The Truth About St. Cloud

Transcribed by Anza Bast, member of the Genealogy Club of Osceola County

Source: Kissimmee Valley Gazette, Friday, July 9, 1909, pg. 2


1911 Disston Sugar Mill

(Click on Image to Enlarge)
Image is from Mike Bast's Poscard Collection

The Truth About St. Cloud

It was a Financial and Agricultural Success as Long as It was Properly Managed

        The following interesting article is from Mr. J. H. Reese, in the Miami Metropolis, and is reproduced for the enlightenment of those who are wont to always look on the reverse side of things.

        The old St. Cloud plantation is only a part of a vast area of the same class of soil in this county, in fact the entire Kissimmee valley, which extends from this city to Lake Okeechobee, is almost wholly composed of that much formation which produces more abundantly with less fertilizer than any other class of soil ever discovered. The hundreds of gardens and groves in a flourishing condition around Kissimmee are conclusive evidence that much land is by far the best for the growing of fruits and vegetables.

        The article follows:

        Reference is made time and again to the St. Cloud sugar plantation which was located on a part of the Everglades land reclaimed through the drainage operations of Hamilton Disston more than twenty years ago.

        Through ignorance or impelled by a less innocent condition of mind those persons who have opposed the reclamation of the territory, have held up the St. Cloud plantation as an example of failure, that might be expected to follow any effort to farm the reclaimed lands.

        As a matter of fact, the St. Cloud venture was successful, agriculturally and financially for a number of years, and the fact that it eventually proved a failure was due to the same causes which have wrecked railroads, banks, insurance companies and other institutions, that promised success but found failure through mismanagement, high salaried employees, over-capitalization and dishonesty.

        The St. Cloud Sugar plantation was founded by Capt. R. E. Rose, the present State Chemist. Capt. Rose was one of Disston's drainage engineers. He knows more about the Everglades than any other man in the state, not excepting former Governor Broward, or Mr. J. E. Ingraham, vice-president of the Florida East Coast Railway, who made a trip through the 'glades and wrote such glowing accounts of the agricultural possibilities of the area.

        The lands of the St. Cloud plantation were reclaimed lands. The visible evidences of the entire success of the operations on the St. Cloud property may be had today by referring to a publication issued from Jacksonville and know as "A guide to Florida." This publication contains two photographs of scenes on the St. Cloud farm. One of them shows a magnificent avenue of cypress trees on high and dry land with a farm house in the background, and the other is a view of sugar cane in harvest. Capt. Rose can point out the water marks on those trees even in the photograph. He was on the spot when the drainage began, was one of the directing forces in the reclamation of the land and afterward became one of the beneficiaries of the good work he accomplished under the Disston contract.

        St. Cloud was a definite and distinct success under the supervision of Capt. Rose. Col. Disston had no idea of engaging in the sugar industry until after he had seen the profits of the industry as conducted by Capt. Rose. When he did he sought and obtained a half interest in the farm. For several years Capt. Rose as superintendent and part owner, saw it produce an average of 35 tons of cane to the acre, which gave a yield of 165 pounds of sugar to the ton of cane. While this arrangement continued in effect the farm paid a dividend of 40 per cent above the expense of production and sugar was selling then at only three cents a pound.

        This was making money fast enough for a poor man, but Col. Disston was not accustomed to doing things on a small scale. He proposed to Capt. Rose that they organize a company, increase the capital and expenses and go in for the greater things. This proposal was rejected by Capt. Rose, but Col. Disston was insistent. The result was that Capt. Rose sold his share in the plantation and Col. Disston formed the company.

Hamilton Disston
(Click on Image to Enlarge)
This image is from the
Florida Photographic Collection
of the State Archives of Florida

        Here began the failure. It should be borne in mind that the only man who had any practical knowledge of the land and the business to which it was devoted was eliminated from the enterprise when Capt. Rose stepped down and out. Then followed a demonstration of the difference between practical management, the assertion of positive knowledge and the dictation of visionary ideas.

        The St. Cloud plantation became the basis of a million dollar organization, and the first act of the stockholders was to increase the salary list from $4,500 a year to $28,000 a year. Other extravagances followed, chief among which was the purchase of a sugar mill costing $350,000. The farm consisted of 600 acres. Although the price of sugar advanced and the government paid a bounty of 2 cents a pound, these advantages failed to compensate for the waste which poor judgement [sic] and carelessness brought about. It didn't take long for the capitalists to discover that they knew nothing about making sugar and the venture which had been a pronounced and glowing success such as to attract heavy investment was actually given up in failure. The sugar mill was sold as junk for $25,000 to a Jacksonville firm, which doubled money on it in a short time.

        But the early days of the St. Cloud farm proved beyond the possibility of question that sugar could be produced profitably on Everglades land even at three cents a pound.

        Much of the Disston drainage was done in the Kissimmee Valley and the canals cut at that time appear now on the maps. There were about 60 miles of canals draining more than 150,000 acres of land. The excavations opened the Caloosahatchie river to navigation and in 1883 Capt. Rose carried a steamer of considerable size from New Orleans to Kissimmee through the canals. There were five dredges in use, and not long ago one of them was sold for $8,000 showing that investment in this class of machinery is good for many years.

        Capt. Rose who has the advantage of both scientific and practical knowledge asserts that the Everglade land is the best in the country for sugar cane, that one man can cultivate forty acres, and that under a high state of cultivation the land will produce 65 tons of cane to the acre. Capt. Rose used no fertilizer on the St. Cloud place and he made 35 tons to the acre, but this yield, he says, could be doubled by intensive methods.

        With such foundation of fact to build upon it is safe to predict that Florida is to become in a few years the greatest of any state in sugar production.

Copyright  2008: Anza Bast
Donated to the Genealogy Club of Osceola County for posting on their website