STATE OF FLORIDA FACTS
• Total Area – 58,560 square miles
• Total land area – 54,136 square miles
• Total water area – 4,424 square miles
• Rank among states in total area – 22nd
• Length north and south – 447 miles (St. Mary’s River to Key West)
• Width east and west – 361 miles (Atlantic Ocean to Perdido River)
• Distance from Pensacola to Key West – 792 miles (by road)
• Highest Natural Point – 345 feet
• Geographic Center – 12 miles northwest of Brooksville, Hernando County
• Coastline – 1,197 statute miles
• Tidal shoreline (general) – 2,276 statute miles
• Beaches – 663 miles
• Longest River – St. Johns, 273 miles
• Largest Lake – Lake Okeechobee, 700 square miles
• Largest county – Palm Beach, 2,578 square miles
• Smallest county – Union, 245 square miles
• Number of lakes (greater than 10 acres) – about 7,700
• Number of first-magnitude springs – 33
• Number of islands (greater than 10 acres) – about 4,500
• First permanent European settlement – 1565, St. Augustine, by Spain
• Acquired from Spain as a U.S. Territory – 1821
• Admitted as 27th state of the U.S. – March 3, 1845
• Capital – Tallahassee
• Population 2004 – 17,397,161
• Population 2000 – 15,982,378 (Rank 4th)
• Population 1990 – 12,937,926
• Population 1980 – 9,739,992
• Population growth rate 1990-2000 – 23.53%
• Projected Population – 2025 [if population growth rates of 1990-2000 continue] (2001 FAIR): 27,100,400
• Most populous metropolitan area 2000 – Miami-Ft. Lauderdale: 3,876,380
• Number of counties – 67
Florida is the nation’s tropical area, surrounded by balmy waters. The state’s first tourist, Ponce de Leon, didn’t find the fountain of youth he was searching for in 1513, but modern-day tourists, at the rate of nearly 47 million a year, are still trying. Poolside, on the beach, at jai alai frontons, in nightclubs, and on park benches, today’s visitors look for rejuvenation.
To winter-weary northerners, Florida is a magnetic Eden. The pull of this land of beaches, palms, and springs is so mighty that those who cannot come in winter flock here, in ever-increasing numbers, during the summer. More people migrate to Florida to retire than to any other state. Those not yet ready to retire come here seeking a happier balance between work and relaxation. Florida is one of the top ten states in population, rising dramatically from the early part of the century. Among 12 southeastern states, Florida has moved from last place in 1940 to first place today.
An almost 450-mile-long peninsula, rarely more than 150 miles wide and only a few feet high in many places, Florida has 8,426 miles of tidal coastline including that of the panhandle. The gentle Gulf Stream flows through the Florida straits between Florida and Cuba and north up the Atlantic coast, bestowing a tropical caress on the land. The pines near the Georgia border give way to palms and sea grape, then to bougainvillea and hibiscus, and finally to saw grass and mangrove down in the Everglades. Florida from north to south prides itself on being green and clean.
Florida’s east coast has glamour and gloss; the west, a more earthy mood of informality. Between the two is a vast flatland with a spine of shallow ridges of land that produces approximately $5.8 billion worth of agricultural products a year. Florida leads the nation in citrus fruits and is second only to California in winter vegetables. Cattle ranches and dairy farms prosper in great numbers; forests continue to provide lumber, naval stores, and pulp at a seemingly inexhaustible rate; and from the sea, Florida harvests millions of pounds of fish and shellfish each year.
Tourism is the state’s major industry, providing annual taxable sales of approximately $41 billion. Facilities for the tourist trade include 3,300 lodgings and more than 45,000 restaurants. Kennedy Space Center, selected in 1961 as the launch facility for the Apollo Moon Mission, is visited by more than three million visitors each year. Walt Disney World, the gossamer fantasyland of central Florida, has welcomed untold millions since its opening in 1971.
The day in 1513 when Ponce de Leon stepped ashore near St. Augustine began Florida’s long history. The explorer mapped the coast but failed to find his fountain of youth or to establish a colony. After him, in 1539, Hernando de Soto and his army marched through the tropical land, starting in what is now the Tampa Bay area. They discovered the Mississippi River and staked Spain’s claim to the Southwest. Spanish settlements became rooted at St. Augustine and Pensacola in the 17th century. In the 18th century, Florida was taken as a British province. Spanish rule resumed following the British defeat in the American Revolution, but in 1812 a group of Americans took over and declared the peninsula an independent republic. Finally, in 1819, the United States took formal possession of Florida through a treaty of purchase. During the Civil War, Tallahassee was the only Confederate capital east of the Mississippi to escape capture by Union forces.
Henry Morrison Flagler, a colorful tycoon with a passion for railroads and hotels, was the major figure in the transformation of Florida from a remote and swampy outpost to its present-day status. Flagler pushed his Florida East Coast Railroad from Jacksonville to Key West, opening one area after another along the coast to tourist and commercial development. On the west coast, Henry Plant, another millionaire railroader, competed with Flagler on a somewhat more modest scale