As millions of soldiers returned from WWII and settled in the newly habitable state of Florida, massive changes to the landscape were underway. The Everglades which had dominated the southern interior of the state had been drained and the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) was established to add dimension to Florida’s burgeoning economy. Sugar became the principal crop in the south as orange plantations stretched northward along the banks of the St. John’s River in towns like Lochloosa, Lake Orange, and the aptly named Citra.
Florida began to develop new cultural facets as the population expanded. Boating, fishing, and surfing (all of which had been popular along the coasts for decades) found a niche in the sinkholes, streams, and lakes that dot the interior of Florida. Freshwater springs like Wakulla Springs and Jennie Springs became outdoor meccas for new Floridians and served as a unique feature that other states couldn’t match. Wakulla Springs in particular became famous as the backdrop for the classic film ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon’.
Many cities began to attract various nationalities and reflected the change in their demographics through commerce and culture. In a very short span of time cities like Tampa (Cuban), New Smyrna (Greek), and Miami (Cuban/Pan-Caribbean) began to adopt the look and feel of their new residents’ former homelands.
Major League Baseball expanded its Spring Training operations around the state as improved train and roadways opened up the state to easy access for out-of-town visitors. The presence of baseball in the state helped ease the transition to Florida for the millions of Northerners who had made the move. Also, NASA chose Cape Canaveral as its primary launch site and began an ongoing commitment to the scientific and academic communities throughout the state. These factors combined with the expansion of the state university system and statewide news media helped foster Florida’s sense of cultural identity.
All of this led to the invention of a great American tradition: The Florida road rip. Thousands of tourists from around the nation would flock to Florida to enjoy white sand beaches, fresh citrus, and the novelty of the Florida lifestyle. Countless quaint roadside attractions offered up-close interactions with alligators and other native wildlife. Golf also became a staple activity that drew tourism. Roadside vendors, hotels, and restaurants subsisted on this flow of northern travelers virtually year-round.
The postwar era is generally remembered as a Golden Age for Florida. Opportunities seemed endless, resources boundless, and growth potential infinite. Unfortunately, it was not meant to last as overcrowding, crime, and pollution became significant problems. The final blow to family owned tourism establishments would come in the form of an animated mouse; however, that is a whole other story.
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