Early transportation: Canoes, steamboats and trains

As we prepare for Train Day at Pioneer Village on July 19, we thought we’d take a look back at how transportation in the area evolved over the years. 

Long before the bustling days of steamboats, the Seminoles traversed the swamps and rivers of Florida in dugout canoes. Fashioned from an old cypress log, the canoe was hollowed out by burning and using hand axes or other tools. Long poles made the job of navigating through the Everglades and other marshy areas easier than the use of paddles.  

In the late 1880s the Kissimmee Valley began to see increased activity. The dredging operations throughout the area by Hamilton Disston opened up new waterways, linking them and allowing larger water craft to go from one to the other easily. At the same time dredging increased lands for development, the railroad line was extended in Central Florida from Sanford to Kissimmee, bringing people and growth to the town. The train line ended in Kissimmee and steamboats became a popular industry and mode of transportation. The Gilbert Brothers opened a shipyard to build steamboats while Captains Clay Johnson, Edward Hall and Addison Starr Gilbert arrived to pilot the crafts and start fleets that would be used until the early 1920s.

With the arrival of the train also came visitors. Those visitors were offered excursions on the steamboats as a means to explore the rivers and lakes in the area. Local residents could ride the steamboats to other towns to visit family and friends, but the steamboats also brought people to Kissimmee from outlying areas so they could shop or trade. Cattle, fish, farm produce and citrus was transported to Kissimmee via steamboats and loaded onto trains for shipping to larger markets. The Seminoles often poled canoes to Kissimmee, filled with furs and hides to sell or trade with local merchants.

Those early modes of transportation in Osceola County worked harmoniously together for many years until the era of trains eventually took over as the major means of transporting goods and people.

Written by Anza Bast

Sources:

“The Osceola County Centennial Book”

Seminole Indian websites

Osceola History archives