The Swamp Peddlers

How Lot Sellers, Land Scammers, and Retirees Built Modern Florida and Transformed the American Dream

By Jason Vuic

272 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 26 halftones, 4 maps, notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6333-3
    Published: June 2021
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6315-9
    Published: June 2021
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-6316-6
    Published: May 2021

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Florida has long been a beacon for retirees, but for many, the American dream of owning a home there was a fantasy. That changed in the 1950s, when the so-called "installment land sales industry" hawked billions of dollars of Florida residential property, sight unseen, to retiring northerners. For only $10 down and $10 a month, working-class pensioners could buy a piece of the Florida dream: a graded home site that would be waiting for them in a planned community when they were ready to build. The result was Cape Coral, Port St. Lucie, Deltona, Port Charlotte, Palm Coast, and Spring Hill, among many others—sprawling communities with no downtowns, little industry, and millions of residential lots.

 

In The Swamp Peddlers, Jason Vuic tells the raucous tale of the sale of residential lots in postwar Florida. Initially selling cheap homes to retirees with disposable income, by the mid-1950s developers realized that they could make more money selling parcels of land on installment to their customers. These "swamp peddlers" completely transformed the landscape and demographics of Florida, devastating the state environmentally by felling forests, draining wetlands, digging canals, and chopping up at least one million acres into grid-like subdivisions crisscrossed by thousands of miles of roads. Generations of northerners moved to Florida cheaply, but at a huge price: high-pressure sales tactics begat fraud; poor urban planning begat sprawl; poorly-regulated development begat environmental destruction, culminating in the perfect storm of the 21st-century subprime mortgage crisis.

About the Author

Jason Vuic is the author of The Yucks!: Two Years in Tampa with the Losingest Team in NFL History and The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History.


For more information about Jason Vuic, visit the Author Page.

Reviews

"Jason Vuic provides a detailed saga of Florida development, county by county, year by year. While some parts read like a satire of capitalistic greed, it is an honest examination of history that evolves into a cautionary tale of the human capacity for self-interest and acquisitiveness. The author’s research is unassailable. The Swamp Peddlers is an exceptional account of legal loopholes, egotistical hubris, environmental annihilation, and the mindless development of land at any cost."--Los Angeles Review of Books

The Swamp Peddlers brings to life an astonishing rogues gallery of crooks and hustlers, each one of them a Florida Man seemingly sprung from the pages of a Carl Hiaasen thriller."--Craig Pittman, author of Cat Tale: The Wild, Weird Battle to Save the Florida Panther

"A marvelously written, dramatic account of the dark side of real estate development in Florida. Vuic's chronicle is engrossing, moving, and full of dark humor."--David Farber, author of Crack: Rock Cocaine, Street Capitalism, and the Decade of Greed

"Jason Vuic's book crackles with colorful characters who bought land by the acre and sold it by the foot to Americans in search of second acts and the Florida Dream."--Gary R. Mormino, author of Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams: A Social History of Modern Florida

"An excellent history of the interstate land sales industry--well researched, thorough in coverage, and written with compelling style."--Hubert B. Stroud, author of The Promise of Paradise: Recreational and Retirement Communities in the United States since 1950