Exploring in the wilderness of Half Moon Wildlife Management Area you may not know but at one there was a small community out here in the late 1800’s known as Alto. The preserve is located in Sumter County and has many layers of history. Initially I learned about Alto Cemetery and that lead to me to learning about the old town it was a small community and had a one room school house. The town of Alto formed in the 1880’s when several families moved into the area. You can see it on some old maps. Many of the forest roads are named after these families who had homesteads nearby. Steamboats ran on the Withlacoochee River at that time and Alto Landing refers to a former ferry boat crossing.
Many settlers came here from the Carolinas after the Seminole wars and they established homesteads in the area using federal land grants as compensation for their voluntary service. In exchange for the land they were required to reside and cultivate crops for five years while bearing arms. The settlers raised horses and cattle and cultivated food crops such as peanuts, corn, sugarcane, oats, sweet potatoes and peas.
I am not sure how long the actual long the actual community lasted many of the people buried in the cemetery are those of infants and small children. A reminder of the harsh life experienced by these early Florida pioneers. One of the early homesteads was the McKinney cattle ranch it was inhabited from 1916 to around 1945. After World War II the McKinney family sold the land. Nearby in the swamps and uplands logging operations were taking place. A railroad was built by Cummer Sons Cypress Company and ran alongside the Withlacoochee River.
The land was used by the Carlton family in the 1960’s and 70’s for cattle ranching and during the 1980’s the land was leased to a hunt club. In 1989 the land was purchased by the state in an effort to help preserve the water quality of the Withlacoochee River and its tributaries. Today it is part of the Southwest Water Management District with many miles of trails and scenic areas to roam. But you can’t help but get a sense of the history when exploring the area and that is one of the reasons I enjoy it so much.