St. Cloud Heritage Museum • St. Cloud, Florida

St. Cloud, Florida: Soldier City

Written by St. Cloud Historian, Robert A. Fisk

According to Minnie Moore­ Willson, Kissimmee historian, a New York capitalist, Mr. Richard Moore, saw a classified ad in the New York Herald that a J. M. Willson, Jr., of Kissimmee Florida, had several large tracts of land for sale. He clipped the ad and put it in his pocket book and forgot about it.

A couple of years later, a Captain Jeffries made a trip to Florida for the National Tribune looking for property for a G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic, union veterans of the War between the States) colony.

They looked at various sections of the state, beginning in Alachua County and going as far South as Lee and DeSoto Counties. On their way back their train stopped in Kissimmee where they spent the night. Mr. Moore. remembered his clipping and took it out. and read it again. The next morning two men called on Mr. Willson and were impressed with the property of the then defunct Disston property.

The Seminole Land and Investment Co. (the corporation organized by the National Tribune to form and handle the sale of land to the G.A.R. veterans) purchased 35,000 acres and laid out the colony on paper detailing St. Cloud in 1909. After advertising the colony in various veterans papers they held a lottery in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in August, 1909, for Veterans who paid $50 to obtain building lots of 25' by 150' in the new colony. They would also receive an option of the adjoining 25' lot and 5 acres in the county for a small farm. If, when they arrived, they did not like their lot, they were permitted to swap for a different one. The initial offering was sold out immediately and a second offer was made at $100.

The veterans sold their property in the North, loaded their belongings in box cars and headed for the "promised land." Upon their arrival, they found the only accommodations available were either a cot in the uncompleted hotel lobby or a tent owned by the US army. There were no graded streets, a lot of palmettos and pine trees, and no water system so they rolled up their sleeves and went to work. Remember that the war had been over in 1865, and this was 1909, and the veterans had to be in their 60's, 70's, and 80's--old men at that time. They did not have bulldozers and power saws, only grubbing hoes and cross cut saws.

The Saint Cloud colony was located on the "Sugar Belt R.R." so building supplies and new residents had easy access to help build the new colony. John McElroy, Editor of the National Tribune, and President of the Seminole Land and Investment Co., named the streets in the new colony and that is why streets in the center of the town are Northern states and the Southern states are at each end. The numbering system began at 10th Street (for the avenues) with the numbering going each way. This is probably why there is no North and South Carolina and Dakota because tt would be very confusing to live at 301 North South Dakota.

By October 1910, when John McElroy, in the company of past Commanders-In-Chiefs of the G.A.R. toured St. Cloud, there were 360 homes, over 100 tents and 2,000 residents, with $8,000 a year coming into town in veteran pensions. The St. Cloud Hotel, said to have been built from lumber from the defunct sugar mill, burned in December, 1909, early in the morning without loss of life. The new "fire proof hotel was completed in late 1910. The only thing fire proof was the outside block wall as the interior was made of wood.

By October 1910, besides the new homes, there was a water works and electric plant (the plant operated until 10 p.m.), telephones, churches, school, 3 cement block plants, a Post office, 5&10 cent store, Masonic hall, two jewelers, a plumber, two dairies, five tailors, and no saloons. The veterans organized as an association to run the colony until the Legislature chartered the City of Saint Cloud in 1911.

The water mains they laid were unique to say the least. They were strips of cypress cut in a wedge shape to form the pipe, wrapped in tar paper and metal strips. They worked very well, as the last of them, still in use were dug up in the 1950's. If you would like to see them, they are on display at the Chamber of Commerce museum on the corner of 12th and New York Ave. While you are there, there is a lot of neat stuff of old St. Cloud to see.

The veterans were very patriotic. They blew Taps in the evening to put you to bed and Reveille to get you up in the morning. They called each other "comrade." They would meet each afternoon either behind the G.A.R. Hall on Massachusetts Ave. or at the "Liars bench" on 11th street, just east of New York Ave. As a young man, the writer used to sit with them and listen to their "war stories." There were a couple Confederate veterans that occasionally met with them. Occasionally, the Yankees would start picking on the Confederates. When tt got too rough one of the Confederates would look at a certain Yankee and ask, "Weren't you shot in the war?" and the Yankee would break things up because he got shot in the rear end and didn't like to talk about it.

When the G.A.R. Post organized in 1910 it was named the Lucius L. Mitchell Post #32, Grand Army of the Republic, after the first death in the new colony. Mitchell, a veteran of Co. D, 35th regiment, Kentucky volunteer Infantry, arrived in the colony late in 1909 with his wife and children. Six weeks later he died on December 4, 1909. Because the colony currently did not yet have a cemetery, he was temporarily buried in Kissimmee. The G.A.R. Post was formed December 20, 1909, and received its charter in January 1910.

In 1911, the Legislature formally enacted the charter establishing the City of Saint Cloud. An election was held and city officers were elected, a City Hall was established and the rest is history.

 

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