Kissimmee Postcards from the 1940s

The Kissimmee lakefront has provided a gathering place on the shore of Lake Tohopekaliga. I recall my grandfather telling me of days when Seminole Indians would canoe into town and sleep under the canopy of the large oak trees. That same shore saw the nearby South Florida railroad unload travelers on their journey to a resort, or perhaps a new life in Central Florida.

By the 1940's, the lakefront had seen development, including the addition of a seawall, a community house and what has been described as 'the world's most unique monument,' the Monument of States. Kissimmee also opened a zoo, which I remember visiting when I was quite young.

Here are a few linen postcards from my collection that showcase the Kissimmee lakefront.

Kissimmee Lakefront Linen Postcard c1946
Kissimmee Lakefront Linen Postcard, circa 1946. Reverse: Orange News Co., Orlando, FLA.
Kissimmee Municipal Zoo Linen Postcard, circa 1946. Reverse: Orange News Co., Orlando, FLA.
Kissimmee Municipal Zoo Linen Postcard, circa 1946. Reverse: Orange News Co., Orlando, FLA.
Kissimmee Monument of States
Kissimmee Monument of States, circa 1946. Reverse: WORLD'S MOST UNIQUE MONUMENT. Built of 1500 stones. Every State in the U.S.A., 41 governors and 21 foreign countries represented. Base 22 ft. square. Height 50 ft. Weight 600,000 lbs. 2 years to build. Sponsored and bult by the Kissimmee All-States Tourist Club, Inc.

Many postcards, including these provide idealized views of their subjects. The Monument of States, for example, is not as close to the waterfront as the image implies, nor is the view as clear (the Community Center was behind the monument from this view. The tropical feel of these cards would certainly please the recipients and, perhaps, entice them to make the trip to Florida to find paradise themselves.

Living just three blocks from the Monument of States, I visited - and climbed - it too many times to count. The lakefront and all of downtown Kissimmee was my playground in the 1970's. I enjoyed it and would gladly repeat those old days and appreciate the people and life in a small town much more than I did.

Did you grow up in 'old' Kissimmee or a small town? Have fond memories to share? Your comments and stories are welcomed.

Kissimmee River Steamboats

Riverboats were a lifeline to commerce and travel in the pioneer days of Florida, and anywhere there was a river, you could find a captain piloting his boat to the next town or landing. The Kissimmee River was no exception. From the headwaters of the Florida Everglades, Reedy Creek, Shingle Creek, Boggy Creek and others supplied Lake Tohopekaliga with a constant flow of water that meandered a slow and winding path all the way to the southern tip of Florida.

During the 1880's, riverboat builders, including my maternal great-grandfather, Addison Starr Gilbert, along with three of his brothers, began building boats on the shore of Lake Toho in Kissimmee. This post includes the only three photographs I know to exist of the Gilbert Brothers riverboats.

The Kissimmee River is a winding and shallow river that required a low draft boat, and smaller in size than the boats of the St. Johns or Oklawaha Rivers.

Scenic view of the Kissimmee River c.1920
Scenic view of the Kissimmee River c.1920 - Florida Memory

My great grandfather made a weekly trip between Kissimmee and Okeechobee with a stop in Bassinger and twenty other spots along the way. Places with colorful names like Turkey Hammock, Rattlesnake Hammock, Cabbage Bluff, Alligator Bluff and Orange Hammock. By land, the trip from Kissimmee to Bassinger was about 80 miles. The winding Kissimmee River turned it into nearly 160 miles.

I like to think the quote below, from an 1899 article in the Kissimmee Valley Gazette, could have been written after a trip on one of his boats.

"There is no more pleasant way of spending a week than to take the trip to Bassinger. Birds of all kinds are in sight the whole way: flocks of ducks, coots, herons, cranes, limpkins, curlews, plume birds and water turkeys without end; also alligators, rabbits and water snakes, and plenty of fish, too.

In its narrowness, in the rampant growth of water plants along its low banks, in the unbroken flatness of the landscape, in the labyrinth of by channels and cut-offs and above all in the appalling, incredible, bewildering crookedness of its serpentine body, it is indeed an extraordinary river." 

Kissimmee River near Fort Basinger Station  Florida. May 1919.
Kissimmee River near Fort Basinger Station Florida. May 1919. Florida Memory

The Gilbert Brothers who built boats included Sam, Jim, George and Addison. They named one of their boats Tallulah, after their sister. The family, which had seven brothers and one sister in total, moved to Kissimmee in 1886 from Leesburg, GA. Addison would become mayor of Kissimmee in the 1920s.

City of Athens Riverboat on the Kissimmee River. Florida Memory
City of Athens Riverboat on the Kissimmee River. Florida Memory

The steamboats supplied the settlers with needed food, goods and even livestock. The photo above shows firewood stored near the landing, used to replenish the fuel for the wood-burning steamboat.

Steamboat Bassinger at Kissimmee. Florida Memory
Bassinger Steamboat on her Maiden Voyage. Florida Memory
Bassinger steamboat in Kissimmee. Personal Collection.
Bassinger steamboat docked in Kissimmee. Personal Collection
87 year old A. S. Gilbert at the Kissimmee River boat-a-cade in 1951. Florida Memory
87 year old A. S. Gilbert at the Kissimmee River boat-a-cade in 1951. Florida Memory
Gilbert Brothers Article in Orlando Sentinel
Gilbert Brothers Article in Orlando Sentinel. Personal Collection

I found this flyer online, produced by the South Florida Water Management District, which quotes my great grandfather at the bottom.

Kissimmee River History Brochure SFWMD
Kissimmee River History Brochure - SFWMD. Personal Collection

Old Florida was, for a time, a haven for boats built by local entrepreneurs to ply the rivers near their home. Their success could be tied to the size of their fleet, the towns and outposts they served, and the people and goods they carried. Navigating the Kissimmee River was a skill that a captain also needed to possess, for it could be unforgiving if you ran aground.

As the Orlando Sentinel article states, my great grandfather saw the writing on the wall for steamboats, and opened Kissimmee's first gas station. While he passed away before I was born, I remember the old gas station on North Main Street stood for many years before it was demolished.

There are online articles detailing the history, and the operators, of the Kissimmee River steamboats, including those owned by Captain Clay Johnson and Captain Rufus Rose, both residents of Kissimmee. It's a fascinating part of Central Florida history.

If you have photos or information to share about the Kissimmee River steamboats, please leave a comment below and I'll be in touch. Thank you!

Personal collection
Florida Memory
Orlando Sentinel
South Florida Water Management District
Reminiscing in the Valley of the Tohopekaliga

Kissimmee in 1971

This video features plenty of old Kissimmee, from the Seaboard Coast Line depot on Dakin Avenue, to scenes of Broadway, but my favorite is the interview with Irlo Bronson, Sr., one of the few recordings of him that I've seen. While I grew up with his son's family, I never met the elder Mr. Bronson. Anyway, a great look at Kissimmee, Lake Buena Vista and Windermere in the months prior to the opening of Walt Disney World.


If you remember Central Florida towns before Disney of saw something that brought back memories in this video, please leave a comment below. Thank you!


1993 Airship Shamu Flight Over Central Florida Theme Parks

In 1993, I had the opportunity to ride aboard Airship Shamu on one of it's scheduled flights over the Central Florida theme parks. The blimp was owned by Airship International LTD, and founder Lou Pearlman, who later went on to create the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC.

The blimp was based at Kissimmee Municipal Airport (now known as Kissimmee Gateway Airport) and had a truck-mounted mooring mast since there were not any hangars or permanent facilities at the airport.

I shot this video on August 4, 1993 using a Panasonic WF-F250/AG7450 SVHS camera. The camera was handheld and the footage is unedited, and has not been color-corrected or stabilized.

After departing the Kissimmee Airport, we head west to Old Town and Water Mania. We then head over Epcot Center, Disney-MGM Studios, the Polynesian Village Resort, the Contemporary Resort, and the Magic Kingdom. We then continue northeast along I-4 to fly above Sea World, the Orange County Convention Center, the Peabody Hotel, International Drive and it's hotels, restaurants and attractions, including Wet 'n Wild. The final portion of the flight is above Nickelodeon and Universal Studios before returning to Kissimmee.

The transfer from SVHS to digital revealed some dropouts in the video, however the tape held up remarkably well given its age. Hope you enjoy this footage from almost 30 years ago.

If you remember Airship Shamu, of other blimps and aircraft that were based in Kissimmee, please leave a comment below. It'd be great to hear from you. Thank you!

Video source:
Personal collection