I n the 1880 s Florida began to climb out of its post -- Civil War poverty. The state's recovery came as part of the national boom that increased railroad mileage by almost 68 percent in a single decade and created new fortunes in oil, steel, and electrical equipment. As northern capitalists grew richer and bolder, they looked to underdeveloped Florida as a field for their next exploits. The state also benefited by the emergence of a new leisure class. No longer content to enjoy pleasant summers at Newport and Saratoga, fashionable people now sought to escape the rigors of winter by patronizing the new Florida hotels.
Although southern planters had paid winter visits to Florida's lakes and springs before the Civil War, few northerners had made the long trip to these resorts. In 1870 the state still seemed a remote and mysterious region. In April of that year a northern physician described Florida in a magazine article: "It is a land of many wonders," Dr. J. P. Little reported; "No more singular country is to be found on the broad continent than this mixture of sand and mud, called the land of Florida." If one wanted to take a walk in East Florida, he said, he had first to wade through ankle-deep sand and then step into a mud puddle, "and some of these mud puddles cover a whole county."1 Even Florida's famous springs aroused his professional suspicion. The surface water came from swamps that swarmed with "invisible animalcules," and the underground water was even worse because it passed through rotton shell-limestone. "The deeper the well, therefore," he warned, "the cooler and more dangerous the water."2 In another article, he described Florida as "the tail-end of the country." Just as a horse's tail was useful only to brush off the flies, Florida was worthless except "to brush off the annoyance of ill- health."3
Yet even to the jaundiced eye of Dr. Little, Florida soon began to look better. While the St. Johns River had formerly seemed to him