Prior to the close of the Civil War, the Central Florida Region was sparsely settled. The Timicuan St. John’s peoples were the earliest inhabitants of the region, but diseases introduced by the Spanish in the sixteenth century decimated the tribes. Although Spanish conquistadors explored the area, they found it to be too inhospitable, limiting their settlements to the east coast and panhandle of Florida.
Written history of the region begins during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), when a series of small resting forts are built along the Fort King Road, connecting Fort Mellon (present day Sanford) to Fort Brooks (present day Brooksville).
In 1862, the Legislature passed the Florida Homestead Act, which granted settlers who freeholded land in Florida for five years deed to up to 150 acres for a small filing fee. With Horace Greely’s admonition “Go West young man” ringing in their ears, the Florida frontier was opened up to pioneers.
With its numerous lakes, pine hammocks, loamy soil and pleasant breezes, Central Florida soon began to attract pioneers. Newly freed slaves and confederate veterans from the war ravaged south; bold young men and rich investors from the North and Midwest; and immigrants – all come to Florida looking for opportunity and the chance for a fresh start. These are the stories of those pioneers and the communities they built.