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March 2016 Posts:

A Short History of South Florida Residential Landscaping (1 and 2)

>A Short History of South Florida Residential Landscaping (3-6 )

A Not Totally Accurate Map Indicating Land usage in 1940's Florida (7)



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3/08/2016 by Leigh M. Fulghum, Botanist

A Short History of South Florida Residential Landscaping

3. Early Residential Plats

The following bit of Florida history is not taught in the state colleges, or land grant universities whose funding came from industrial interests. It can only be found by studying newspaper archives, studying and chronologizing Florida Corporation history and then applying all to extensive examination of many historic county land records.

All Florida development, the order in which it occurred, land management delegation, and who had access to what lands to develop, originated with Senator-promoted canal, river, and ditch digging syndicates which as they became bankrupted were reorganized into railroad stock.

Florida's early internal improvements serviced the DuPont phosphate mines, the International Paper Company, The St. Joe Company, U.S. Sugar, the Port of Tampa, The Port at Jacksonville, and later in time, the Port of Miami.

Railroad lands which eventally all enured to preferred stockholders following bankruptcy after bankruptcy, were purchased with both stockholder capital and assorted government grants.

Draining the Everglades agricultural area was funded by Florida taxpayers by acts of the 1917 legislature. This money was paid to Hamilton Disston and The Pennsylvania Syndicate, who in reuturn for the major drainage operations were awarded a large amount of cash and the lion's share of the choicest lands in central Florida.

Ownership of Florida's acreage and platted sites of the desirable coastal zones was wrapped up quite tightly by 1870. At this time Bion Barnett, from an old family of bankers dispersed throughout the mid-west and southern states, established a bank in Jacksonville. This bank's only competitor was the Dupont/ Deering (International Harvester) bank. Barnett's bank went on to recover most of the foreclosed lands of the Great Depression and later merge with Sons of Italy Bank of America.



A Short History of South Florida Residential Landscaping

4. Influencers of Florida's Early Residential Plats

With Bion Barnett pinning down the northern end of the state in 1870 William Brickell secured the southern tip with his trading post on the south side of the Miami River the same year.

Rails were constructed in earnest for truck farming, mining, logging, and tourism growth. Henry Flagler completed construction of the Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine as Rockefeller, Flagler and Andrews rose to the largest suppliers of refined petroleum in the United States. Standard Oil was incorporated in 1889 simultaneously with the completion of the Florida Central and Peninsular Railroad System.

While many think of Henry Morrison Flagler as the railroad man of Florida, what was to become Florida's first "System" was begun by Confederate Senator David Levy Yulee as The Fernandina and Jacksonville Railroad in 1874. Yulee is the actual "Father of Florida's Railroads." His road connected Jacksonville to his Yulee, Florida plantation interests. Developed in the same way as many U.S. railroads, The Fernandina and Jacksonville Railroad was consolidated into the Florida Railway and Navigation Company in 1885. This succession from ditch to iron rails was common across across America when an orginal state- funded canal project became bankrupted by its department insiders, then declared obsolete before its completion.

So Flagler was well into construction of coastal motels and hotels by 1904 when it was clear The Standard Oil Trust was in violation of law. In 1911 the Trust was ordered dissolved by court order.

At the same time, the Oklahoma Star Oil Company claimed extensive mineral rights to huge deposits of shelf oil beneath what was to become Sebring and its surrounding settlements. Sebring was once the approximate geological tip of southermonst Florida, before the everglades and southern lands emerged from the ocean. Though the oil was detected, there was no technology to remove it, so a monster land trust for ownership of extensive acreages of mineral rights was created by Oklahoma Star which has enured to Lincoln/(Standard Oil) BP management in the present day. This accounts for the extensive mobile home communities in this west central part of Florida. The mineral rights to this land are claimed for the future, just before pottery manufacturer George Sebring was recruited by railroad men and Bion Barnett to build his dream city in Sebring, Florida.

The Oklahoma Star Land Trust can be found by digging through public filing cabinets in the beautiful Highlands County Courthouse, Office of the Recorder's historical deeds, located in the heart of downtown Sebring.



A Short History of South Florida Residential Landscaping

5. The Founding of Sebring, Florida

The Standard Oil Trust was ordered dissolved in 1911, by which time Henry Morrison Flagler claimed to have retired from oil as he dabbled in his coastal resort building to attract wealthy investors to Florida. There had to be facilities to get investors to Florida and sell them on the tremendous benefits of the winter climate, the sport fishing, the hunting, the potential for feeding the nation with year 'round agriculture, and for real estate men, to impress them with an urgent need for family neighborhoods to support commerce.

Simultaneously, in 1913, the Federal Reserve Act became effective, the Florida East Coast Railway was incorporated, and pottery and china manufacturer George Sebring, of Sebring, Ohio, purchased 45,000- 60,000 acres of land in Highlands County, Florida, founding Sebring. George Sebring was perhaps the first important recruited independent town developer of Florida's railroad-held lands, one of the first in a chain of purchasers mingled in the same trust company- those who rode the bubble of the Florida Land Boom till The Great Depression after which Barnett bank contolled whatever assets were said to be left.

The Sebring Potteries in Ohio had already been developed into something of a company town, where the Sebring family, the artisans, workers, and manufactories were all in the plat of Sebring. George Sebring was an ideal recruit for Florida town building, a retiring industrialist of impeccable reputation, with experience in real estating. He was promised full support of the railroad and banks for his land company.

Ultimately, no matter what the underlying schemes of the banks and railroad brought to pass, George Sebring was a real estate man of vision. The beautiful lands and lakes of Highlands County were spiritually inspiring. He foresaw the area becoming one of peaceful contemplation, and in the present it is so that over time several churches and camps have established their retreats in the area.

Sebring, Florida is called the City on the Circle. The Circle Plan was later also adapted by the developer of Hollywood, Florida. Various plans for real estate development were furnished investors by the railroads. These were early attempts to zone residential and commercial areas long before city planning and zoning offices were staffed. Leased industrial and commercial easements belong to the railroads or bridge companies.

Where the railroad easements ended, sales to investors for residential neighborhood platting began. The Pullman Standard Plan, for example, showed developers how to plat neighborhoods which would build houses only in a certain price range, and how to keep the sale of liquor out of residential areas.



A Short History of South Florida Residential Landscaping

6. The Florida Land Boom

By 1920 the stage was set for the boom, with newspaper ads countrywide recruiting speculators, developers, architects, trades people, farmers, and ranchers- some with elaborate trips and tours, others with a promise of cheap fertile lands and perfect climate. Sebring was thriving, Lake Okeechobee was an important agricultural area, the southern coast was under construction and many people, individually or corporately were holding lots sold by the mysterious land syndicates.

The entire plat of Venice, Florida was sold to The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, via investment of pension funds. Everybody was going to make it big. Then the 1926 hurricane wiped out downtown Miami and Fort Lauderdale. At least 300 people were drowned around Moore Haven when Lake Okeechobee was hit by hurricane winds.

(Two years later 2500 people were drowned when a wall of water washed ove th Lake Okeechobee levee in a hurricane.)

There are newspaper stories of George Sebring organizing rescue missions and trekking down to Moore Haven in 1926, with aid to the flood victims there. But, not a few months later he died as the Great Depression began sinking its roots in Citrus County where Florida's prominent Judge May had a firm grip on many lands as well as tentacles throughout Florida courts.

By 1930 the developer of Hollywood, Florida was wiped out, like Sebring was after his death, so it was claimed. Barnett took over many banks where the largest plats were mortgaged. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers was wiped out- the plat succeeded to Barnett. The Florida East Coast Railway, though legally and properly called The Flagler System, according to the Will of Henry M. Flagler, went into bankruptcy for the next 40 years.

Thus, until the next building boom in 1972, South Florida neighborhoods for the most part were built according to the early plats . Ambience all depended on the vision and intention of the original developer.

Modest neighborhoods sometimes had sidewalks, large swales, and wide streets. Or, sidewalks were arbitrary or where large lawns were preferred, there were none.

While there were no controls, so to speak on architectural style or paint color, some early neighborhoods maintained a Moorish theme, others were predominately Bermuda Colonial, while many areas developed purely eclectic, with pioneer style frame houses, Spanish influence houses, the larger-windowed barrel-tile roofed "Florida Houses" of the 1940's with front porch rooms and carports, to the era of the utterly flat CBS rectangle- joined- to- rectangle style begun in the 1950's.

We were mostly on well water in the 1950's, for irrigation, which stained everything it touched, leaving rusty brown arcs across every painted wall. Our house had belonged to an early well-digging family. A modern extension of early canal and ditch-digging contracting, it, along with septic field excavating turned out to be a very lucrative South Florida business.



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