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 Beautiful Belmont, Part 55 -- Indian River, Florida.

by John Salisbury Cochran.

See previous entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 54 -- Return to Ohio.

I decided to recover my health amid the orange blossoms on the classic borders of beautiful Indian River near Titusville, on the east coast of Florida. I had become the owner of an orange grove on a strip of land between Indian River and the ocean. Stretching to the frontage on each of these bodies of water, the grove was the famous "Dummitt Orange Grove," father of the justly celebrated Indian River orange. It is a grove with a romantic history in a romantically historical state.

Formerly the property of Captain Dummitt and General William J. Hardee of the Confederate army, it was subsequently owned by the Duke of Castellucia, now deceased, who spent lavishly on its upkeep. The world has only one Indian River. No American who is able to do so should die without seeing it. Its waters are at all times clear as crystal. It is sea water and formed by an inlet of the ocean at Jupiter, from which point it extends north 140 miles to Dummitt Grove, where its head waters spread out into a lake six miles wide and ten miles long. Here it is overlapped some ten miles between it and the ocean by the Halifax River, formed by another inlet of the ocean some 40 miles north. The Halifax, by way of man-made canals, extends practically to St. Augustine, and is connected with Indian River by another canal just north of Dummitt Grove, affording delightful inland navigation by steam and sail from St. Augustine to Miami, well down on the east coast of Florida -- some 250 miles.

The two rivers vary from one to six miles in width, running parallel with and for a major portion of the distance in full view of the ocean. Intervening is a narrow strip of land upon which are several pineapple plantations, orange and lemon groves; stately palms, coconuts and other tropical trees and fruits abound. Along its shores the India rubber tree also flourishes, occasionally having for its neighbor the ever curious banyan with its multiple trunks and complicated branches and foliage.

There is certainly no more beautiful field crop than the pineapple; as for orchard crops, the orange grove surpasses all others. Until the fruiting season arrives there is little difference in appearance between a pineapple and century plant. The pineapple is propagated from suckers, slips, and crowns, and they bear from two to three years after planting at a net profit of from $200 to $600 dollars per acre. There is no more delightful pursuit than the cultivation of pineapples unless it be orange raising, and these can be conducted together, as the pineapple season in summer and the orange season in winter prevent interference of crops and labor.

Pineapples are planted from 20 to 24 inches apart in rows. The suckers -- of which there are one or two to a plant -- spring up near the ground. These are broken off and when stuck in the sand immediately become plants. The slips are embryo plants which spring around the base of the pineapple, varying in number from one to eight to the pineapple. They are planted like the suckers. The crown is the blossom end of the pineapple, which can be cut off and planted, although it is not as desirable as the others. The pineapple is produced on a stem that puts out from the top of the plant, the ordinary production being one pineapple to a plant, though sometimes two are produced. When the pineapple is taken off all suckers except one are removed, leaving this to form the plant for the next year's crop.

The plantation is renewed every five to seven years, depending on the fertility of soil and vigor of plants. In the fruiting season of this delicious fruit, the rich golden hue of the pineapple presents a striking contrast to the deep green of the plant tinged by the rays of the morning sun as it rises out of the ocean and shimmers across the placid crystal waters of Indian River. On a winter's day (and even those days are genial here), looking landward from the fine steamers that ply this river, the scenery from Titusville to Miami is one never to be forgotten. No one visits Indian River in the winter season without a desire to return. The strange soft breezes bring whisperings of sweet, half-forgotten dreams. As you take in the scene, new tropical trees, plants, and flowers appear in view and the heart leaps in gladness at their wondrous beauty and delicious fragrance. All the days are filled with sunshine, and an Indian River moonlight is simply beyond description. It is the land of lover's dreams, the American Italy.

Many wealthy Americans and Englishmen are building costly homes looking out on Indian River and the Atlantic. As you skim along the waters of Lake Worth at the lower extremity of Indian River, from a coconut grove on its eastern shore there bursts into view the most gorgeous tree the world has ever produced. It is a medium-sized tree of most beautiful red flowers over a foot long. At a distance it looks like a tree of flaming fire. On closer approach it changes to a tree of surprising, indescribable loveliness. It is simply stupendous in its grandeur, as if suggesting that nature had made one supreme effort to surpass all her other creations. This grandest of all trees is appropriately named and is the pride of Florida's citizens and the astonishment of all observers; it is called the "Royal Poinciana."

Dummitt Orange Grove

In 1767, when the east coast of Florida was a pathless wilderness, Doctor Turnbull obtained a grant of land extending along the Atlantic coast from a short distance south of St. Augustine to the head of Indian River. He prevailed upon a number of the inhabitants of the island of Minorca, some 1,500 in all, to bring their families and join with him in the raising and manufacture of indigo and sugarcane products, promising each head of a family 50 acres of land, their provisions and other compensation. Instead of keeping this agreement, after he had transported them to this side of the ocean in his own boats and they had no means of communicating with their friends, he enslaved them. He and his company, by means of these slaves, cleared large tracts of this dense and heavily timbered land at different points along the east coast, erected on them large stone buildings for sugar and indigo production, and for a period of many years of this enforced servitude, reaped large fortunes from the business.

Finally, at a time when those wronged and ill-treated people had been reduced from 1,500 to 600, three of them escaped and made their way to St. Augustine. There they laid their complaint before the governor, who immediately liberated the survivors and pursued Doctor Turnbull, whose company abandoned its enterprise and left the country. Many descendants of these unfortunate Minorcans can still be seen in and around St. Augustine. They are a dusky, industrious, kindly disposed people. On the departure of Turnbull, the coastal lands worked by the company returned to its forested, overgrown state, and today in wandering through these jungles, one will occasionally come across the skeletons of stone buildings, silent though potent witnesses of a dark crime otherwise almost forgotten.

Early in the nineteenth century Captain Dummitt, who was an officer in the United States army and a participant in the war against the Seminole Indians, passed through the area and found beside one of these decayed buildings, deep in the heart of the forest, an orange tree full of most delicious fruit. The tree had evidently sprung from a seed dropped by the Turnbull aristocracy many years before; and although untilled and unnurtured by the hand of man, blossomed and brought forth a fruit to gladden a world. That it sprang from a seed there is no doubt, for there is no other fruit like it and it has no equal. Dummitt took the buds from this tree and budded them into the native sour orange trees that he found growing on his land at the head of Indian River, the grove which is now Dummitt Grove. This grove has been greatly enlarged since, and from it have sprung the other groves producing the "Dummitt" or "Indian River Orange."

My Remorse

It was in this setting, amid the balmy breezes of this delightful climate, and sitting in the shadow of the orange and palm trees, that I tried to soothe my suffering soul in the murmurs of the ocean, tried to forget the past and live for the future. Nothing could cure a sick mind over an opportunity forever lost and forever remembered, however. As I sat one evening on one of the roomy porches of the Dummitt mansion looking out on Dummitt Bay, the low moanings of the ocean sounded like the suppressed wail of a lost soul. My heart was filled with remorse -- hopeless remorse. I felt that life for me had been a stupendous failure.

Nine years had passed since leaving my home in Ohio. It was February, and the orange crop had mostly been gathered and the trees were again in bloom, filling the air with their delightful perfume; and there is certainly no odor more delightful than that of the orange blossom. It is said before the other orange groves were planted on Indian River, the perfume from Dummitt Grove could be smelled for fifty miles. In the winter season, Indian River is a great resort for the wealthy pleasure seekers from the North, and to the invalid and infirm its cheery sunshine and genial climate are a veritable fountain of youth.

The numerous towns and stopping places along the east coast and towns such as Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Ormond, Daytona, New Smyrna, Titusville, Sharps, Cocoa, Rockledge, Melbourn, Fort Pierce, Ankona, Eden, Jensen, Palm Beach, and Miami are all delightful places of resort and recreation, but for natural scenery and great tropical beauty, Palm Beach, on classic Lake Worth, surpasses them all. A hotel called the "Royal Poinciana" was erected there by the H.M. Flagler, owner of the Florida East Coast Railway, and one of the Standard Oil magnates. This hotel is a stupendous and fashionable affair and with the other hotels and stopping places, furnishes pleasant accommodations for many hundred guests; the hotels are always crowded during the visiting season by the wealthy traveling public.

See next entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 56 -- A Trip to Lake Worth.

For the table of contents and first entry in this series, see: Beautiful Belmont, Part 01 -- Table of Contents and Brief Introduction.

This entry is adapted from Bonnie Belmont: A Historical Romance of the Days of Slavery and the Civil War, by John Salisbury Cochran, which was published originally in 1907. The book has been reedited extensively for inclusion in the Pierian Press Fulltext eBooks database, and is included on the Stratton House Inn Web site by special permission. This special edition of Beautiful Belmont is licensed for use ONLY on this Web site. It may not be copied or downloaded, but may be used for educational purposes and personal pleasure under fair-use provisions via this Web site. Please note that this Stratton House Inn iteration of the book does NOT include the subject headings assigned each chapter for use in the Fulltext eBooks database.

CO-AUTHOR: Wall, C. Edward. (Editor)
CO-AUTHOR: Schultheiss, Tom. (Asst. Editor)

DATABASE: Fulltext eBooks: Copyright (c) 2000 The Pierian Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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