iting Vis wn ll-To Sma ida Flor dition

Third E

Bruce Hunt

A guide to 75 of Florida’s most interesting small towns

Visiting small-town Florida
third Edition

Bruce hunt

Pineapple Press, inc. sarasota, Florida

For Rudi

Copyright © 2011 by Bruce hunt all rights reserved. no part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. inquiries should be addressed to: Pineapple Press, inc. P.o. Box 3889 sarasota, Florida 34230 library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data hunt, Bruce, 1957Visiting small-town Florida / Bruce hunt. -- 3rd ed. p. cm. includes index. isBn 978-1-56164-488-9 (pb : alk. paper) 1. Florida--guidebooks. 2. Cities and towns--Florida--guidebooks. 3. Florida--history, local. i. title. F309.3.h86 2011 917.5904’64--dc22 2011003918 third Edition 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Printed in the United states of america

aCKnowlEdgmEnts v introdUCtion vii

map 2

north rEgion

milton, Bagdad 3 deFuniak springs 8 two Egg 12 Quincy 14 havana 17 Fernandina Beach 21 seaside 30 apalachicola, st. george island, Carrabelle 35 wakulla springs 44 st. marks, sopchoppy 48 Jasper 51 white springs 53 Keaton Beach, dekle Beach 57 steinhatchee 61 high springs 65 micanopy, Cross Creek, Evinston, mcintosh 68 Crescent City, welaka 79 Cedar Key 81 rosewood 86

CEntral rEgion
map 89 Yankeetown 90 dunnellon 94 oklawaha 97 Cassadaga, lake helen 101 mt. dora 105

lake wales 110 inverness 115 Floral City, Pineola, istachatta, nobleton 120 aripeka, Bayport, Chassahowitzka, ozello 125 webster 131 trilby, lacoochee 134 dade City 137 Christmas 140 Yeehaw Junction 142 Egmont Key 145 anna maria, holmes Beach 147 Cortez 152 lake Placid 157 arcadia 161 map 165

soUth rEgion

Boca grande 166 Clewiston 172 Briny Breezes 175 matlacha, Bokeelia, Pineland, st. James City 177 sanibel, Captiva 183 Koreshan state historic site 189 goodland 192 Everglades City, Chokoloskee, ochopee 194 Card sound 204 stiltsville 206 tavernier, islamorada 208 Big Pine Key 214

aPPEndiX 219 indEX 237


Visiting Small-Town Florida book. the first two featured different towns, and therefore were Volumes 1 and 2 of the first edition. that would make the 2003 “revised Edition” the second, and this one the third edition. my working title for the original 1997 edition of Visiting Small-Town Florida was Where’s Waldo, Florida? wisely, Pineapple Press suggested i change that. the “where’s waldo?” game was popular then, though it is just a footnote now. of course, i didn’t have any idea that fifteen years later i would have a third edition. But i’ll go ahead and answer the question. waldo is about fifteen miles northeast of gainesville, and is the first in a line of three towns (including starke and lawtey) along highway 301 that have achieved national notoriety as speed traps. when i write Small Towns in Florida to Avoid, these will be the first on my list. at the outset let me say that not all of the places in this book will meet the traditional definition of a town. some are just a bend in the road with a general store, like Evinston, or just an old irrigation pump shed turned into a tiny post office, like ochopee. But all have their inimitable charm and merit a visit, even if it’s just to pass by. so, interspersed among the chapters on actual small towns, you’ll find a few vignettes of even smaller places that i found interesting enough to write about, like Briny Breezes, stiltsville, and two Egg—some quirky, some historical, some just remnants of a place now gone. Back to the criteria for inclusion in this book. as mentioned, there was a “no speed traps” rule. i also had to keep population in mind. in previous editions i adhered to a strict population limit of 10,000, and sometimes that meant eliminating a town i really liked. the best example would be Fernandina Beach, which slipped over the


ust to allay any confusion,

yes, this is my fourth

viii Visiting small-town Florida

limit to 10,549 in the 2000 census. But Fernandina is an exemplary Florida small town with its successful and ongoing historic-district restoration program, great restaurants, bed & breakfasts, shops, and a scenic setting. i decided that it just wasn’t right to leave it out, so mostly for the sake of Fernandina, i relaxed the rule to include towns with populations up to “around 10,000.” 1 other criteria: remoteness from or distinctiveness from large metropolitan areas. remote, like Chokoloskee, at the edge of the ten thousand islands; distinct, like Cortez, which maintains its genuine old-fishing-village character despite metropolitan encroachment. For me the essence of good travel is going to a place that differs significantly from the place where you live. “Visiting” is the first word in my title because this book is meant to be a guide for people who live in larger cities (like me) but crave a change of pace and want to visit someplace different, even if it’s just for a weekend or a day. with greater frequency, it seems, the conveniences of the city are being outweighed by its complications—crime, crowding, traffic jams, long lines, and rampant rudeness. sometimes you just need to get away from all that. Perhaps the most important thing that i look for is a compelling story in a town’s history—sometimes it is trivial, sometimes significant, occasionally it is humorous. sometimes that history is fairly recent, like seaside’s or Briny Breezes’. sometimes it is old, like Cedar Key’s or apalachicola’s. among my favorites are towns that have embraced their heritage and devoted time and resources to restoring historic structures and districts—apalachicola, Everglades City, deFuniak springs, Fernandina, and mount dora are just a few examples. doing book research over the years has fueled my interest in Florida history, and consequently each successive edition has had more historical content. i’ll confess—i was not a history buff in my younger years. this is a curiosity that came to me later in life. now, for me, to know a place’s story—its history—and then to actually go there and stand on the spot where that story originated is a big part of the magic of travel. readers of my previous editions also know well that i have a

Please note: Population figures are based on the most recent U.s. Census data, or if not available, the author’s best estimate.

introdUCtion ix

soft spot (or perhaps a large spot in my stomach) for local cuisine served up by mom-and-Pop diners and hole-in-the-wall bar-and-grills, and i’ve told you about some winners—wheeler’s Café in arcadia, h & F in Jasper, the Yearling in Cross Creek, the rod & reel on anna maria. sadly, a couple of my old favorite places are now gone. storm surge from hurricane dennis in 2005 flooded st. marks and destroyed Posey’s oyster Bar—a Florida Panhandle icon since 1929. manny & isa’s Kitchen opened in islamorada back in 1965, but is now closed. manny ortiz and his wife isa had their own Key lime grove and made the best homemade Key lime pie in the world. i’m going to miss that pie every time i drive down through the Keys. i’ve found some new spots, though: Eddy teach’s on st. george island, star Fish market in Cortez, Bert’s Bar & grill in matlacha, alabama Jack’s in Card sound, and havana Café in Chokoloskee. You won’t go hungry visiting these towns. there are seventy-five towns or places in this edition, five more than in the previous edition. i trimmed a couple off the list, but added a few more new ones. most get their own chapter but some i’ve grouped into one chapter because of their proximity. they are organized, roughly from north to south, into three regions. most are a simple day trip from within their respective regions. in the appendix you will find all the pertinent contact information—including websites, phone numbers, and addresses—for every diner, bed & breakfast, museum, and antique shop that i mention. so, which is it? is this a guide book? is it a travelogue? or is it a history book? i hope that it is all three because i think the subjects are inextricably woven. You will not find raucous night life, rollicking theme park rides, or performing porpoises in these towns. if you are looking for these things, you have picked up the wrong book. what you will find is the quaintness, peacefulness, and sometimes the quirkiness of real Florida, as personified in its small towns. You will also find some of the kindest and most down-to-earth folks on the planet. in small-town Florida they really do smile and wave as you pass on the sidewalk, even when they don’t know you. in my nearly two decades of research i have come to know smalltown dwellers as enlightened, hard-working, resourceful, and happy

x Visiting small-town Florida

people. overwhelmingly, i find them engaged in the betterment of their communities, eager to help their neighbors, and welcoming to visitors. they tend to be independent thinkers who are sometimes eccentric, and often creative, but always welcoming. i’m certain they will welcome you as they have me.


north rEgion






SEASIDE Panama City
















Population: Milton 8,688; Bagdad 1,490

ine logging and milling in the Milton/Bagdad area trace back to the early 1800s. The two towns, separated only by Pond Creek bayou, grew side by side. Today each has embraced its heritage, and done much to preserve it, making these towns an interesting visit for history buffs. In 1817 the king of Spain granted land along Pond Creek to Juan de la Rua. De la Rua built and operated a lumber mill there for ten years before becoming discouraged with the local laborers. In 1828, he sold his property to Joseph Forsyth, who took on partners Ezekiel and Andrew Simpson. They built the dam-driven Arcadia Mill, and a village began to grow around it. The vast forests of this region were



thick with valuable long-leaf yellow pine, and the Blackwater River provided a ready highway for floating logs down to Pensacola Bay. Forsyth and the Simpsons prospered and took on additional partner Benjamin Thompson. In 1840 they moved the mill a couple of miles downstream to the juncture of Pond Creek and the Blackwater River. A village grew around it again. Joseph Forsyth chose the name Bagdad—perhaps because, like its Middle Eastern namesake, it was wedged between two important rivers. (By the way, that’s not a typo. Forsyth spelled it without the “h.”) Bagdad grew up on the south side of Pond Creek, and Milton grew up on the north side. About the same time that Joseph Forsyth and the Simpson brothers were getting the Arcadia Mill into full swing, Benjamin and Margaret Jernigan were starting a mill of their own. People began to refer to the area around it as Jernigan’s Landing and also as Scratch Ankle, presumably because of the dense briars that grew along the banks of the Blackwater River. Neither of those names stuck, but a more definitive one, Milltown, did, and it eventually evolved into Milton, which was incorporated in 1844. More sawmills opened over the following decades. By the turn of the century, Milton and Bagdad had become the most industrialized towns in Florida. The lumber barons thought the bounty was endless, but they were short-sighted. The Great Depression in the 1930s hit both towns hard. Plus, the once-plentiful pine forests had become depleted. The last of the mills, the Bagdad Land & Lumber Company, closed in 1939. Santa Rosa County Road 191 becomes Forsyth Street as it rolls into Bagdad from the south. On the right, behind a hedge, is the stately pre–Civil War (1847) Thompson House. Arcadia Mill partner Benjamin Thompson built this palatial two-story antebellum mansion with double front porches supported by twelve white columns. During the Civil War, invading Union troops commandeered the house. While there they scrawled a taunting message in charcoal across the parlor wall, which is still there today: “Mr. Thompson, Spurling’s First Cavalry camped in your house on the 26th of October, 1864.” Originally the house overlooked the Blackwater River, a few blocks to the east, but in 1913 the owners decided to move it in order to make room for their expanding mill operation. They jacked the house up


onto log rollers, turned it around 180 degrees, and pulled it by mule to its present location. In 2009 the Thompson House finally got its own Florida Heritage Site designation and State Historical Marker. Four blocks away, at the corner of Bushnell and Church streets, the Bagdad Village Preservation Association operates the Bagdad Historical Museum in a restored circa-1880s church building that was Bagdad’s first African-American church. Displays there tell the story of Bagdad’s and the surrounding area’s early days and particularly of Bagdad’s involvement with the Civil War. During one battle of note that took place here in October, 1864, the aforementioned Union colonel Thomas Spurling and some 200 troops raided a Bagdad logging operation. Confederate troops engaged them in a battle that lasted for two hours. Across Pond Creek Bridge, Milton has grown into a sizable town, with a population of more than seven thousand. The downtown district has been nicely renovated, particularly Caroline Street (Highway 90) and Willing Street, which parallels the Blackwater River. Downtown reminds me of a miniature Savannah or New Orleans French Quarter. Riverwalk Park—with its pink-blossoming crepe myrtle trees, brick walkways, wrought-iron-and-wood park benches, and gas lamp–style street lights—occupies the waterfront behind Willing Street. Devastating fires swept through downtown Milton in 1909 and again in 1911, leveling much of the district. But this was boom time, and the town was rebuilt bigger and better than before. Two notable brick buildings—the three-story Imogene Theater on Caroline Street, and the Exchange Hotel at the corner of Caroline and Elmira Streets— were part of Milton’s rebirth from the ashes. Architect Walker Willis designed the theater. It was originally called the Milton Opera House when it opened in 1912. When the Gootch family bought it in 1920, they renamed it after their elevenyear-old daughter, Imogene. A post office and a store shared the first floor. The upstairs theater ran vaudeville shows and silent movies and later “talkies” until it closed in 1946. The Santa Rosa Historical Society restored it in 1987 and turned it into the Milton Opera House Museum of Local History. Unfortunately, fire struck the area again in January 2009, so once again the Historical Society is working on restoration—shooting for a reopen by summer 2011.

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