The Valencia Orange is the basis of the Florida orange concentrate business and it was developed by a young Swedish botanist. Carl Leonard Vihln, who was educated in Uppsala, even has a street named after him in what was once called New Upsala, but today is part of the city of Sanford, named after the general, lawyer, diplomat and entrepreneur Henry Shelton Sanford. Credited with developing the citrus industry on the 12000 acres he bought in 1870 for $2 an acre, Sanford was actually simply following in the footsteps of Johan Anders Boström, who founded the towns of Ormond Beach and Daytona Beach. The young seaman and son of a teacher from the island of Gotland decided to stay in Florida in 1855 after he was shipwrecked for the third time. He was the first one to start cultivating oranges that were growing wild in this area. He brought over his siblings and had hundreds of workers helping him with his growing operation. For ten whole years John Andrew Boström was Florida’s citrus industry. It was after this that Sanford started importing workers from Sweden and getting into the act. With the help of the Uppsala judge Lars Henschen, 400 Swedes were eventually recruited. They founded New Upsala, building a school, post office, railway station and two churches. Nearby there are some beautiful Swedish-built “Victorian” houses, that the Swedes left behind when the 1894-1895 “double freeze” destroyed the citrus crops and many Swedes packed up and left. New Upsala, an agricultural settlement north of Orlando, near Sanford in east-central Florida, was founded in 1870 by the Reverend William Henschen (1842-1925), his brother Esaias, and friends. It was named for Uppsala, Sweden, from where the Henschens came. General Henry Shelton Sanford, a wealthy entrepreneur, purchased 12,000 acres of land here, having been advised by Reverend Henschen that many Swedes would be eager to work the land if they had the means to pay for the transatlantic voyage. Sanford agreed to pay the cost in return for labor in the citrus groves.
Another brother, Josef Henschen, recruited the first laborers and led a group to Florida in 1871. He became a large citrus grower and landowner himself and he is probably responsible for having the former Pinellas Point on the west coast renamed St. Petersburg in honor of a Russian business associate. In 1880 he founded Forest City in Seminole County, now part of the greater Orlando area.
In 1875 Sanford donated one and one-half acres of land for a Swedish church and cemetery. It was served by Swedish Baptist and Presbyterian ministers until 1892, when it became a Lutheran congregation. The church disbanded in 1946 and the sanctuary was torn down. A bronze tablet marks its former location.
Nearby is the Swedish cemetery amid giant live oaks draped with Spanish moss. Also at the site is a Seminole County Historical marker entitled “Upsala Swedish Community.” It notes that “this site was the center of the earliest and largest Swedish community in Florida. Located here were the Scandinavian Society Lutheran Church; its cemetery; and a meeting house, which also served as a school until 1904. In May 1871 thirty-three Swedish immigrants (twenty-six men and seven women) arrived under the sponsorship of Henry S. Sanford for the purpose of developing his citrus groves. … General Sanford’s initial cost was $75 per person ($65 for transportation and $10 to a recruiting agent). He also agreed to give each immigrant free rations and living quarters for one year, after which each would be given a parcel of land. In November 1871, twenty additional Swedes arrived and joined the original immigrants to form the Upsala community. Many descendants of these early immigrants still live in the Sanford area.”
This site is located on Upsala Road not far from the Presbyterian Church of Upsala, a white-clapboard structure (at Twenty-fifth Street). In front of the church is a Seminole County historical marker with the following inscription: “In October 1890, the younger generation of Swedish immigrants, whose parents had been persuaded to settle here by Henry Sanford, organized a Swedish Presbyterian congregation along American lines. … The original structure was erected in 1892, and was used continuously until… the new building was constructed in 1985. The first pastor of the Upsala Church was the Reverend John Fredrick Sundell, who also organized the Lake Mary Church, two miles south of here.”
At the entrance to the Henry Shelton Sanford Memorial Library and Museum. 520 E. First Street, Sanford (407-302-1000), there is a bronze plaque that notes that “much of the labor in the groves was performed by Swedish immigrants who settled in nearby New Upsala.” A street where many early Swedes lived is named Upsala Avenue, and many homes in historic downtown Sanford were built by Swedish carpenters. The museum displays artifacts from the early Swedish community, including photos of Nels Julius Stenstrom, who established the first dairy in central Florida in the 1870s and who married Josephine Jacobs, a teacher of English to the Swedes of New Upsala. The Museum of Seminole County History, 300 Bush Boulevard (407-665-2489; www.co.seminole.fl.us), exhibits a number of early photographs of the county and sells books of historic interest.
In the Windchase subdivision outside Sanford is the Belair historical marker, which identifies a 400-acre portion of the original 12,000-acre grant acquired by General Sanford in 1870. Part of this land became an experimental station for various citrus fruits. Swedes were involved with these experiments.
In nearby Lake Mary in front of the Lake Mary Historical Museum is a plaque showing the community’s historic sites. Many houses and other structures have Swedish connections. The town may have been named for Reverend Sundell’s wife, Mary Amelia. A prominent resident was merchant and entrepreneur Axel Evald Sjoblom, who formally platted the town as a resort. First Presbyterian Church, at 128 W. Wilbur Avenue, was organized in 1894 by Reverend Sundell, minister of Upsala Presbyterian Church.
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