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About: The Calusa and Seminole Indians first inhabited the Homosassa River and surrounding islands. Excavations made during the past few years have revealed not only burial grounds, but also canoes, cooking pots, axes and many other artifacts.
In 1846, David Yulee, a former United States Senator, established a 5,000-acre plantation and sugarcane mill. This was the area's first known settlement made by the white man. With the beginning of the Civil War, sugar made by the mill and other products of the plantation were used to supply the Confederate Army. The Union Troops, after intensive spying and treachery by one of Yulee's slaves, burned the family mansion on Tiger Tail Island. Yulee surrendered and spent two years in prison.
The mill is the only antebellum sugar mill in the United States. The original structure, boiler and most of the machinery, is now part of a small State Park located on State Road 490, southwest of U.S. 19.
At the end of the Civil War, families fleeing from the aftermath settled on many islands of the Chassahowitzka, Ozello and Homosassa Rivers. These island homes were self-supporting. Each had its own kitchen garden, livestock and fruit trees. Usually the islands were known by the names of the families who occupied themůsuch as Gordy Island, Shiver Bay, Loennecker Point and Petty Creek. Provisions were made for the establishment of a school. Early settlers were well educated, and expected the same education for their children. An island church was the next addition. Houses were built of native palm logs with thatched palm leaf roofs. These homes were inexpensive, yet practical and attractive.
Commercial fishing was the mainstay of the economy with the catch being transported 60 miles North to Cedar Key by sailing sloop. Household supplies were brought back by these sloops, as there was no railroad until the late 1900's. Mail came to Cedar Key, and from there a fleet of boats carried it to the island settlements.
A group of New England financiers bought most of the riverfront property on the Homosassa River in 1886. Then, much of the riverfront property was uninhabited because the land was too swampy. No property became available to the public until about 1921, and at that time extensive land filings began.
The Homosassa area has been known for many generations to famous and wealthy sportsmen. Arriving in Ocala by train, they then had to journey by horse and buggy to Homosassa. The buggies were driven by former slaves who stayed on and were now loyal retainers at Osceola Inn, Meeker House, Dunn Cottage, the Rendezvous and the Atlanta Fishing Club.
The local cemetery is called Stage Stand. It was on this location that a station stood. This was not a train station, but one for changing horse teams and seeing to the needs of stage coach passengers. The station also received mail from all surrounding areas. A town called Mansfield was established in 1887 and served as the County Seat. A trip to the County Seat by wagon was a real event and much looked forward to by the whole family. Not only was business taken care of, but it gave the family a chance to socialize with other county residents. In 1891, the County Seat was moved to Inverness. Mansfield is no longer on the map.
The following years brought many changes. The West Coast Development Company purchased the Homosassa area, including thousands of acres, in the late 1920's. They instigated extensive advertising, encouraged improvement of highways, transportation systems and brought many interested investors and prospective property owners to investigate the area.
Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park has been a tourist attraction since the early 1900's, when trains stopped to let passengers rest at the spring. The train track ran on what is now Fishbowl Drive, which runs through the park. While passengers rested, the train loaded fish, crabs, cedar and spring water. The spring and headwaters of the Homosassa River is the only known place in the world where thousands of fresh and saltwater fish congregate. These fish are free to come and go to the Gulf of Mexico, nine miles away.
The 50-acre site, and surrounding 100 acres, was purchased in the 1940's and operated as a small attraction. In 1964, the Norris Development Company bought property and expanded and promoted Homosassa Springs as "Nature's Own Attraction." From 1978 until 1984, the land exchanged hands under several private ownerships. In December 1984, the Citrus County Commission purchased the attraction to protect it as an environmentally sensitive area. Today, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is owned by the State of Florida and managed by the Department of Environmental Protection.
To provide the best possible view of the spring, previous owners of the park, then called Homosassa Springs Attraction, installed a floating underwater observatory in 1964. The 168-ton structure floats in the spring. It was built like a ship and launched on ways using bananas instead of the usual grease to prevent disturbing the fish population. This novel idea was adopted from an old Max Sennett movie.
Historical information courtesy of the Florida D.E.P.
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