Changes Wrought by the Railroad

Found South Florida

A Wire Grass Wilderness Almost Uninhabited.


Tampa Bay Harbor the Most Magnificent on Earth—Through Its Channel’s Will Glide the Commerce of Many Nations.

Editor Tampa Tribune: — Remembering with profound gratitude your many kindnesses and being possessed of feelings befitting a generous nature, I am persuaded that it will not be amiss for me to give expression through the medium of your widely circulated journal of what South Florida is to become in the near future. With the close of 1896 South Florida ends fifteen years of unparalleled prosperity in the annals of states. Arid if the future copies fair as the past she has entered upon another decade of prosperity that will by far surpass the past. Fifteen years ago South Florida, proper, lay almost a terra incognito to the outside world of tourists and homeseekers, not because it was so far away, but it was so inaccessible. Twenty years ago Jacksonville was considered Florida, and was the ultima thule of travel. A trip by boat up the St. Johns river was an undertaking to be duly considered. But, how changed now? About that time a man of great sagacity and capital, with a prophetic eye, came on the scene, he saw at a glance what so fair a land might be if the proper appliances were furnished so as to draw public attention to it. He knew that it only remained to make the remotest corner accessible, and the then wilderness, would he changed to the most inviting country on the North American continent. Presto! Railroads began to gridiron all of that part of the state. The tale and no telling for it is now a living fact. Its history is written on bars of steel; and of all countries in the world that have been blessed by railroads that section pre-eminently, stands foremost, for they found it a waste, a howling wilderness, and caused it to “blossom as the rose.’’ They found it accounted as the rubbish of the continent, and gave it a setting as one of the precious jewels of the union. They found it in squalor and almost uninhabited, but by their benign influence, luxury, intelligence, happiness and contentment have clothed its people in garments of prosperity that stands without a precedent in any new country except California, and owing to its contiguity to the thickly settled portions of the union, with its susceptibilities in many respects far greater in producing remunerative products, and its vast phosphate deposits of wealth makes it far a more desirable country for homeseekers than California, and especially so, when it is taken into account that in point of health it stands unequalled in all the world.

changes wrought. in point of health it stands unequalled in all the world

Yes, railroads found South Florida an unknown quantity, save in name, but how changed? Today, it is the great winter residence of the wealthy, and the national sanitarium for those who have lost their health in the rigorous regions. Its palaces are the envy of the civilized world. Its shining parallel bars of steel has made and opened an era of unheard of prosperity. Tourists, homeseekers, sportsmen and investors are pouring in. Jacksonville has become only the gateway, where but a comparative few of leisurely disposed tarry. Where stood log huts in the country now stands stately homes of permanent settlers. Where once the owl hooted in lonely solitude now screams the whistle of the locomotive. Where once the coot and heron inhabited the silver waters of the placid lakes now steams the dainty naphtha launch or stately rides the floating palace, gathering the products from the various wharfs to be delivered at the nearest railroad depot. We are bidden to render unto “Caesar the things which are Caesar’s.” So it is but just and true to say that all that South Florida is in the way of advancement and progress at the close of 1896, she owes more to the sagacity and capital of Mr. H. B. Plant than to any and all other persons put together. He it was who first recognized her capabilities and set about developing them. It was he who opened up new channels for the inpouring of wealth into the peninsula part of the state, and made new industries possible for those who followed in his wake. Others following, have come, have seen, have been tempted to keep on the rush of progress; but to Mr. Plant alone, is due the honor of building [up] South Florida to its abundant prosperity. The past is but half an earnest of what the future is to be. Fifteen years ago no man could have foretold with any degree accuracy of the vast improvements and numberless new industries that are to fall to the lot of your city — Tampa — by this time. Then there were in round numbers 800 people, and now I see it stated that Tampa has a population of 26,000. This is a phenomenal, but as nothing, to what the next fifteen years will demonstrate if our national legislation should be governed by wisdom and prudent forethought in securing or even encouraging in a judicious way an increase of trade from the Central and South American countries, to this country, for it is a conceded fact that Tampa harbor is the nearest deep water approach on this continent to those countries, as well as the shortest, safest and most economical route to the Cuban-American countries. It has plenty of deep water on its bar, and its channel is perfectly straight, through which any mariner can pass without the aid of a pilot. South America is undoubtedly the field for our trade. Why should the trade supplies from these countries intended for the Northwest go to New York for distribution, when Tampa can offer facilities of immediate and direct shipment to those points with the distance and time greatly lessened both by land and water? This great change or transformation of trade channels is now only one question of a short time. Indeed, it is right at your doors. Granting it to be so, then what must Tampa’s future be? No man can well imagine. It will be like a snowball rolling down a steep hillside, with every revolution it gathers fresh impetus and its size increases. So it will be with Tampa, except she will gather as she rolls uphill. Let it grow, and may Mr. Plant live to see his fondest anticipations fully realized and consummated in all the wonders his work will unfold to growing Tampa and Peninsula Florida.

Yours truly,



marsanneMarsanne Petty conducts historical research about 19th century southern United States and environmental history. To get more great updates and original history, sign up at The Southern Sage. To get her to help you with your own research project, email mapetty[at]

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