The European settlement of the Alafia River watershed began in the 1800s. The early pioneers knew they were taking a chance — despite the proximity of Tampa’s Fort Brooke, parts of the region were unsafe for travel, much less homestead. The Second Seminole War began in 1835 and put much of the land south of the Alafia off limits, at least for the duration of the war.
In 1842, the Seminole leader Osceola was captured under a flag of truce and imprisoned in a fort in Georgia, where he eventually died. Most of the remaining Seminoles were relocated to reservation lands west of the Mississippi River, while the rest fled deep into the Everglades.
In 1843, the soldier and adventurer Benjamin Moody arrived with his family and built one of the first homes in the pioneer community of Peru (pronounced PEE-ru), which later became the town of Riverview.
Other early settlers included the families of Lon, Bud and John Barnes, who built their log cabins near the site of the Bell Shoals River Bridge, one of the watershed’s most scenic locations.
Soon they were joined by more families including the Simmons, Bravos, Saffolds, Whiddens, Murphys, McGriffs, Hendrys and Hardings. Cattle, citrus and logging were the region’s main industries.
Text source: Pioneering on the Lower Alafia and the Early Settlement of Peru (PDF)
Phosphate, an essential ingredient of fertilizer, was discovered on Peace River gravel deposits near Fort Meade in south-central Polk County.
It wasn’t long before similar reserves were found in the Alafia River watershed. In the late 1880s, the Peruvian Mining Company began extracting pebble phosphate from the Alafia River and transporting it by barge from Peru to a processing plant in Tampa.
Within a few decades, mines and mining companies had sprung up throughout the watershed. However, the mining of river phosphate deposits proved to be an expensive and labor-intensive undertaking. By the 1920s, most of these early phosphate companies were out of business.
While its economy still owes much to the local fertilizer manufacturing plant, Riverview is no longer a one-industry town. It is now one of central Florida’s fastest-growing communities.