The Florida Department of Natural
Resources and the office of Florida's Attor-
ney General have been attempting to claim
that certain lands are sovereign, that is
state-owned lands. In order to try and
understand their stand,
it is necessary to look .
into the history of how
lands once owned by the .Who
state came to be in pri-
vate owners. F
organized the Disston .
Land Company in
Philadelphia to handle
the 2,000,000 acres of
land. The corporation
was broken down into
These included: the
Florida Land and
Improvement Company and oV n
and the Kissimmee Land
Company. These compa-
nies would handle the By Twile
The drainage contract
was organized as the
Atlantic and Gulf Coast and Okeechobee
Land Company. This company received
legal recognition from the Florida legisla-
ture in 1882.
The contract said preparation for a sur-
vey had to get under way in 90 days and
actual drainage was required to start in six
months. Contract delays brought about
through high waters, disease or mechani-
cal breakdowns would not be counted
against the contract, but no land would be
deeded until 200,000 acres had been
There was criticism of the sale and it
revolved around three points: First, the
price of 25 cents per
acre; secondly, the
owns realization that all the
lands conveyed to Mr.
Ida? Disston were not
swamp lands; and,
what was going to
Second in happen to the squat-
Sters who were living on
a seris the deeded lands.
OIFtitw Mr. Disston imme-
I ory.-o f dately sold one-half of
the lands to Sir
: .i0 Wa: Edward Reed, a civil
landS Bnd engineer and naval
igity I e architect.
His land efforts in
the Kissimmee Valley
Valentine took form in 1883 as
the Florida Land and
Ltd., of London. That
company, in turn, was sold to Roddy
Investment Company in 1886.
By August 1884, the face of central
Florida had begun to change. More than
two million acres had been drained.
Canals had been dug between Lakes East
Tohopekaga Tohopekallga and Cypress
into Lake Kissimmee and the Kissimmee
River. The Kissimmee River had been
dredged and opened to Lake Okeechobee
Okeechobee News, Thursday, October 15.1992 3
State sold submerged lands
to Hamilton Disston
and between the Caloosahatchee River
and Lake Okeechobee. Four dredges
worked simultaneously on the operations.
In 1883. the south shore of Lake
Okeechobee was made and J.M. Kreamer,
the chief engineer for Mr. Disston, advised
that a canal was to be dug south from the
lake. This was the year he completed
opening the channel from Lake Okee-
chobee to the Caloosahatchee River.
Land was deeded to the company in
1884. with the state later claiming that the
company received more than it should
All in all, the Okeechobee Land Compa-
ny received 2 million acres through recla-
mation, but insisted it should have
received 900,000 acres more.
At one time, the company claimed the
entire shoreline of Lake Okeechobee.
By 1894, the drainage company com-
pleted its contract with the state, and the
company came into direct possession of all
the Okeechobee lands.
When Mr. Disston began the drainage
project, he took over a cow camp which
was to become the center of civilization for
the southern part of the state. It was
named Kissimmee. .
It was from this point that the steam-
boats began and ended their trips up and
down the Kissimmee River, across Lake
Okeechobee, and down the newly-dredged
Caloosahatchee River to the Gulf of Mexi-
He sold land north of Orlando to 250
New York families at a cost ranging from
$1.25 to $5 per acre. The tracts of land
ranged between 20 and 80 acres.
Mr. Disston's drainage project and land
sales came to an end with his sudden
death in 1896.
During the next decade legal quarrels
over land were continually before the
courts. Judges ruled over and over that
drainage held a priority over any other use
Lands along the Kissimmee Rver have
been sold to Individuals ever since Mr. Dis-
ston's project and the formation of his
companies in the 1880s.
Now, some 100 years later, the Florida
Department of Natural Resources started
claiming these lands are state-owned
lands. According to the department, they
claim that lands which lie below the ordi-
nary high water mark are sovereign or
state-owned lands. The heart of the debate
is the fact the state agencies are using the
1845 ordinaryy high water mark."
The state maintains its claim that the
thousands of acres of wetlands which
were drained during the channelization
of the Kissimmee River in the 1960s are
What is the correct description of
sovereign lands? What should be used
to determine what is and what is not
state-owned lands? Should the determi-
nation be made based on the 1845 ordi-
nary high water mark or by land eleva-
In the next issue, we will discuss
the varying opinions that exist on the
methods currently being used by the
various state agencies.