Nobody in Florida expects to find the gold which the Spaniards failed to find, but there are many people in Florida who hope to find oil, and who are backing their hopes with cash. Oil exploration has been going on in Florida since 1903. Fiftythree oil wells have been drilled in the period since the first one was put down at Sumpterville, northeast of Tampa, by oil operators from Pennsylvania, who got down 2,000 feet before their money gave out. They did not find oil, but they did find all of the geological formations which they, as experienced oil men, expected to find.
Since then every successive study of Florida as a potential source of oil has given more encouragement to the belief that there are stores of “liquid gold” underlying the peninsula and that eventually somebody will tap them.
If and when that does occur, Florida will experience a boom besides which all of its previous booms will seem insignificant, from the silk-worm boom of a century ago, when people flocked to Florida in 1838 to plant mulberry trees and grow silk worms for an American silk industry that was to compete with Italy and China, down to the speculative land boom of the 1920’s.
The belief that oil might be found in Florida was based originally upon purely a priori reasoning. There was oil all around the great semi-circle of the Gulf, from Vera Cruz and Tampico to Texas and, latterly, to Louisiana. There are oil wells producing out in the Gulf, drilled through the bottom of the sea off the coast of Louisiana. It seemed hardly credible, those who reasoned thus pointed out, that geology took any note of state lines. Why should not the oil formations under and around the Gulf of Mexico extend clear across to its eastern shore?
The enlargement of scientific knowledge of oil formations, of scientific methods of detecting oil indications and of the technology of oil drilling have continued to encourage wild catters to sink their drills in various parts of Florida. Fortythree wells were shallower than 4,000 feet, two went down deeper than 6,000 feet, every one of them showed “signs” which to experienced oil men’s eyes encouraged the belief that there was oil in paying quantities somewhere under Florida. Oil men with experience in the Oklahoma and East Texas fields are not given to discouragement if they drill fifty or a hundred dry wells in a limited field before they bring in a producer; therefore oil men will tell the inquirer that there has really been no adequate oil exploration of Florida’s forty million acres of potential oil land.
Actual oil and natural gas have been found in some of these wells. In 1927 J. L. McCord of Oklahoma struck promising sands saturated with crude oil at Monticello, just east of Talla hassee. A year earlier a well at Cedar Key on the Gulf Coast struck natural gas at a depth of 4,010 feet, which burned at the casing head for months. Faulty drilling equipment and technique and failing finances-the Florida real estate boom had just collapsed-caused the abandonment of this project.
The bringing in of the East Texas field in 1928, and of the Louisiana field shortly thereafter, stimulated interest in Florida’s oil possibilities. In 1934 William F. Blanchard, an oil engineer with experience in the Pennsylvania fields, called an oil conference at the George Washington Hotel in Jacksonville. Representatives of most of the great oil companies attended and such interest was shown in the assembled data and reports of previous oil explorations that some of the large companies immediately began taking oil leases on Florida lands, all the way from Cape Sable at the southern tip of the peninsula, north to the Georgia line and west to Pensacola. By the Summer of 1937 there were more than 5,000,000 acres of Florida lands under oil leases. At two widely divergent points the most modern scientific apparatus for detecting the presence of subterranean oil formations was being set up, one oil well was being drilled and preparations were under way for two others, using the most up-to-date drilling equipment.
Great encouragement has been given to Florida oil exploration by a revision of its previously expressed opinion by the United States Geological Survey, which had held that Florida was outside of the range of possible oil-bearing sands. In its geological map of oil fields and possible oil fields published in 1934 the Geological Survey included the entire State of Florida as well as an adjoining strip of southern Georgia and Alabama. This was a result, in part, of geological explorations made in the course of the surveys for the Florida cross-state canal.
These and other recent geological discoveries have resulted in the complete abandonment by geologists of the belief long held, first publicly announced by a famous scientist of a century ago, Louis Agassiz, that the Florida peninsula is a coral reef. Scientists now recognize that it is a southerly extension of the Appalachian rock formations, overlaid with water-deposited limestone, and so is geologically identical with the lands to the North and West, in which oil has been found in enormous quantities.
The Gulf Oil Company, in 1937, had leased large acreage in southern Florida, and had begun explorations with the use of the same instruments which had enabled them to locate im portant oil fields in Texas and Louisiana. Another oil company was preparing to drill at Cape Sable, which is in a geological line with the oil and gas developments in Cuba. A third corporation, backed and headed by Mrs. Lucy Cotton Thomas McGraw, had explored several million acres in North Florida with the seismograph and had come to the conclusion, in which many oil engineers and operators agreed, that the country adjacent to the Suwannee River, near Live Oak, offered the most promising outlook for a successful oil development. Meantime, the test well in Lake County was going through geological formations of the type which spell hope to oil operators.
Unless all of the oil geologists are deceiving themselves by thinking that the signs which mean oil in Texas and Louisiana mean the same thing in Florida, there seems to be a reasonable chance that, sooner or later, Florida will strike oil.
From any point in Lake County one may drive in a matter of an hour to Orlando, Florida’s sixth city in size, with 30,000 population, county seat of Orange County. The highway runs through an almost continuous scene of citrus groves, for Orange County is second only to Polk County in the production of oranges and grapefruit. The city of Orlando in its downtown business section gives the truthful impression of a busy metropolitan center; in its residential districts that of a charming community of homes set among luxuriant verdure in the midst of green parks and sparkling blue lakes. There are 31 lakes within the city limits of Orlando, which lies only a short distance east of Lake Apopka. It is not surprising, then, to note the frequency along the business streets of signs announcing fishing tackle for sale. One such store in Orlando has developed into a national rendezvous for inland fishermen who gather here not only for trade but to swap fish stories.
Of all of Florida’s inland communities Orlando attracts the largest number of winter visitors, and the city and its surroundings have the highest proportion of year ’round residents who came originally from the distinctly northern states. It is less than a forty-mile drive over a broad, smooth highway from Orlando to the beaches of the Atlantic coast, and many persons wintering in Florida who do not care to spend all their time on salt water but enjoy an occasional dip in the ocean, make their headquarters at Orlando, which is one of the most convenient central points from which to explore the entire southern and central part of the peninsula. Numerous major highways from all directions converge here. The city’s aviation facilities are such that it calls itself “The Air Capital of Florida.”
No other inland city provides such extensive facilities for the entertainment and recreation of winter visitors. In addition to a dozen fine hotels there are cottages and apartment accommodations for 30,000 guests and three large, well-equipped trailer camps.
Orlando is the site of the Central Florida Exposition, held every February and attracting thousands.
The service to tourists given by the Orlando Chamber of Commerce is exceptional. Occupying a large and impressive building in the center of the city, the Chamber of Commerce not only functions as an information bureau for visitors, but has accommodations in its own building for social gatherings, large and small, and a commodious reading room. Sunshine Park, the municipal center of tourist recreation, is equipped with club houses and facilities for almost every kind of outdoor games, while two golf courses are inside the city limits.
Orlando is the headquarters of the Florida Real Estate Commission, charged with the administration of the laws enacted after the speculative real estate boom, to protect the pub lic against unscrupulous practices and misrepresentations by real estate dealers and salesmen. The law, with its successive amendments, is extremely strict in its requirements and penalties. No one may be licensed as a real estate broker or salesman who cannot show a clean record of his business past, whether that was in Florida or elsewhere. Every applicant for a salesman’s license has to pass a rigid examination in real estate law and practice, an examination so rigid that more than a third of the applicants fail to pass it at their first attempt.