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hart line

Hubbard Hart

Hubbart Hart was born in Guilford, Wandham County, Vermont on May 4, 1827. He was married to Mary Adams of Caverdish, Vermont until her death in 1880. He then married Cecilia Thompson of Boston, Massachusetts in 1884. At the age of 21, he moved to Savannah, Georgia, and then later Darien, Georgia. He finally moved to Palatka in July 1855. Five years after moving to Polatka, he got a contract as a mail carrier for a route from Ocala to Tampa, even though there was a definite danger of Seminole Indian attacks. This mail route took him by the emerging village building up around Silver Springs, and this gave him the idea. He saw this natural beauty as a possible destination for northern vacationers. In 1860, at 33 years old Hart bought the paddle-wheel steamer James Burt. He used the boat to transport people and supplies between Polatka and Silver Springs. The tourist route lasted 2-days and went down the Okalawaha River from Polatka to Silver Springs and back. The roads of the time were very poor, but boat transport was faster and safer. James Burt was also used to move lumber from Hart’s new Cyprus lumbering enterprise. His new business, the Hart Line, and needed to clear the wood and debris from the Okalawaha.

At the start of the Civil War, the Hart Line needed to adapt or die. Due to no tourism during the war, Hart decided to use his steamers to transport supplies for the Confederate States of America. He helped with blockade running, which was done by transporting the supplies up the center of the state through a series of land and river routes. During the Civil War, he made a total of CSA$11,000, which he managed to turn into material assets by the end of the war to avoid losing everything in the collapsing government. Near the end of the war, the Confederates saw the great value of the Okalawaha River and hired Hart to clear it of all debris and navigation hazards for a price of CSA$4500. He did not get a chance to finish before the war was over.

Hart left the war with the title of Colonel. He was cleared of any wartime crimes and allowed to resume his tourist industry. He used his boats to also help transport United States Government men and supplies in the winter of 1865-66, proving his allegiance to the unified government.

His business grew. He eventually had to design a new type of boat to navigate the narrow river filled with obstacles that would sink most rear-paddle boats. Hubbard Hart invented the first inboard-paddle boat in 1866 with the launching of the Griffin. This new design of boat was featured in the 1892 Chicago World Fair. In the following three years Hart Lines also added the Ocklawaha and Pansoffkee to the fleet. The James Burt had been sunk in the Civil War and the Silver Springs was decommissioned with the new boats. While the new boats were described as ugly, the trips on them had nothing but positive reviews. Harriet Beecher Stowe, who was first afraid to board the boats, wrote nothing but praise for the Hart Line. Attractions along the way included touring Hart’s world famous orange groves, and even picking some of the oranges yourself, shooting the wildlife (including alligators), watching the rustic Florida beauty, and swimming in Silver Springs.

Hart’s success with the Hart Line continued until a gradual downturn in business starting in 1889. Through Hart’s hard work and dedication, he managed to keep the fleet running. He attempted strategies such as building luxury hotels along the way, renovating the boats to have bigger cabins, and performing cruises down other rivers, such as the Indian river in 1883. Sadly, his hotel, Putnam House, burnt down in 1884 after only being open a short time.

On December 12, 1895, Hubbard Hart died in a Street Car accident in Atlanta, Georgia where he was attending a business meeting. It is not clear if he fell from the street car or was hit by one, but he did sustain fatal injuries. Hart Lines was taken over by his brother-in-law where it would thrive for many more years.

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