th the adjacent city of Kissimmee and its proximity to Orlando area theme parks, including Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort, and Seaworld.
During the 1870s, Hamilton Disston of Philadelphia took an interest in developing the region while on fishing trips with Henry Shelton Sanford, founder of the city of Sanford. Disston contracted with the Florida Internal Improvement Fund, then in receivership, to pay $1 million to offset its Civil War and Reconstruction debt. In exchange, Disston would be awarded half the land he drained from the state’s swamps. He dug canals and, in 1886-1887, established St. Cloud sugarcane plantation, named after St. Cloud, Minnesota, although many long-time locals state the town was named after Saint-Cloud, France located fairly close to Paris.
Diston opened the Sugar Belt Railway to the South Florida Railroad in 1888 to carry his product to market. But the Panic of 1893 dropped land values, and the Great Freeze of 1894-1895 ruined the plantation. Disston returned to Philadelphia, where he died in 1896. The Sugar Belt Railway merged into the South Florida Railroad. An attempt to cultivate rice in the area failed, and for several years the land remained fallow.
Then in 1909, 35,000 acres were acquired by the Seminole Land & Investment Company as the site for a Grand Army of the Republic veterans’ colony. St. Cloud was selected because of its “health, climate and productiveness of soil.” It was first permanently settled in 1909 by William G. King, a real estate manager from Alachua County who had been given the responsibility “to plan, locate and develop a town.”
On April 16, 1909, the Kissimmee Valley Gazette announced the “New Town of St. Cloud,” a “Soldiers Colony” to be near Kissimmee. The newspaper called the purchase by the Seminole Land and Investment Company “one of the most important real estate deals ever made in the State of Florida.” It was reported that the officers of the company had searched all over Florida for the perfect site for a veterans’ colony, particularly one especially suited for “health, climate, and productiveness of the soil.” Many of the streets were named for states from which the Civil War veterans had served, and they retain those names today.
On June 1, 1915, the Florida Legislature incorporated St. Cloud as a city. Its downtown features landmark buildings by the Orlando architectural firm of Ryan & Roberts, a partnership consisting of two women. The buildings by Ryan and Roberts and others in the downtown area are predominately Spanish Revival.
In recent years, St. Cloud has tried to separate itself from neighboring cities, and particularly the theme parks, by promoting an image of small-town life, with a big future!