Around Florida – Winter Holiday or Permanent Vacation?

“Those folks have never seen Chicago,” the official said. “They had ten hours to wait far their West-bound train on their way from Ohio to Denver. They have sat in the waiting room all day because they have read so much in the newspapers about bandits on the streets of Chicago that they are afraid to go out of the station.”

Florida hurricanes are much like Chicago bandit outbreaks. Their occasional occurrences do limited damage over a highly restricted area and occasion no concern to the great mass of residents who go about their business as usual without giving them a thought. They are news, when they do happen, just as a snow-storm that breaks up the Rose Bowl festival in Southern California is news. News is the record of the unusual event, and the more unusual the greater its news value. Yet there are some folk who, like that Ohio family in the Chicago Union Station, are afraid to go to Florida because they once read news of a hurricane.

For the vast majority of Americans, however, the remote menace of possible hurricanes is no deterrent. They all want to go to Florida, and, sooner or later, most of them do. For nearly four hundred years people have been going to Florida and settling there, primarily because of the climate and of the easy, comfortable living which the climate makes possible. First the Spanish, then the French, then the English Colonists from the North and, for the past hundred years, a steadily swelling stream of tourists and settlers from all parts of the United States have flocked to Florida and found it good. Even in the primitive era when all but a narrow fringe around the edges of Florida was untracked wilderness, before modern medical science had learned how to conquer and control the endemic sub-tropical diseases, adventurous explorers and far-sighted pioneers were staking their claims and founding their homesteads in the Peninsula State. They braved the hazard of “yellow-jack,” a far more serious menace up to the turn of the century than hurricanes ever were, and they accepted malaria and “break-bone fever” as not too high a price to pay for the freedom and comfort of the spacious outdoor life, a life so much easier to live than they had ever found back home, which Florida afforded them. They blazed the trail, these pioneers of the 1800’s, for the great migration which began with the 1900’s and which is still going on at a steadily accelerating pace. Once the disease-carrying mosquitoes were eliminated, the last barrier to the year-’round settlement and development of Florida was removed.

Winter tourists visiting Florida in the season when most insect life is dormant encounter no such pests of mosquitoes and other stinging insects as do summer visitors to the tourist resorts of the North, where outdoor life often becomes almost unendurable. That, indeed, is one of the reasons not always taken into consideration why such a large proportion of Americans are coming to prefer a winter vacation in Florida to a summer vacation in Maine or Canada. The most convincing answer to the question whether insect pests do not make life miserable is found in the statistics already quoted showing a fifty percent increase in the state’s year-round population in ten years.

One of the authors travelled around Florida in the early Summer of 1937, from the middle of May to the end of June. He went into every section of the state, North and South, East and West. He penetrated into remote farming regions, the depths of the Everglades, into cypress swamps and the banks of sluggish inland rivers. He travelled through pine forests and fished in shallow lakes hidden in their depths. Everywhere he asked, “When does your mosquito season begin?” The uniform answer was that this was the mosquito season, but that the work of the State Mosquito Control Board and the cooperation of the counties and the towns was so effective that mosquitoes, except in sporadic instances and in a few regions even more remote than any which the inquirer had visited had ceased entirely to be a nuisance. In the entire course of his three-thousand mile tour of Florida the author acquired only one mosquito bite. That was in a dank, swampy jungle where the sun never penetrated.

One man’s experience, of course, proves nothing. Another traveller over the same route, more susceptible to mosquitoes, might have been bitten many times. But it is offered as a fair statement of fact that, broadly speaking, mosquitoes in Florida today are no more of a pest in Summer than they are in New England, the Middle Atlantic states, the region of the Great Lakes and the Mississippi Valley. The householder in Florida needs insect screens in Summer as much as he does in Pennsylvania; but it is equally possible to spend an evening outof-doors after dark south of Miami without annoyance as at Atlantic City or anywhere on Long Island. This, also, is set down from experience.

Is Florida a comfortable place to live in the year around? One of the best answers is the fact that the habit of going hatless in Summer-the year around, for that matter-appears to the observer from outside to be more prevalent among Florida men than it is anywhere in the North. Ironically enough, one observed the entire faculty and student body of John B. Stetson University at DeLand going about the campus and the town bareheaded. And the founder of their college was a hat manufacturer! Sunstroke or heat prostration is unknown in Florida.

Medical men are in agreement that one effect of the Florida climate is to lower the blood-pressure, thus relaxing nervous tension and reducing the strain on the heart, which accounts for most of the deaths from heat apoplexy or sunstroke in the North. The Florida summer dweller wears the minimum of clothing, light in weight, light in color and loose in texture. “There is always a breeze in the shade,” is a Florida axiom, which is almost literally true. There is no such thing in Florida as the sultry, humid days and steaming nights with which all dwellers in the North are familiar. From bright, dry sunshine to drenching, torrential rains, the transition is seldom but a few minutes. The rains stop as abruptly as they began and the sun blazes forth again, so swiftly are the rain clouds borne across the state by the winds of the Atlantic and the Gulf. And those same winds can be relied upon to speed the evaporation of perspiration and so keep the body cool, and to maintain their cooling circulation through the long, semi-tropical nights. The days are far shorter and the nights longer in Florida than in the higher latitudes.

What has been set down so far in the effort to make it clear why such increasing numbers of Americans are making Florida their home, either part of the year or all of the year, is an at tempt to analyze Florida’s chief asset and source of revenue, its climate. For up to now, and probably for all time to come, the largest single item among the state’s sources of revenue is the sale of its climate to winter visitors. The tourist business always has been and will continue to be Florida’s largest industry. There are no accurate statistics of the dollar value of this industry, nor are there any precise figures of the number of tourists who enter the state for longer or shorter stays between October and April. As close an estimate as can be made, compiled from a wide variety of sources by the Florida State Chamber of Commerce, is that the tourist business for the season of 1936-37, the largest so far in the state’s history, numbered nearly 2,225,000 persons, or more than the entire permanent population. Not all of these were in Florida at once, though the great majority of them spent most of the month of February. That is the time when the Florida climate is in greatest demand, the peak of the market.

Florida’s chief concern as a state has for many years been to stimulate the sale of its winter climate and to encourage the development of more and better facilities for its enjoyment. Hand in hand with that effort, however, has gone the effort to induce winter visitors to establish their permanent residences in the state and to employ their capital and their energies in the development of agriculture and industries based upon the natural resources of Florida. In the past decade this latter effort has become so successful that Florida is now well embarked upon an industrial program of major proportions, while its agricultural development has acquired greater stability and expanded so rapidly and in so many directions that the vision of Florida getting rich from its contributions to the food supply of the nation, while feeding itself, is no longer a fantastic dream.

Like its tourist industry, Florida agriculture and Florida manufacturing industries have their roots in the climate. The same climate which makes Florida so attractive to the winter visitor from the frozen North nurtures the forests, fields and groves which grow the raw materials which underlie Florida’s rapidly developing economic stability. The time is not far off, if indeed it is not already here, when Florida’s income from the products of its factories, fisheries and farms will equal or exceed the estimated present annual income of close to $200,000,000 which its tourist trade brings in.

The earliest pioneers from the northerly English-speaking colonies who made their settlements in North and West Florida among the descendants of the Spanish colonists who had al ready been planted there for more than two centuries, carried with them the agricultural principles and methods current in Georgia and Alabama, and those still prevail in that part of Florida. They found the land for the most part thickly timbered with the fast-growing long-leaf and slash pine on the vast expanses of sandy flats; with live-oaks bearded with Spanish moss on the rolling uplands; with virgin cypress forests along the swampy river banks, and with the familiar scrub palmetto and cabbage palms everywhere.

Those who penetrated southerly into the Florida peninsula found that their exploring Spanish predecessors had left behind them two items which had been so long acclimatized as to seem native to the soil. One of these was the wild orange tree, descended, together with the wild lemon, from seeds brought to America by the conquistadores. The other was the herds of wild cattle, of the same old Spanish stock from which derived the Texas longhorn, which roamed and still roam the vast treeless, well-watered prairie, lying between the swamps of the Everglades to the South and the rising land of Florida’s central ridge.

They found many other things, to be sure, which have played an important part in the building of the Florida of today; but on those three things, timber, oranges and cattle, Florida’s economic growth in the past has largely depended and its present accelerated industrial development is chiefly based.

From the beginning of the settlement of Florida by white men the lumber business has been, as it still is, close to the top of its major industries. Florida still remains predominantly a forest state. Out of its 35,000,000 acres of land, more than two-thirds, 26,000,000, acres are still in forests; only 4,000,000 have as yet been converted to agriculture. The woodcutter’s axe has been chopping away at Florida’s timber for nearly 400 years; sawmills have buzzed in the Florida woods for more than a century; yet there still remain untouched by the axe or the saw great stands of cypress, “the wood eternal,” and millions upon millions of acres of pine, not yet converted into lumber but yielding an annual quota of turpentine and rosin which makes the naval stores industry, like lumber, one of Florida’s chief sources of revenue. And now Florida’s pines have taken on new value, forming the basis of a great new manufacturing industry in which tens of millions of dollars have been invested, the making of paper from pine-wood pulp. Already five huge paper mills are in operation or under construction as this is written, materially strengthening the economic underpinning of the commonwealth.

Like its pines and its cypress trees, Florida’s oranges and grapefruit are a product of its climate, and so, too, are the industries based thereon. It took a hundred years of horticultural experiment to develop the sweet, juicy orange of today from the sour product of the wild Spanish seedlings; half a century to produce Florida grapefruit from the primitive West Indian shaddock. And it took another quarter of a century of costly laboratory experiments and scientific research to find a way whereby the product of Florida citrus groves could be carried over from season to season, marketed in an orderly manner and the price received by the growers equitably stabilized. It was not until 1930 that successful methods of canning grapefruit, orange and grapefruit juice and other citrus products were developed commercially. Now, in 1937, there are fortythree citrus canning plants in operation in Florida, with an annual output of more than 15,000,000 dozen cans, constituting a new industry the importance of which in the economic foundations of the Florida of the future can hardly be over-estimated.

Hand in hand with these modern industrial methods for the utilization of Florida’s native raw materials is going the development of the cattle industry on a scale which already suggests the possibility that Florida beef may some day compete effectively in the food markets of the East with the beef products of the western plains and prairies. Although it has been for years one of the largest cattle-growing states, Florida did not begin to figure as a factor of consequence in the national livestock markets until after 1930, when the effects of the breeding up, begun by a few enterprising stock men, through the infusion of high grade beef strains, began to be noticeable. Today Florida, with more beef cattle than Wyoming-a million and a quarter head-is producing such an increasing quantity and steadily improving quality of beef that great Chicago packing houses, assured of a continuous supply of cattle, are establishing abbatoirs and packing houses in the state.

Those, the paper industry, the citrus canning industry and the beef industry, all of which are treated more in detail elsewhere in this volume, are only the outstanding major items of Florida’s swiftly expanding agricultural and industrial development. In hundreds of other directions new uses for Florida’s animal, vegetable and mineral products are becoming the basis of new industries and businesses. New crops and varieties are coming out of the experimental stage and into commercial production so rapidly that the progressive increase in transportation facilities can hardly keep pace with the demand. The pressure of the growing population upon housing facilities had become so great by the middle of 1937 that Florida was beginning to experience another real estate boom, of proportions almost comparable to that which reached its climax in the Winter of 1924-25 and collapsed the following year. The new real estate boom is, however, of a different order. The other degenerated into frantic, speculative gambling in land without regard to values, as speculative as the stock-trading on margin which ended with the market crash of 1929. The present real estate boom in Florida is based upon an actual pressing demand for homes for the people who are coming to Florida faster than Florida is prepared to house them.

Why are they coming to Florida? They are coming, great and growing numbers of them, because of the new industrial and agricultural opportunities which have just been out lined, which enable thousands to heed the beckoning finger of Florida’s climate and at the same time establish themselves with a means of livelihood amid its charms and comforts. They are coming, more and more of them, because the new economic order, which has resulted from the collapse of old values and the evaporation of the dream of economic security, has taught them the futility of continuing to strive for wealth only to have it taken away from them by taxation, so they are coming to Florida to live in comfort and ease while they still have the wherewithal for subsistence, to Florida where there is no state income tax, where personal and property taxes bear more lightly upon even the wealthiest than they do anywhere else in America and where men with surplus for investment are getting surer, swifter and larger returns on their capital than they can get anywhere else, and with a better chance to be allowed to keep what they get.

Every social and economic order of Americans is represented in the new migration to Florida, and every type of home, from the crudest bungalow to millionaire’s palace, is in demand. Very little of the almost unprecedented volume of building operations going on in Florida in 1937 was speculative. Most of it consisted of residential construction for clients who needed and wanted to occupy the new homes. Some considerable part of it was new hotel construction at the more popular winter resorts. And an amazing volume of new construction of business buildings, schools, hospitals and other institutional or public buildings was necessitated by the very growth of the permanent population in every city and community, from the largest to the smallest.

The people of Florida thought, while the boom of the early twenties was at its height, that they were planning and building for a generation to come, highways, waterways, bridges, parks, ports and public facilities of every kind. After the bubble burst and until after recovery from the depression of the early 1930’s was well under way, they feared that they had planned on too grandiose a scale, had built for a century instead of a generation ahead. Then the turn came and Florida today is trying to catch up with the needs created by its unexpected growth in all directions. In the short space of a dozen years Florida has outstripped the vision of its most enthusiastic boosters of 1925, and it has done this by no artificial inflation of prices, no specious and unfulfillable promises, but by merely telling the world the truth, in season and out of season, about Florida’s climate and Florida’s resources, and inviting the world to come and see for itself.

The world has accepted the invitation, and an unexpected proportion of it has come to stay.

The boom, whatever else its results, left behind it solid foundations on which to build. It left double-track railroads instead of single-track; wide paved highways instead of nar row half-paved or totally unpaved roads; reclaimed islands and beaches instead of swampy shore fronts; substantial bridges, magnificent hotels, sumptuous residences, vast irrigation and drainage works, beautified cities and, perhaps most important of all, a new spirit in the people of Florida, a realization and appreciation for the first time by the citizenry as a whole of what their state possessed and haw highly the rest of the world appraised its value. Even though all of the physical improvements had not been paid for, if palatial hotels were sold on the courthouse steps under mortgage foreclosures, if the stroke of the auctioneer’s hammer signalled the rude awakening of speculative real estate developers from their rosy dreams of millions, if counties and communities found themselves bogged down under apparently hopeless loads of public debt, the physical evidences still remain of that brief epoch of grandeur when it seemed as if Florida had found Aladdin’s wonderful lamp and had only to rub it to bring fairy-like, gem-studded palaces into being overnight. The roads and bridges were not torn up, the new-made islands still remained above water, the buildings still stood.

Whatever the private losses of individuals, only a sentimentalist would say that most of them did not have it coming to them, just as most of the gullible public who bought shares on the stock exchange at inflated values and on insufficient margin had none to blame but themselves for being “suckers.” By summer of 1937 the last of the debt-ridden Florida communities succeeded in adjusting its obligations with its creditors in a manner satisfactory to all concerned. Now all of the bonded debt of Florida counties and cities has been scaled down or refunded on longer terms and lower interest, or both, while the increased population, winter and year around, with its concomitant increase of taxable property, has made the load quite easy to carry. The state of Florida itself has had no bonded debt for years and is prohibited under its constitution from ever having one, or from ever imposing income or inheritance taxes.

From its seven-cent gasoline tax, however, in which the counties share, the state has been able to make such vast and extensive improvements in its highway system that today the poorest main thoroughfare which any motorist encounters, unless he wanders far off the beaten track and into the remote back country, is measurably better than the best roads in Florida were when the speculative boom ended, good as those were thought to be then. It is no exaggeration to say that, considering the immense area covered and the long distances traversed in proportion to the scantiness of the state’s population, Florida has as good a system of highways, and as good highways, as any state in the Union, and far better than most.

That is a part of Florida’s policy of making it as easy as possible for the tourist and the prospective settler to see for himself what Florida has to show. Over these highways, in the tourist season, flows a volume of traffic so great that several new trunk roads crossing the state had to be built in 1937 in anticipation of the winter influx of visitors for the 1938 season. The road planners of even half a dozen years ago could not or did not anticipate the development of the motorbus system which now connects every part of Florida with every other part, under the control of the State Railroad Commission, and in addition provides through transportation from anywhere in Florida to anywhere else in the United States. They did not foresee the tremendous development of the motor truck, for the long-distance hauling of a large part of Florida’s citrus fruit and vegetable crop to northern markets. And least of all did they foresee the trailers.

Nobody knows exactly how many of America’s 50,000 motor trailers went to Florida in the Winter of 1936-37, but it is a fair guess that considerably more than half of them carried their owners and their families to the Land of Sunshine in that first season of the trailer’s wide-spread popularity. That there will be more trailers in Florida each succeeding Winter is hardly to be doubted. Florida has not yet, as this is written, developed a state-wide trailer policy. Until their first season’s experience demonstrated that they were not taking business away from the hotels and lodging houses there were demonstrations of hostility in many cities. But the trailers came in droves and still the hotels were overcrowded. The trailer folk turned out not to be the tramps and vagrants, gypsies of the gasoline age, which many had feared they would be, but of exactly the same social and economic classes as those to which Florida has been long accustomed to cater. Some were working folk on vacation or looking for jobs, and some were retired business men and their families, some near-millionaires, travelling in homes on wheels that cost up to as much as $25,000, and towed behind Rolls-Royces or Lincolns driven by liveried chauffeurs!