Homosassa, Florida is one of the world’s most special treasures. It is a place that is rich in natural beauty and a history that compels people to preserve it. Residents and tourists alike, work hard to keep it a beautiful place to live and visit, regardless of what you want to do while there. Isn’t it time that you also consider exploring all that this awe inspiring world within Florida has to offer?
Long before the Spanish arrived in Florida, the area of Homosassa was home to a variety of different cultures. It is located in Citrus County and along the beautiful Gulf Coast or as many people lovingly call it, “Florida’s Nature Coast”. There has been extensive research and findings that indicate it was inhabited by pre-historic aboriginal people that can be traced back 12,000 years prior to Spanish explorers.
If this isn’t impressive enough, it has also been home to the Seminole and Creek Native American tribe. This is where it also gets its name. Homosassa is a Creek word that means “Place of many pepper plants”. The Seminole’s meaning was “river of fishes” or “pepper ridge”. Proof of its history has been established due to dig sites that have found all types of ancient artifacts that include even canoes.
Hernando de Sota first explored the area we know as Homosassa in the 16th century. However, development did not begin until 1842 when the Armed Occupation Act stipulated that one hundred and sixty acres would be given to any man over the age of 18 whether he was married or single as long as he was able to bear arms and live on the land in a house that was fit for habitation for five years consecutively. The act also stated that he must cultivate at least five acres of this land.
One of the main names to take advantage of this offer by the Federal government was a man named William Cooley. He submitted many applications to gain his land. He succeeded and played a very prominent role in settling Homosassa by becoming not only a landowner but a merchant and a pioneer. He is credited with being a man who shipped red cedar and mostly for becoming the area’s first Justice of the Peace. In 1847, Mr. Cooley decided to sell his land and sold it to David Levy Yulee, one of Florida’s first senators. After selling, Mr. Cooley moved to Tampa.
Mr. Yulee grew his land ownership and established a 5,000 acre sugar plantation in 1951. He built it on the outskirts of Homosassa, FL County, but along the Homosassa River banks in an area now called “Tiger Island” or “Tigertail Island”. He worked approximately 1,000 slaves and they handled the sugar cane, citrus, and cotton crops. The sugar mills that were created and in full operation between the years of 1851 and 1864, still stand today. Mr. Yulee used this steam driven mill, to produce sugar, molasses, and syrup. The molasses was also used to create rum. Yulee is also credited with being the first to grow sweet oranges that were budded from sour orange stock and the oranges are called, “Homosassa Oranges”.
In old Homosassa you will be free to explore all of this and more. You can learn how the Civil War halted progress in the development of Homosassa and see the destruction created by the Union gunboats when you explore the Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins, which have been preserved as a historical state park area. This will also allow you to discover why Yulee was imprisoned after the end of our Civil War in 1965, during which time the mill was abandoned and all of his slaves were set free.
Other people who have called this amazing area home include President Grover Cleveland who established his “Winter Whitehouse” on its banks and Winslow Homer who created beautiful watercolors of the Homosassa River in 1904. You can see the watercolors by visiting the Homosassa Wildlife State Park. It is here that you will also be able to watch the fish and manatee in their natural environment by touring an underground glass lined sunken “boat” and see Florida’s favorite hippopotamus, as well as a variety of other animals native to the area.
The first railroad brought into Homosassa was a direct line from Dunnellon, Florida to Homosassa. As a result, it opened up trade and tourism with Ocala and the rest of the country. It was built in 1887-1888 and functioned fully until 1941 when the days of railroading came to an end.
Dunn’s Homosassa Inn still stands as a private residence, but in its prime it was visited by many notable figures from history, including John Jacob Astor, Thomas Edison, and Winslow Homer. The Inn was built in 1882 along the riverbanks.
Homosassa has been known as a great place to grow citrus and it has also been the home of cedar mills for lumber. However, along with this, you must consider the fishing industry that also contributed to its success. The Homosassa River and its direct link to the Gulf waters has led to many people working on the water both for fun and profits. However, in today’s time, there are less people working on the water due to new regulations, pollutants in the water, less fish to catch, and other issues.
With the completion of Suncoast Parkway that connects Tampa to US Hwy 98, Citrus County is more easily accessible to tourists. However, the main roads in Homosassa are West Yulee Drive (CR-490) which connects to US Hwy 19. This all makes it easily accessible to Florida residents as well as tourists from other areas of the world.
Homosassa is home to the West Indian Manatee year round. The Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park is one of the main state parks in Florida due to the manatees.
Lu, a hippopotamus, is Florida’s honorary citizen because of the fact Florida was attempting to find him a new home after designating it as a state park and Lu not fitting in with the state’s animals. Citizens of Homosassa were not happy and petitioned hard to enable him to live out the rest of his days at the Homosassa Springs State Park. He celebrated his 50th birthday in 2010 and will never have to worry about finding another home. For his birthday, he was given a bread cake with frosting and a song that was performed by the children of Homosassa.
According to census most residents of Homosassa are over the age of 45. This contributes to its laid back atmosphere and its ability to maintain its old fashioned charm. Even a lot of the businesses and resorts in the area can be dated back many years in order to stay true to the Old Homosassa appeal.
As of 2000, there were only 2,294 people who called Homosassa home. Considering the hundreds of manatee and other wildlife that call it home, this is a place that holds a pretty impressive population.
The Homosassa River’s temperature is a steady 72 degrees year round thanks to the springs that feed it from deep within the river. This also contributes to the clear water near the Homosassa Springs area and why so many native animals live around the area even during the cold weather months.
The overall temperature in Homosassa is between 56 and 82 year round, making it a very mild climate area. However, low averages can be as cold as 42 degrees in January and as warm as 90 degrees during the summer months. During this time, rainfall averages also increase, but do not worry, the average chance for sunshine on any given day is better than 60%.
The Homosassa River is connected to the Gulf of Mexico. It is 7.7 miles long and gradually changes from fresh water to salt water. This means that some areas are more brackish than clear. It is an ideal location for anyone who wants to go canoeing or kayaking because it has a gentle flow.
Where the river meets the gulf, you will find a small opening. At times there may be as little as 2 feet of water, allowing access to the river. Many boats get caught up here at low tide if they are not skilled boaters. That is why it has earned its name as “Hell Gate”.
Homosassa and the Crystal River area are the only place that you can visit where it is legal to swim with the Manatee who call it home. There are tour groups that will help you achieve this once in a lifetime experience and tell you when the best time of the year will be to explore the nature coast in this way.
Exploration does not stop at Homosassa Springs Florida. All areas of Citrus County have exciting things for you to see and take part of. So, why not plan to visit Homosassa, FL and discover what natural beauty the nature coast has to offer. It will truly be a vacation that you will always remember.