Southward from Savannah, the railway route to Florida renews the monotonous landscape of woods and swamps. For ninety miles it goes in an almost straight line southwest through the pine belt of Southern Georgia, crossing the Ogeechee and Altamaha Rivers to Waycross, and then, turning to the southeast, proceeds in another almost straight line for about an equal distance towards the coast, and crosses St. Mary’s River into Florida. It traverses the edge of the noted Okifenokee Swamp of Georgia, the Indian ” weaving, shaking, water,” a moist and mushy region of mystery and legend, drained by the poetic Suwanee, the Indian “Echo river,” which has been made the theme of a favorite melody. This stream flows through Florida into the Gulf of Mexico, while on the eastern side the extensive swamp over-flows into the winding St. Mary’s River leading to the Atlantic. To the southward, the pine woods of Florida grow out of a sandy soil nearly as level as a floor, in which almost every depression and fissure seems filled with water, and the balsamic odors of these pines, combined with the mildness of the winter climate, give an indication of the attractions which make Florida so popular as a resort for the Northern people. The route finally reaches the broad St. John’s River at the Florida metropolis, Jacksonville, a Yankee city in the South, bearing the name of the famous President, General Andrew Jackson, and having thirty thousand population, largely of North-ern birth. This is the centre of the railway system of Florida and of most of the business of the State, having a large export trade in timber, naval stores, phosphates, oranges and other Florida products. To the visitor, probably the first most forcible impression is made by the free growth of oranges along the streets and in the house gardens. The city stands upon the northern and outer bank of a magnificent bend of St. John’s River, this noble stream, which flows northward from Southern Florida, being a mile wide, and sweeping around to the eastward at Jacksonville to reach the sea about twenty-five miles beyond, its navigation having been improved by dredging and constructing jetties to maintain a channel through the bar at the mouth. The business section is near the shore, and the railways come down to the wharves; while, as the curving river stretches away to the southward, the bank is lined with rows of fine suburban villas, occupied by the business men who have built their comfortable homes amid the oranges, oleanders, magnolias and banana trees. The river has low tree-clad shores, and far over on the opposite bank are more villas and orange groves.
Jacksonville is well supplied with hotels and lodging-houses, which accommodate the crowds of winter visitors from the North, and it spreads into various suburban villages reached by steamboats and hard shell roads. It is the great entrepôt for Florida, standing at the northern verge, the salubrious and equable climate being the attraction, for frost is rare, and the winters are usually clear and dry and give a most magnificent atmosphere. Rows of splendid oaks line the streets, and form fine archways of green, giving a delicious shade. Besides the orange, the alligator is also a Jacksonville attraction, live ones being kept as pets, little ones sent northward in boxes for gifts, and dead ones of all sizes prepared for ornaments. This reptile is the type and emblem of Florida; his skin and teeth are worked into fantastic shapes, and his curious bones and formation do duty in the make-up of many “Florida curiosities.” In fact, outside of the timber, which is most prolific, the best known Florida crops are the alligator and the orange. Although frosts have killed many in late years, yet the product of the orange trees is still large, Southern Florida containing the most famous orange groves, especially along the Indian River and on the lakes of the upper St. John’s River, where they are usually planted on the southern borders of the lakes, so that the frost is killed by the winds carrying it over the water, and thus the orange trees are protected.