The land around the Waldo area is very rich and productive.   It grows abundant varieties of  food  , and   the cotton crop was used for clothing,  there was a special long fiber cotton raised in this area which brought premium prices,  it was used for lace making.    The early settlers were self-sufficient and needed little from the outside world.

In old travelogues about Waldo, it was listed as having a population of 1000, beautiful Lakes, best land in the state for farming and truck gardening,   home of the strawberry industry, altitude of 170 feet, the purest water, churches,   three Secret Societies, hotels, beautiful shade trees and a strong bank.

The first Florida Agriculture Experiment Station was established on the Von Landistia Plantation near Lake Sante Fe.  T.K. Godbey of Waldo, who in 1891, developed the "Forty to a Hill" sweet potatoes.  George H. Ambrose of Waldo, was an Alachua County Commissioner and a member of the Alachua County School Board.

This area was known as the Burbank of Waldo, due to the experiments which were carried out in developing new varieties of vegetables and other crops.

IIn the 1880's T.K. Goldberg, a grower, discovered seven 'flowing wells' in southwest Waldo. They were used to irrigate crops. He also grew canna lilies and gladiolas on the property where the Waldo Flea Market is now located on US 301, shipping bushels of bulbs of the tropical plants north by railroad freight.

Dr. M.A. Cushing from Massachusetts, came to Waldo and started a citrus industry, in 1879. Hedeveloped several varieties. Tragedy struck twice in the citrus industry, according to George Winterling, weather reporter for Channel 4 TV,  on April 6, 1828 there was a heavy frost.  The temperature at Picolata was 28*F. which is locateed east of Waldo on the St. Johns River.   Seven years later on February 8, 1835 there was a cold spell so severe that snow fell as the temperature dipped to 11*F. at Ft.King, not far from Ocala and again  in 1852 snow fell.

An 1881 issue of the newspaper advertised oranges at $3. to $4.50 for a half-barrel and strawberry plants at $4. for 1,000, or those too poor to purchase can have a small supply gratis, by asking. Other growers included an Illinois native named Livingston whose groves were said to be "the most remarkable in the county" because they were planted in saw palmetto and swamp land and were bearing heavily after only five years.. Mr Livingston's success was with the Homosassa oranges and Genoa lemons.

Mrs. DeSha, lived aabout a mile from the town, was a widow, and a native of Florida.  She was a widow at this writing. She caught the orange fever some years ago and planted trees, but her husband scoffed at her foolishness and ploughed them up to make room for cotton, otherwise whe would have had one of the most extensive groves in the vacinity.  She managed to save a few trees around the house, they later towered above the roof.  Their fruit provided her with income.

Mr.W.T. Cheeves, one mile south of the town near the Peninsular Railroad, had an orange tree which burned.  He cut the trunk off near the ground and budded it.  The new growth measured 3'3" around the trunk 6"  from the ground.  It was 17' high and had a 15' spread.  It produced 1500 oranges per season.

Mr.H.B.Heath came to Waldo in 1880 from Boston, Mass. He purchased a piece of land with a dozen or so orange trees which had been poorly cultivated.  The first year these trees yielded an average of 1,000 oranges  per tree, the second year 1,500 and the third year 2,000. 

E.W.Hunt, came from Massachusetts, he came to Waldo six years later for  his wife's health.  They had planned on moving to California, but when condidering the cost of the trip,  he could come here purchase a home and raise oranges.  His wife recovered her health, they were very enthusiastic about the healthful climate.   His small grove procuced a good crop.

Fort Harlee was a sanctuary for the surrounding settlers during the Seminole Indian War.  In the 1840 census of the county many familiar names are listed of people who later built homes in Waldo. 00000000000000 Asa Clarke helped to build a bridge across the Santa Fe river at Fort Harlee.

Fort Harlee -  is noted for having the largest orange tree in the State.  It is now the property of R.W.Campbell, railroad agent at Waldo.  It has never been affected by the colds or frosts.It measures nine feet around the trunk, it is 37 feet high, and has four forks 18 inches from the ground.   The two largest measure four feet around, the two smallest three feet six inches.   It was damaged by fire , but recovered and became as vigorous as ever.  It has borne 10,000 oranges in a single season.

Largest Orange Tree
Purported Largest Orange Tree

Florida's long cotton was grown extensively, especially in Alachua County,  receiving many awards in trade shows.   H.F.Dutton & Co. traded general merchandise with the farmers and always paid high prices in cash for cotton.  Dutton persuaded the farmers to separate the long and short cotton with the long cotton bringing better prices.  It was of high quality and used for making all sizes of thread.  It was also used in making lace of quality equal to that of the European market.

A large variety of vegetables were grown in this area.  The soil is rich with adequate water supply.  Hundreds of acres were devoted to farming, making it a profitable enterprise.  The railroad was essential to transporting the crops to the north.

Louise Ashley

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28 September 2003
Waldo, Florida, USA