By Mike Miller Updated May 4, 2023
St. Cloud, Florida, is about 5 miles east of Kissimmee on U.S. Highway 192. Much of the business activity in both towns is centered along this highway.
The average tourist staying in the area and mainly interested in Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and the other big attractions will hardly be aware of the real St. Cloud.
It is only when you get off the highway and go into the town that you will be able to enjoy the small town charm.
This town of 55,337 people is on the south shore of East Lake Tohopekaliga. Most local folks call it East Lake Toho.
It is a round lake about 4 or 5 miles in diameter with marshy shores known for its good fishing.
The historic downtown area and City Hall are 4 blocks north of U.S. 192. Pennsylvania Avenue is one of the main streets leading north into downtown.
Most of the historic old buildings in St. Cloud are along 9th and 10th Streets.
Hamilton Disston of Philadelphia bought 4,000,000 acres of Florida land for $1,000,000 shortly after the Civil War. The State sold the land to help pay off its Civil War debts.
It was claimed at the time to be the largest private land sale in the history of the world. Disston was also to receive a percentage of additional land if he could drain it.
He began to dig canals around St. Cloud and Kissimmee, and in 1886 he built the St. Cloud sugarcane plantation.
Some locals say he named it after the town in Minnesota; others claim he named it after the town in France.
Disston build railroads to haul his products to market, but a combination of factors - weather, market prices, and more -caused the plantation to fail.
The Great Freeze of 1894 and 1895 destroyed citrus and many of the other agricultural enterprises in the St. Cloud area.
Others tried to raise sugar cane and rice on the plantation, but that didn't work either in the long run. Mr. Disston died in the spring of 1896.
All of these factors resulted in the plantation land lying lonely and unproductive for many years.
In 1909, a development company bought 35,000 acres for the site of a Grand Army of the Republic veteran's colony.
The Grand Army of the Republic was a huge fraternal organization formed in 1866 and composed of veterans of the Union Army who had served in the Civil War.
The town was laid out on the south shore of East Lake Toho.
Many of the north-south streets were named after the states from which the Union Army veterans had served.
This heritage has been retained in the street names of today.
Much of the history of St. Cloud has been documented and is displayed in the St. Cloud Heritage Museum located at 1012 Massachusetts Avenue in St. Cloud.
St Cloud, Florida was incorporated in 1915, and the downtown areas still features historic old buildings from that era.
In addition to the interesting downtown section, St Cloud has developed a beautiful park on the south shore of Lake Toho.
The park includes walking and biking trails and a nice marina.
The town has abundant large trees including many ancient oaks. There are all kinds of homes that date back to the boom days of the 1920s.
Many of them have been fixed up and are as charming as any homes in the State of Florida.
Many of the old buildings in the historic district have been decorated with murals of historic significance.
Each mural has a plaque that describes the moment in history portrayed by the mural.
For many years there was a lighted cross on the top of St. Cloud's water tower on the south side of the main drag, U.S.-192. It was a landmark that many Floridians vaguely noticed as they drove through town.
The cross was an obvious symbol of the first name of the town, SAINT.
Then in 1987, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of some residents who objected to the cross. The lawsuit said the display of the cross was unconstitutional because it promoted one religion and was on city property.
The City tried to compromise by replacing the old cross with a Greek cross; it didn't work. The ACLU and the residents prevailed and the cross on the water tower is gone forever.
I can't even find a photo of it on the internet.
2324 13th Street
St. Cloud, Florida 34769
St. Cloud is on US-192 just east of the Florida Turnpike. It has not been turned completely into the fast food megatropolis that its neighbor Kissimee has become due to the arrival of Walt Disney World and the other major theme parks.
St Cloud still has a bit of a country feel, and The Catfish Place fits right into that feeling.
I've been visiting The Catfish Place since it opened in 1973. You won't be surprised to learn that this restaurant features seafood, and especially catfish.
Read more about The Catfish Place.
Reptile World Serpentarium: 5705 E Irlo Bronson Memorial Hwy, St. Cloud, FL 34771 - A reptile zoo and wildlife sanctuary home to more than 50 species of snakes, lizards, turtles, and crocodilians.
Peghorn Nature Park: 2101 Peghorn Way, St. Cloud, FL 34772 - A beautiful park with hiking trails, picnic areas, and a lake for fishing.
The St. Cloud Heritage Museum: 1012 Massachusetts Ave, St. Cloud, FL 34769 - A museum that showcases the history of St. Cloud and its people.
Lakefront Park: 1104 Lakeshore Blvd, St. Cloud, FL 34769 - A waterfront park with a beach, playground, and picnic areas.
Bob Makinson Aquatic Center: 2204 Denn John Ln, St. Cloud, FL 34771 - A family-friendly water park with a lazy river, slides, and a wave pool.
Harmony Golf Preserve: 7251 Five Oaks Dr, St. Cloud, FL 34773 - A scenic 18-hole golf course surrounded by natural wetlands, lakes, and wildlife.
St. Cloud Farmer's Market: 11th St & New York Ave, St. Cloud, FL 34769 - A monthly market with fresh produce, homemade goods, and local crafts.
Veterans Memorial Library: 810 13th St, St. Cloud, FL 34769 - A library with a vast collection of books, digital resources, and educational programs for all ages.
Our Facebook page has more than 127,538 followers who love off the beaten path Florida: towns, tourist attractions, maps, lodging, food, festivals, scenic road trips, day trips, history, culture, nostalgia, and more. We post articles every day. Please check it out and if you like it, we would appreciate a "like" from you.
By Mike Miller, Copyright 2009-2023
Florida Back Roads Travel is not affiliated with or endorsed by Backroads, a California-based tour operator which arranges and conducts travel programs throughout the world.