Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mosquitoes Outlasted Flimflam Man

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mosquitoes Outlasted Flimflam Man

Article excerpt

"No mosquitoes, no vermin, no weeds, no saloons," read

advertisements for settlers to Orange Park in the 1870s and

'80s. Developer Washington G. Benedict touted the gifts -- real

and imagined -- of his new community like a sideshow barker.

With masterful strategy, he defined his market. Geographically,

the customer would live in the Northeast and was either an

affluent gentleman of taste, possibly an invalid, a tradesman

looking for new markets, a skilled laborer or a farmer. He then

crafted a comprehensive sales campaign promising basically that

a move to Florida would solve all problems and fulfill each of

their dreams.

The first order of business was to change the general

perception spread in the North by returning Union Army veterans

of the Florida campaign. Their stories conjured a picture of

Florida as one vast swamp filled with disease, savage beasts and

barely civilized inhabitants. Benedict, a Boston business

tycoon, had the equally important challenge of convincing

influential locals crucial to the success of his project that he

was not just another Yankee carpetbagger come to make a fast

buck.

His easy charm and the vast financial investment satisfied

locals and he used their endorsements liberally in advertising

material. A glowing letter of recommendation, written by none

other than Harriet Beecher Stowe from her home across the St.

Johns River in Mandarin, was printed in full in promotional

brochures.

The Honorable W. Stokes Boyd, mayor of Jacksonville; The

Honorable H.A. Corley, state land commissioner of Florida; and

J.B. Oliver, Esquire, editor of The Florida New Yorker, publicly

praised the undertaking. The prestigious Florida Times-Union

hailed the project as "the best thing that's happened for

several years to promote the prosperity of our city and the

state" in an editorial on Jan. 12, 1877.

Sales brochures distributed in the Northeast and points south

painted a perfect picture of an idyllic place. The proximity of

Jacksonville as a market for farm produce and a source of

reasonably priced supplies was a major selling point. …

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