She may have made Queen Victoria weep, written the best-selling book of the 19th century, and been told by Lincoln she was the woman “that started this great war,” but my favorite thing about Harriet Beecher Stowe is that she was essentially the original weird Florida attraction.
You see, in the years after the Civil War, Stowe moved to Mandarin across the river from Jacksonville. Long before Palm Beach and Miami were twinkles in Henry Flagler’s hungry eyes, tourists flocked to the Jacksonville area. It was a city of luxury hotels, exciting attractions, upper class foreigners, and it was also the entrance to one of America’s most exciting “frontiers”—the St. Johns River. Dubbed the “Nile of America” since it, too, flowed south to north, the St. Johns River was the first main driver of tourism in Florida. Beginning in the 1840s, steamships arrived daily carrying passengers from New England and New York, stopping at Savannah or Charleston along the way.
Tourists usually spent some time in the city and then headed up the river. The St. Johns might as well have been the Amazon to these travelers, and for a sight of the relatively untamed is why they came. The river promised lots of wildlife, lush flora, eccentricities like the “cracker” houses along the banks, scenic villages and resorts, and a possible cure for respiratory ills. Grant and Lee made the trip (not together), so too did Winslow Homer. The high-end possibilities of its towns were so mouthwatering that William Astor tried to take a bite.
Source: The Daily Beast
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