. Those pink and white feathered birds which the Florida visitor may have seen at the Hialeah race track are importations from the West Indies. Their cousins, the roseate spoonbill, inhabit Florida and are often mistaken for flamingoes. The giant frigate birds soaring and wheeling aloft with hardly a visible wing motion, over the waters of the Gulf, are believed to be heralds of the storm when they swing landward. The blue and white herons, the dozens of varieties of cranes and other long-legged water fowl, the ungainly pelican and the sleek diving cormorants, the numberless terns and gulls, sandpipers and other sea birds, are a part of the scenery with which Florida sets the stage for the entertainment of its winter guests. They are as much an essential part of the Florida scene as are the galloping porpoises in its harbors, the alligators in its lakes and bayous, or the occasional manatees or sea-cows in its rivers.
Driving across the Everglades along the Tamiami Trail or following the water-courses almost anywhere else in Florida the visitor may see occasional gators sunning themselves on the banks, ready to scramble into the water at the slightest alarm. Picturesquely vicious as the alligator looks, he has never been held a menace to human life. Pig raising is likely to prove unprofitable if the piggery is too close to a’gator-haunted pool, and it is not recommended to let toddling infants frolic on the banks of remote South Florida lakes and creeks unless there is a nurse or a policeman, or both, close by. The alligator is an arrant coward and will not attack anything which offers resistance. A fox-terrier or a tomcat can drive a ten-foot ‘gator to cover.
Unlike the alligator, the rattlesnake stands its ground and, if annoyed, can be a deadly antagonist. Being a gentleman of royal reptilian blood, however, the rattlesnake always gives ample warning before he strikes and never pursues when one steps aside and gives him a wide berth. The tourist visitor to Florida who does not stray off the beaten tourist track need have no slightest apprehension of encounters with rattlesnakes. One can live in Florida for a lifetime and never see one, unless he goes of deliberate purpose into the secluded and remote regions where they nest. It is always open season for rattlesnakes in Florida, and commercial hunters thrive from the sale of rattlesnake skin to be tanned into ornamental leather for shoes, belts and handbags. One of Florida’s curious industries is a cannery for putting up rattlesnake meat, which is white, tender and likened in taste to the breast of capon by those who have eaten it. The industry is still a one-man affair, but the market for snake meat is said to be growing among epicures. It is very vastly exceeded by the market for turtle steaks. Key West does an extensive business in catching and canning loggerhead turtles, which are caught in abundance in the Florida Straits, between Cuba and the mainland, where the warm waters of the Gulf pour into the Atlantic, forming the Gulf Stream whose current warms our own Atlantic Coast and swings across the ocean to mingle with the icy Greenland current and so give rise to the fogs which are the chief obstacle to the navigation of the North Atlantic by sea or air.
So far we have been sketching in rather broad strokes a rough outline of the purely physical aspects of Florida as nature made it and man has developed it. All derive more or less directly from the Florida climate, and in combination constitute the lure which draws people to Florida to play or to work, to visit or to stay.
What do folk do with themselves when they come to Florida, besides go fishing?
The principal thing that most tourists do is to loaf in the sun, usually with as few clothes on as the law permits; at any rate, to loaf. It would be an interesting calculation, which no statistician has undertaken so far, to figure out how many more swim-suits than swimmers there are on Florida’s beaches at the height of the tourist season. It is a safe guess that more tourists take sunbaths than go in bathing. The fit of one’s bathing suit has nothing to do with the wearer’s ability to swim. As a matter of fact, most of the swimming done in Florida is done in tanks or pools, which are as often filled with fresh water as with salt. The attraction of Florida’s beaches is their broad expanses of hard-packed fine white sand and the opportunity they afford to loll undressed out-of-doors in Winter as well as in Summer and absorb into one’s system the healthgiving rays of the sun with the least physical exertion.
But one does not need to go into the water, or even to lie on the beach in a bathing suit to enjoy Florida’s winter sunshine and that mystical something in the Florida air which relaxes tense nerves, lessens the pressure on hardening arteries and tired heart muscles, and fills the spirits of those who do nothing but sit around and soak in the climate with a sense of complete contentment and well-being. For those, however, who are not content to take their ease in utter idleness Florida offers to its winter guests opportunity to participate in a variety of sports and amusements which includes every form of entertainment ever devised, from the distinctly non-athletic checkers to polo, from Bible classes to burlesque.
It is hard to get out of sight of a golf course anywhere in Florida. The ancient pastime of pitching horse-shoes owes its current nation-wide popularity to its revival a few years ago by a group of elderly winter tourists in St. Petersburg. Few Florida cities which cater to the winter tourist trade are without their roque courts and their batteries of tennis and handball courts. The latest and most currently popular form of outdoor sport in Florida is shuffle-board. Until recently an amusement confined to the decks of ships, shuffle-board has become such an institution in Florida that in some communities the winter membership of shuffle-board clubs runs high into the thousands. Like skeet-shooting, motor-boating, or just sitting on a green bench in St. Petersburg’s park and listening to a band concert, it keeps the participants out-of-doors where they can get the full benefit of Florida’s climate, and that is what most of them have come to Florida for.
All sorts and conditions of men and women make up Florida’s transient winter population. The casual newspaper reader who has gained his impressions of Florida from the headlines and the rotogravure sections is apt to think of Florida as inhabited in winter solely by snooty millionaires hibernating in their Palm Beach villas, show-girls and tinhorn sports crowding the beaches of Miami, horse-race devotees flocking to Hialeah and Tropical Park, and gamblers, bookmakers and thieves of all degrees trying to take their money away from them by fair means or foul.
That is only a slightly overdrawn picture of a widely-prevalent impression of Florida. It is not even faintly accurate. It reflects only the more spectacular activities of a highly limited area of Florida’s lower East Coast. Even along the narrow strip of land lying between the Everglades and the Atlantic and stretching the seventy-five miles between Palm Beach and Miami the exaggerated picture conveyed by the headlines and the rotos represents only the extravagances of possibly one percent of the total number of the winter residents of that area. Their doings are reported because they are news, and news is the record of the unusual. Human nature does not change, even when it goes to Florida. Wonderful as the Florida climate is, it has not the power to alter the instincts, tastes and habits of those who come under its influence. It can only rejuvenate their bodies.
So Florida, that is to say public opinion as reflected in the state’s attitude toward its guests, says in effect: “As long as you’re in Florida make yourselves at home. Do what you like, follow your inclinations, let yourselves go. You came to Florida to relax; choose your own form of relaxation, and we will see that you have every facility for getting the most out of your Florida vacation. We only insist that you observe a reasonable degree of law and order within the restrictions of ordinary public decency.”
Since birds of a feather tend to flock together, the socially prominent, the extravagant Johnny-come-latelies, the social climbers, the spendthrifts, the sportsmen and the sports and the parasites of varying degrees who are always found on the fringe of those classes, whenever they are at play, concentrate in Winter where others of their kind foregather, and their gay doings, sports and adventures make headlines and so present a picture of Florida which is true enough so far as it portrays the activities of a few thousand, but makes a decidedly lopsided picture of the life of more than two million other Florida visitors and of Florida’s permanent residents.
Strikingly in contrast, and far more typical of the vast majority of Florida’s winter resorts and winter visitors, is the picture presented by Florida’s sixteen hundred churches every Sunday. To get a seat in the crowded pews of most of them one has to go early and stand in line. In some of the larger communities to which tourists flock, churches draw congregations which overflow out on the steps, where hundreds of the devout may be seen kneeling throughout the service. Many of the churches have two morning services on Sundays, some even a third especially for young people and children. These folk, who constitute or represent nine-tenths, at least, of Florida’s winter guests, also do not change their characters with the climate. They are the ones upon whom the charm of Florida’s skies exerts the most potent influence; it is from their ranks that Florida draws most of its new yearly crop of permanent residents; they and their kind, sober-minded, unspectacular, quiet, ordinary American people, afflicted with neither wealth nor poverty, plain middle-class people, average Americans of all ages, who are planting their new homes in Florida. They and their children are already on the way to becoming the dominant element in the life and public affairs of the state. Already, as has been pointed out, more than half of Florida’s permanent residents came from elsewhere, and most of them came in just this way; first as tourists, then as tenants in town or country, then as home-owners and participants in the business, industrial and agricultural opportunities, which are not always visible to the tourist in his first season but the magnitude of which becomes apparent as he gets better acquainted with Florida.
One result, and a highly important one, of the rapid growth of Florida’s fixed population since 1920, has been a tremendous increase in Florida’s school capacity and a corresponding elevation of its standards of public education. It has literally been difficult for most Florida communities to build new school houses, both grade schools and high schools, fast enough to accommodate the rapidly growing number of children of school age, while the pressure upon the state’s institutions of higher learning has been even greater. So excellent are the public schools of most Florida communities, so high the pedagogical standards to which their teaching staffs must measure up, that large numbers of families who do not yet regard themselves as Floridians, but who have formed the habit of Florida winter vacations, come down early enough to enroll their children at the beginning of the school year, and remain in Florida until the spring term is over in May. The University of Florida, headed by a former United States Commissioner of Education, has been obliged to tighten up its entrance requirements inorder not to be overcrowded. A similar condition obtains at the State College for Women. As a result of the demand for higher education several municipalities, notably Miami and Tampa, have established municipal universities, while such privately endowed institutions as Stetson University, Rollins College and scores of schools, of all grades from kindergarten to college preparatory, are gaining high rank and national fame, with students and pupils from every part of the United States. Several northern preparatory schools have adopted the plan of dividing the educational year into two parts, faculty and student body moving to Florida in November and carrying on school work under the state’s balmy skies until they return North in April, thus spending the entire year in the out-ofdoors.