The phosphate industry has been an integral part of the evolution of Florida’s economy and way of life since deposits were first discovered in 1881. Before we knew how to mine phosphate, communities around the Peace River Valley like Polk, Hillsborough, Hardee, Manatee, and DeSoto County were vast plains home to only a few farms, cattle ranches and orange groves. Reliant on bone meal for fertilizer, farmers weren’t able to maximize the land’s agricultural potential. That was until engineer Captain J. Francis LeBaron discovered phosphate in Alachua county while surveying the Peace River in 1881. In the blink of an eye, Florida residents raced to get their hands on a piece of this land as they watched the Peace river transform from an isolated wilderness to Florida’s essential ingredient.