Saint Cloud, Florida
During the 1870s, Hamilton Disston of Philadelphia took an interest in developing the region while on fishing trips with Henry Shelton Sanford, founder of the city of Sanford. Disston contracted with the Florida Internal Improvement Fund, then in receivership, to pay $1 million to offset its Civil War and Reconstruction debt. In exchange, Disston was awarded half the land he drained from the state’s swamps. He dug canals and, in 1886–1887, established St. Cloud sugarcane plantation, named after St. Cloud, Minnesota, although many longtime locals claim the town was named after Saint-Cloud, France.
Disston opened the Sugar Belt Railway to the South Florida Railroad in 1888 to carry his product to market. But the Panic of 1893 dropped land values, and the Great Freeze of 1894–1895 ruined the plantation. Disston returned to Philadelphia, where he died in 1896. The Sugar Belt Railway merged into the South Florida Railroad. An attempt to cultivate rice in the area failed, and for several years the land remained fallow. Then in 1909, the Seminole Land & Investment Company acquired 35,000 acres (14,000 ha) as the site for a Grand Army of the Republic veterans’ colony. St. Cloud was selected because of its “health, climate and productiveness of soil.” It was first permanently settled in 1909 by William G. King, a real estate manager from Alachua County who had been given the responsibility “to plan, locate and develop a town.”
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