Quincy: Center of Florida’s Old Tobacco Kingdom

QUINCY, capital of Gadsden County is today a quiet, somewhat laid-back Panhandle town, although the existence of beautiful antebellum mansions, large warehouses and packing houses, and an interesting downtown hint at the town’s status when it was the center of Florida’s tobacco industry which didn’t decline until the 1920’s. 

Except for an old sign painted on a fading commercial wall, there is no indication that thanks to banker Mark “Pat” Munroe, local leaders grew rich as the first investors in an Atlanta soda company that started to distribute a product called Coca-Cola.

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THE TOUR: While US90/FL 10 (Jefferson Street) and FL 268 (Adams Street) and the major highways where people enter Quincy, the main business and residential streets are along FL12 (King Street), Madison Street, and Washington Street, one block north of US90.

The GADSDEN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE is at 208 North Adams Street (FL 267) and has a lot of useful information.


If you are driving and using the map to cover the downtown district, you might want to start on East King Street (FL 12) at the JOHN LEEMcFARLIN HOUSE at 305 East King. The beautiful Victorian Queen Anne is a bed and breakfast just seven walking minutes from the restaurants and antiuque shops of downtown Quincy. Across the street is the J. E. A. DAVIDSON HOUSE (306 East King), home of a former Florida state senator, and at 318 East King is the majestic 1905 UNDERHILL-WEDELES HOUSE.

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The John Lee McFarlin House (1895)

 Go right around the next block and return to the 200 block of East King. At 234 East King is the majestic 1893 PAT MUNROE HOUSEowned by the President of the Quincy Bank, first chartered by the state, and now used by the GADSDEN GARDEN CLUB. With two acres, there is plenty of room for flowers. The SHAW HOUSE at 222 East King is believed to be built as early as 1840.

 Turn left onto North DuVal Street where at 121 North DuVal is the STOCKTON-CURRY HOUSE, a Classical Revival beauty built in 1836 and home to a Pennslyvania mail coach family for sixty years. It was later the home of State Senator James E. Broome, whose father James E. Broome Sr. was Governor of Florida.

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 The Methodist Church

Turn right on Franklin Street and go past the 1918 CENTENARY METHODIST CHURCH at 122 North Madison. It has Tiffany windows. Turn right on busy Madison Street. At 205 North Madison is the E.B. SHELFER HOUSE built in 1903 by another tobacco baron. It is hard to see with the fence and vegetation. The A. K. ALLISON HOUSE at 215 North Madison looks like a cute 1843 home until you realize it is a bed and breakfast and was owned by the Indian fighter who became the sixth Governor of Florida. It may be the most historic home you can spend a night at in Florida.

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Along Madison on the left side is the OWL CIGAR COMPANY WAREHOUSE (404 North Madison), a reminder of Quincy’s agricultural past.Turn right on King and then right again onto Adams. At 303 North Adams is the 1850 QUINCY ACADEMY or QUINCY LIBRARY, a brick building that served hundreds of locals for decades.

 To see two other old residences, turn left on Sharon Street and left again onto Jackson Street. At 219 North Jackson is the so-calledJUDGE E. C. LOVE HOUSE but he did not buy the house until 1876 and it was built way back in 1840. There is no confusion over the 1842 SAMUEL STEVENS HOUSE at 220 North Jackson, named for a pioneer businessman.

 If you are getting waylaid by so many antebellum residences, you might want to drive back and park in the 100 block area of East Washington Street and 100 East Jefferson, where there are some classic commercial structures. The 1899 WILLIAM HARDON BUILDINGat 16 West Washington Street was owned by an African-American inventor who started the first steam electric plant in Gadsden County.The QUINCY BANK BUILDING (102 East Washington) was started in 1906 as a grain store and became the May Tobacco Company. At 118 East Washington is the colorful LEAF THEATRE (1949) once a movie theater, now the Music Theater, as well as the most haunted building in a town with lots of old ghosts.

 AT 112 East Jefferson is a 1910 opera house the EMPIRE THEATER once the town pride. You can’t miss the 1913 GADSDEN COUNTY COURTHOUSE (10 East Jefferson) The oldest storefront is the 1840 HADLEY BUILDING over at 107 East Jefferson. If you go to the corner of Jefferson and turn left on Madison at the old Love and Hearin Building, you will see one of Quincy’s most photographed sights – a fading painted Coca-Cola mural, one of the oldest in the USA. It was painted there after many local businessmen got rich with the drink investment.

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Tampa Bay and Los Angeles: Two Different Worlds

Just got back from Los Angeles where my wife and I visited our daughter.  Whenever people recognize you’re from Florida – must have been my Amelia Island sun cap – Californians want to ask what’s different or better about the two places.  It is reality you will face if you live in either of the two areas.

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Marina Del Rey Hotel Is My Favorite LA Hotel

LA has a Mediterranean climate so summer is their dry season, but NOT this dry. California is in a long drought and everything is brown and people are trying to save water like they are living in Saudi Arabia.  The pools at the Getty Villa were waterless to encourage water saving.

Tampa Bay has a Subtropical climate so it rains during our summer, but NOT this much rain. El Nino has flooded the Florida West Coast with so much water my backyard resembles a lake.  I have heard frogs in my backyard for the first time in thirty years.

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My Tampa Backyard Is A Summer Lake

Look at a map and note that LA is further north than all of Florida.  When I went down to Santa Monica Pier the water was a balmy 70 degrees – in Tampa Bay the Gulf beaches went a warm 84 degrees.  Last week neither place seemed to have good surf waves.

In LA it takes thirty minutes to do anything. Tampa Bay has traffic jams at rush hour. LA roads never seem to be empty and every other corner seems to have a driver with a death wish.

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Tampa Bay gets traffic jams when you want to get to WDW.

People in LA asked me how I can stand living in a state with hurricanes.  I remind them I usually have four to five days to leave town if a hurricane is heading toward your home.  How much time do you get with an earthquake?

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You Have Five Days To Get Out of Town

Driving around the LA area, I notice that rich people hide themselves on fancy houses hanging over a cliff  either over the Pacific Ocean or the Pacific Coast Highway.  Our rich hide in gated golf communities and manmade islands.

Don’t try to bounce a Florida orange – 90% are made for juice.  70% of California’s oranges are for peeling.

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Florida’s Finest Is Thin Skinned

MONEY magazine just rated Tampa as the best big city in the Southeast, but clearly there is more money in LA than Tampa.  You have to have a lot of cash to live well in Los Angeles. Not so much Tampa.

One more thing.  It’s football season again, but don’t ask a person in LA how their team will do this year.  They don’t have one.  At least we Tampans have the Bucs.

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Florida’s Grande Dame Hotels Are Holding Their Own

While the latest high-rise hotels in Miami and Orlando seem to be getting all the recent headlines, Florida’s great Victorian and 1920’s resorts are still garnering the great reviews, the support of loyal visitors, and something new places can’t provide: an insightful experience into Florida’s glorious tourist history.

Here are my favorite old time Florida resorts:

CASA MONICA – Saint Augustine

The oldest of my choices, Casa Monica (1888) on the main Square of Saint Augustine is the last of  Henry Flagler’s big time hotels still operating as a hotel.  The monstrous Ponce de Leon down the street is now Flagler College and the next door Alcazar is the Lightner Museum.  Completely renovated by Richard Kessler, the Casa Monica is a member of the exclusive Kessler Collection of Hotels.

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In the Heart of the Action is Casa Monica

While its rooms are smaller and less ornate than later resorts, the lobby, the unreal Cobalt Lounge and the classic Costa Brava restaurant will take you back to days when Saint Augustine’s finest hotels hosted the elite of winter tourists.


Casa Monica: Very Mediterranean


The oldest of the Florida Land Boom resorts is Casa Marina built in 1920 on six acres of prime Key West waterfront and designed for Flagler by Thomas Hastings and John M. Carrere who built New York’s New York Public Library and the original Met.


Still the Top Waterfront Key West Resort

Like several of the other Grande Dame hotels, Casa Marina was used as a U.S. Navy headquarters in World War II and had to re-emerge as a luxury spot.  Today the hotel is a Waldorf Astoria Resort.

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The Casa Marina Remains Tropical In Its Ways

THE BILTMORE  – Coral Gables

In 1924, land developer George Merrick recruited hotel magnate John McEntee Bowman to built the best Land Boom resort in the Miami area, complete with golf course and one of the largest pools ever designed.  Bowman wasted no time hiring architect Leonard Schultze and contractor S. Fullerton Weaver, the team that created Grand Central Terminal in New York City.


The Biltmore Integrates The Outdoors With Indoors

When I was a student at the University of Miami I loved just wandering the grounds of the Biltmore, climbing the towers for panoramic views of downtown Miami, and since UM used the magnificent pool for swim meets, as Sports Editor, I took a secret dip or two.  The Biltmore symbolized the Miami Dream in the mid-1920’s.


The Biltmore Pool Is A Lake


To many Florida visitors, The Breakers symbolized the wealth and glamor when Palm Beach was the winter residence of America’s rich and famous.  In reality, the Breakers of today is the third hotel.  Henry Flagler built the beachside The Palm Beach Inn in 1896 and renamed it The Breakers in 1901 when guests requested the hotel “over by the breakers.”

That wooden hotel burnt down two years later to be replaced by a larger hotel complete with golf facilities.  In March of 1925, a faulty electric curling iron sent that resort to its flaming death.  The next year 1,200 construction workers built one of the world’a largest fireproof concrete structures.

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One of the Most Famous Front Yards In Florida

The Breakers is still a place of romance and glamor.  My first visit was when I was escorting a high school science team to a convention.  Since I wasn’t the official sponsor I decided to sneak off for breakfast by the pool.  There was just one other person there and he asked me to join him for he had a buffet of food – it was John D. MacArthur, one of the world’s richest men.

THE DON CESAR HOTEL – Saint Petersburg Beach

Once while traveling by airplane into Tampa, the pilot announced “Approaching Tampa” and banked the plane to the left.  I knew the plane would soon he flying about the beaches of Pinellas County and soon directly over the magnificent Skyway Bridge.

A little girl by the window suddenly began to shout, “Mommie, there’s a pink castle on the beach! Can we stay there?”

I hoped that the parents had booked the Loews Don Cesar Resort, “a pink lady” that has been gracing the Gulf of Mexico since 1928 when Thomas Rowe opened it.


It Is Difficult to Miss The Don Cesar

What most people may not know is the resort was used by the US Army in WWII and then as a VA Hospital.  After a decade of emptiness, “a Save the Don” movement attracted the investors to save what is today the most noticed resort in the Tampa Bay area.


The Loews Don CeSar Hotel

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My Favorite Laid Back Florida Islands

There are 4,510 islands over ten acres in the State of Florida.  Some of them are famous for their social life (Miami Beach, Daytona). Others for best for adults (Key West), for collegians (Penama City Beach) or for families (Clearwater Beach).  There are even some that are the hideaways of the very rich (Fisher Island, Jupiter Island).

I prefer islands that are laid-back and full of outdoor activities, but they don’t have to be non-luxurious.  There are four places every regular visitor to Florida should experience:

St. George Island  off  Franklin County in the Panhandle is less isolated now that it has a four-mile bridge from the mainland and an expensive gated resort community.  Still most of the island is St. George State Park and the old village with its funky restaurants, bars, and shops.


A Lighthouse in the middle of town.

You have a choice of renting a cottage or staying at two very different places: the St. George Inn with its rustic charm or the 98 room Buccaneer Inn built right on the main beach.


The St. George Inn

Cedar Key on the Gulf west of Gainesville was a booming lumber port until 1900, but shrunk into a fishing and clamming village with historic charms.  Today, tourism is competing with fishing, boating, sailing out to the cluster of island beaches, and hunting.

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The islands around Cedar Key have beaches.

I wouldn’t stay anyplace but the 1839 Island Inn with its ten Victorian rooms, its breakfast bar, and its old restaurant.    The local museum shows how important Cedar Key once was as the largest port between Mobile and Key West.

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Dockside Cedar Key Is Home To Restaurants and Bars

Cabbage Key is a small 100-acre island in Pine Island Sound, not far from Sanibel.  Unlike its fancy neighbor islands, Cabbage Key has no automobiles or paved roads, just boats and a few seaplanes.

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Everyone will know of your arrival at Cabbage Key

There is just one place to stay at Cabbage Key, the Cabbage Key Inn and Restaurantthe 1930s home of mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart.  There are eight cottages to rent as well as boats, kayaks, canoes, and more.  Everyone puts a signed autograph one dollar bill on the ceiling or wall.  You’ll join Presidents, movie stars, sports celebrities, and even Jimmy Buffett who sought shelter from Margaritaville to come here.

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Money Hangs From The Ceiling At The Restaurant

For those of you who want Bora Bora rustic, there is Little Palm Islanda six-acre paradise off Little Torch Key in the Florida Keys.  There are no cars, no phones, no TVs. You won’t miss them.


Little Palm Island Has A Polynesian Feel

This is a complete upscale resort where visitors must come by boat or seaplane.  Fifteen thatched roof bungalows are divided into thirty suites.  The service and food will match the scenery.

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In the evening, have a drink in the outdoor lounge.

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Florida Is The Home To Some Unexpected Museums

When people think of Florida attractions, they think of amusement parks, alligator farms, aquariums, and the local history and art museums.   Yet Florida has dozens of lesser known museums, some of them quite unexpected.

Downtown Saint Petersburg is the home of the Dali Museum, the largest collection of works by the wild Spanish surrealist artists outside of Dali’s hometown personal gallery.  Even Dali would be excited to discover this collection is housed in a new building and surrounding gardens that are as bizarre and even shocking as the inside art work.

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The Dali Museum resembles a box of exploding Jello

When A. Reynolds and Eleanor R. Morse of Cleveland started collecting Dali art, they could not imagine they would have 7 of the 18 “masterwork” Dali works in their house.  They had to go to Florida to find a place for 96 oil paintings, 100 watercolors, and 1,300 other Dali creations.

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The Dali Garden Maze Offers Benches (sic) For Fans

Winter Park is the home of the Morse Museum, home to the world’s most comprehensive collection of jewelry, art glass, leaded-glass lamps, and windows by the amazing Louis Comfort Tiffany.   When Tiffany’s Long Island country mansion Laurelton Hall burnt to the ground in 1957, Hugh and Jeanette McKean rescued most of the windows and art.  The works are here.

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The Morse Museum Is Winter Park’s Treasure

In 1893 Tiffany created a chapel interior for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The interior setting was reassembled here in the Morse.

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The Beautiful Aurora Window by Tiffany

Ocala, Florida, north of Orlando, is Florida horse country and lots of equestrians go to the Grand Oaks Resort in nearby Lady Lake for dressage events and other horse shows.  It is also a place where you can take a ride in a vintage carriage along the hilly roadways of Marion County for Grand Oaks is the home for one of the world’s largest private collections of carriages and equine artifacts.

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Grand Oaks Is Not Just About American Carriages

There are over 160 European and American carriages ready to be hitched to horses for this is after all a true equestrian resort.  The 1850 Armbruster Dress Chariot was once the love of Franz Joseph, the Emperor of Austria.

The Grand Oaks Resort & Museum in Weirsdale, Fla., is known as "America's Equestrian Resort" complete with equine accommodations, equine events, RV and cottage lodging, an equine museum, gift shop and bistro.

The Grand Oaks Resort & Museum near Weirsdale, Fla., is known as “America’s Equestrian Resort” complete with equine accommodations, equine events, RV and cottage lodging, an equine museum, gift shop and bistro.

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The Best Florida Literary Landmarks To Visit

Visiting the homes of famous people can give you an insight into what inspired their creativity and success.   This is certainly true about Florida-based writers.

The greatest attraction is Cross Creek, the rustic farm cottage where Marjorie  Kinnan Rawlings wrote The Yearling, probably Florida’s most beloved book.  The small village off I-75 south of Gainesville has not changed much and the state maintained property will take you back to rural Florida in the 1930’s.  Look for her typewriter and her automobile.


Cross Creek Looks Like Rawlings Is Still There

Florida’s most literary community is Key West where dozens of famous writers and artists spent their winters and no one is more of a super-star than Ernest Hemingway. His 1851 Spanish colonial-house where he wrote For Whom The Bell Tolls and Death in the Afternoon is a worthwhile tour even if you just want to see the stoic bathroom and the famous Hemingway cats.

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A Cat Doesn’t Share the Hemingway Bedroom Today

Less known to Key West visitors is Casa Antigua Hotel where in 1928 Hemingway and his second wife Pauline first visited Key West.  They fell in love with the island and stayed at the then Trev-Mor Hotel where Hemingway completed a novel called A Farewell To Arms.


Hemingway’s First Key West Residence

Zora Neale Hurston is Florida’s most famous African-American author and her works about growing up in Eatonville, America’s oldest incorporated black community, became classics.  Just off I-4 north of Orlando, Eatonville has a Zora Neale Hurston Museum and the Moseley House, where she later visited as an author. It is standing as a historic site typical of life in the town.


Part of the Zora Neale Hurston Tour in Eatonville

While Jack Kerouac’s last house and apartment are in Saint Petersburg, the Jack Kerouac Cottage on Clouser Avenue south of Shady Lane Drive in northwest Orlando is where in 1957-58 Jack finished the last type of On The Road and started the first chapters of Dharma Bums.  Appropriately the house is the residence of writers from around the world inspired by the author’s works.

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Jack Kerouac’s Literary Hideaway

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Florida’s Outdoor Building Murals Have Become Big Attractions

More and more Florida towns and cities of all sizes are recognizing that giant building murals not only can become attractions even in the least attractive areas of town, they also teach locals and visitors about the history and people of their community.

Lake Placid, down US27 on the slow road to Miami is so famous for its murals, there are guided tours and mural tour books for 45 major murals. Mural painting is a contagious art so there are not only independent artists springing up in the area, nearby towns like Sebring have started their own mural collection.

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There is a door into this drug store but not here.

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Here a real door becomes a 3-D building.

My old town of Punta Gorda not only recovered from a direct hit by a 125 mph hurricane, the locals rejuvenated the downtown district, not just with new buildings, but added colorful murals both historic and entertaining.

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Entering the city you see the long-gone hotel and famous guests.

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Cattle drives again go down Marion Street to the docks.

Not all themes are old-fashioned or nostalgic.  Saint Petersburg has replaced its rustic green park benches with some wild murals that really pump up the Central Avenue Business District.  With the old pier temporarily being replaced, I guess these murals can be called new landmarks.

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Saint Petersburg Art Has Gone Big, Funny, Colorful.

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Sebastian Collidge Is One of St Pete’s top muralists.

The City of Jacksonville has developed a mural art program fostered by the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville, utilizing local high schools artists to make murals for buildings like the downtown Florida Theater.


My favorite Jacksonville muralist is Shaun Thurston’s whose themes usually require a little soul searching or deep thought.

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This frog is supporting the whole world and mankind.

In case you think that major murals are simply a new art trend across the nation, here was one of the greatest murals ever painted in Florida.  It was the 1985 Richard Haas mural of the Fontainebleau seen right through an existing building.  Sad to say when they built a new Fontainebleau II condo hotel in 2002, the wonderful mural was torn down.

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Gone but not forgotten: the Fontainebleau Mural

A sad fact: when the building is torn down, the mural art will also go away.

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