The First Thanksgiving: St. Augustine, September 8, 1565

I grew up in Framingham, Massachusetts, so I always viewed the first Thanksgiving in America was at Plymouth Plantation in 1621.

Then I moved to Florida.

Forty two years before the English successfully cultivated a community in Jamestown, Virginia, and fifty-six years before the Pilgrims feasted in New England, the Spanish colony of St. Augustine celebrated the first Thanksgiving feast with the local Timucuans.

It was September 8, 1565, and following a Catholic religious service performed by Father Francisco Lopez, the fleet chaplain, the Spanish settlers sat down to a communal meal with the area Indians.

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Mural at St. Augustine Cathedral of Thanksgiving

Despite his ruthless massacre of the Protestant colony of Fort Carolina on the St. Johns River, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, founder and first governor of Spanish La Florida, was an extremely devout Catholic, dedicated to spreading the faith to the Indians even using his own money.   When he arrived on the shores of Florida, Menendez had Lopez go ashore first with a cross so he and his forces could kiss the cross when they reached land.  Menendez was even buried in Franciscan robes.

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Governor Menendez The First Host

The massive 208 foot Great Cross, the largest stainless steel freestanding cross in the world, has since 1965 stood in St. Augustine’s waterfront to symbolize the even.  Nearby is a coquina stone statue of Father Lopez thanking God.

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The Great Cross and Father Lopez

The first Thanksgiving hardly resembled the feast at Plymouth Colony since the Spanish did not have time to harvest a crop or bring in many animals from Cuba.  There was no sign of Ben Franklin’s favorite bird, the turkey, on the table.

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Pork and Garbonzo Beans

Instead the Spanish and Florida Indians dined on a meal of salted pork and garbanzo beans, with lots of bread and red wine.  I doubt if many Americans would want to substitute their New England turkey and cranberries for any of the Florida fixings.



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San Marco: A Little Europe In Jacksonville

SAN MARCO is a small and mainly upscale neighborhood south of downtown Jacksonville across the Saint Johns River. Developed in the 1920’s the San Marco neighborhood is diverse but mostly popular with young professionals due to its trendy look.   The area was originally a farm on the eastern bank of the St. Johns River, known as the community of Oklahoma and home to Harrison Reed, who was elected Florida’s Reconstruction governor in 1868 and 1873.

The key to the area’s growth was the construction in 1921 of the ST. JOHNS RIVER BRIDGE which made the area an accessible suburb rather than a distant community.

The center of the community is THE SQUARE, an upscale commercial district which contains several key landmarks.


The area has a European feel and is the home to many of Jacksonville’s best restaurants.

The 1926 SAN MARCO BUILDING at 1978 San Marco was the headquarters of the original developers of San Marco, but today houses several fashionable stores. The Mediterranean Revival style fits the area’s oldest buildings.

Another downtown mark is the SAN MARCO THEATRE (1938) at 1996 San Marco. It is a neat Art Deco structure, but it should also be noted the area even has a  LITTLE THEATRE (1938) at 2032 San Marco to show its arty desires.floridatraveler san_marco_theater

Other buildings in San Marco include the original SOUTH JACKSONVILLE CITY HALL and the homes of the Swisher family. CARL S. SWISHER’s house (1929) at 2234 River Road is a Mediterranean Revival on part of the Villa Alexandria estate.

Carl donated the Library at Jacksonville University and dozens of other civic structures. His father JOHN H. SWISHER, the original cigar manufacturer and founder of King Edward Cigars (once #1 in the world) built a mansion at 2252 River Road.

ST. PAULS CHURCH (1888) was saved and moved to 1652 Atlantic Avenue to serve as the San Marco Preservation Hall.

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Probably the most famous public landmark is the LANDON HIGH SCHOOL & JUNIOR HIGH COMPLEX (1926) at 1819 Thacker Avenue, an Italian palace of a Mediterranean Revival structure designed by the notable firm of Marsh and Saxelbye who did the San Marco Building.


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Florida: Home of the 13,000 Year Old Art Work

Most of us were taught in school about the migration from Asia across the frozen Bering Straight of the ancestors of today’s American Indians (the Clovis Theory).  In Florida there are two archaeological sites that may challenge that as the only story of ancient North Americans.  Florida is becoming a place of mystery for archaeologists and anthropologists.

In 1982 a backhoe operator of the EKS Corporation dug up human bones in a black peat bog one miles southeast of Highway 50 and I-95 in Titusville.  Draining the the Windover Bog researchers discovered nearly 170 bodies wrapped in the oldest flexible fabric ever found in North America.  The bog had such good PH neutral and little oxygen that the bodies were not very decayed and many skulls had brain tissue.

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The Bog Excavation Before Letting Water Back In

The DNA research was originally said to be of Asian origin with a rare haplogroup X and some noted that this group was the only demonstrated instance of the extinction of a group of Native Americans with no close surviving relatives.  The study found the bodies were from 6,990 to 8,120 years old.


Nature Returns The Bog To Its Old Look

Some anthropologists were upset at the distribution of the samples – many now reburied.  To some the one remaining photograph of one of the skulls (taken by a newsman) looked more European (Solutrean) than Asian.  Dr. Joseph Lorenz from Coriell Institute for Medical Research compared the Windover DNA with global samples and noted the bone DNA from the five Floridians he studied looked European.

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Only Windover Bog Skull Photograph

To add to the mystery an amateur archaeologist James Kennedy of Vero Beach found a mammoth bone with a man-made drawing of a beast on it.  Vero Beach was already the home of the Vero Man’s skull, found in 1915 in the company of ice-age animal bones dated to 12,000 years BC.

The Kennedy artifact shocked scientists who believed that mammoths and mastodons had become extinct in Florida by at least 10,000 years.   After careful study with an energy dispersive X-Ray spectroscopy and  a scanning electron microsope, forensic anthropologists at the Pound Human Identification Laboratory at the University of Florida declared that both the carving and the bone’s surface were the same age.

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The Oldest Art Work In America: The Vero Mammoth

Both the University of Florida and the Smithsonian believe the artifact to be at least 13,000 years old, making it the oldest piece of known art in North America.

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Disney’s Latest Two Restaurants Are A Wild Contrast Of STyle

While Walt Disney World’s Disney Springs is just entering its final stages with the two-story shopping mall and second parking garage going up, the local restaurant scene is booming for the winter season.

Two new restaurants recently opened and are complete opposites in every manner of thinking.

Marimoto Asia is a giant two-story modernistic, very arty masterpiece of architecture filling the old Masquerade Disco of Pleasure Island with sophisticated light beams.  The Hanger resembles a dark, run-down 1940’s dive bar where painted ladies might hang out for sailors.


Moto Is A Rainstorm of Lights

Moto, named for its celebrity Iron Chef is WDW’s largest Asian restaurant and its menu covers everything from sushi to the specialties of Duck for Two and Moto’s amazing ribs. Prices for the noodle dishes and sushi are reasonable for a tourist spot with better deals at lunch for budgeting families.


Lunch Special minus Soup and Salad

I found the set lunch of black cod, miso soup, salad, and sushi a good meal for $26.  The lamb rice was an amazing dish and the desserts, while not exactly Asian, were huge and perfect for sharing.  The hand-picked staff is professional and all-knowing of the menu.

Moto merits a full scale tour of the second floor sushi bar and the bottle-lined upstairs bar. Even the bathrooms with their walls of opposite sex black and white photographs deserve mention.


Moto Mens Bathroom Wall

Jock Lidsey’s Hangar Bar is stated to be the home of the guy who flew Indian Jones over Florida (sic) while probably locating a prime waterfront spot on Village Lake.

The Hanger is all dark wood with walls filled with weird and even dumpy collectibles. With a menu that is 90% items in bottles and exotic glassware, this is the ultimate man cave of Disney Springs.


When your eyes adjust to both the dark and the wild scenery, you note there is a huge outdoor waterfront patio attached to a clever dry-docked steamboat called “Reggie.”  The staff is very friendly and loves the down and out theme.


The Reggie Boat For Seasick Diners

There is a limited but very creative menu.  I suggest you look into the amazing rolling boulder sliders, the she-deviled eggs, and something called Lao Che’s Revenge.


A Wild Food Supply At The Hanger

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Lake Wales Is Scenic Florida Beyond Bok Tower

Chalet Suzanne closed last year when the Hinshaw family retired, leaving beautiful Bok Tower on 289-foot Iron Mountain as Lake Wale’s lone super attraction. But if visitors stop by downtown Lake Wales, they will be impressed with a small town that has preserved its architectural treasures.

When the Atlantic Coastline Railroad reached Babson Park in 1911, C. V. Tillman, B. K. Bullard, E. C. Stuart, and C. L. Johnson formed the Lake Wales Land Company. Seeking Northern residents they hired engineer A. C. Nydeggar to plat a city that was a gem in small town planning.  In 1930 the famous Olmstead brothers landscaped the city of Lake Wales and neighboring Bok Tower with its Mountain Lake resort.

It is appropriate that Park Avenue is Lake Wale’s Main Street started by the ten-story DIXIE-WALESBILT HOTEL (115 North First Street).  Built in the Bust year of 1926, the Grand hotel has seen many lives with a retirement residence being the latest.


At the start of Park Avenue is the town symbol, the 1921 TOWN CLOCK, which once stood by the railroad tracks to welcome visitor.  Now it marks the Town Square.


Downtown Lake Wales is compact and small, but that has helped preserve its architectural heritage.  At 229 East Park Avenue is the lovely 1924 RODESBILT ARCADE designed by Jesse T. Rhodes in a Mediterranean Revival style.  If you think the arched  entranceway is going to reveal a gorgeous interior and ceiling, you are correct.


Next door is the two-story 1920 J. Y. RHODES BUILDING (255 East Park Avenue) and the LAKE WALES PHARMACY (245 East Park Avenue) started by pioneer T. J. Parker.   Lake Wales hasn’t allowed ugly modern buildings break up the downtown profile.

Across the street was one of the centers of Land Boom activity: the 1919 WESTERN UNION BUILDING (340 East Park Avenue).  At 250 East Park Avenue is the 1915 LAKE WALES STATE BANK, a Greek Revival brick structure with powerful Tuscan columns.


On the next commercial street Stuart Avenue are two of Lake Wales most attractive structures: the 1926 two-story GIBSON & LILLY BUILDING with its iron posted Mediterranean style, and the SCENIC THEATER (254 East Stuart Avenue) whose 400-seat capacity in 1920 showed the builders hoped for a high society community.

Nearby is the block-long two-story 1919 BULLARD BUILDING that at one time housed a drug store, barber shop, post office, and meat market at once.

OTHER BUILDINGS:  Driving along the Scenic Highway (ALT US 27), you will locate other spots but you should go first to the Depot Museum at the 1928 ATLANTIC COAST LINE DEPOT (325 South Scenic Highway), one mile north of downtown.  The Depot has a historic guided tour map of Lake Wales and lots of interesting artifacts.

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LAKE WALES ART CENTER (1099 Hesperides Road) was the Church of the Holy Spirit, a Spanish Colonial masterpiece with a bell tower.  Located on the crest of a hill, the views of the region are beautiful.

The most spectacular house is two miles northeast on Lake Amoret: the 1923 mansion of realtor I. A. Yarnell known as CASA DE JOSEFINA.  The 25-room estate with its 9 bedrooms and 8 bathrooms looks more Moorish than Mediterranean and has an exotic parapet.



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Halloween Is A Creepy Big Business In Florida

In recent years Halloween has become a big fund-raiser for organizations and non-profits from zoos to parks.   In Florida Halloween has become a big business.

Considering the fact that October was once considered a between time for vacationing in Florida, Halloween special events have drastically boosted revenues at Florida’s major theme parks.  They are so popular, the ghosts are now arriving six weeks before the actual Halloween night.

Although my wife and I have been annual pass-holders at Walt Disney World since the Florida-resident oriented tickets have been offered, we would have to pay extra to visit Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween at the Magic Kingdom.


These special events which require additional expenses are often a big surprise to families planning a Disney vacation on a budget.  This year’s G-rated spook show runs from September 15 to November 1.   And guess what?  Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party starts weekends November 8th to December 18 with more added ticket costs.

Universal Studio’s R-rated Halloween Horror Nights attracts teens and young adults in record numbers.  Unlike Disney guests are not allowed to wear costumes although one might debate that fact when you see what people wear.  And of course, as a special event, it requires a special ticket.

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Busch Garden’s Howl and Scream resembles Universal’s mature theme.  At least they allow all the animals to go to bed without seeing all the monstrous activities.

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At least there are some Halloween groups that take a more natural approach to operating a scare show.  Off US192 in Melbourne Camp Holly takes visitors on a Haunted Airboat Ride up the spooky St Johns River swamplands to a haunted campground.   Red-eyed alligators stare at the boaters and even a wild boar or to joins the program.

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Brooksville Preserves Its History Well

BROOKSVILLE, located 50 miles north of Tampa, is a wonderful city of hills, ranging in elevation from 175 to 274 feet. Coupled with its condensed area (2.77 square miles) and its long history of successful planters, growers, and cattlemen, Brooksville is more a reflection of “the Old South” than other West Coast towns. Its Southern background is reflected in its name, honoring South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks who is best noted for hitting abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner on the head with Sumner’s cane.

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WHERE TO START: You can reach  Brooksville from the east off I-75 or from the south on US41 (BROAD STREET)

Just past Lemon Street, you’ll notice on FIRST METHODIST CHURCH, 109 South Broad which was organized in 1891.

CROSS ORANGE, unless you wish to take a short detour north on Orange to the JOHN J. HALE HOUSE (A), a 3-story 1888 frame house owned by a merchant and railroad trustee. Note how the breezeway that once separated the kitchen is enclosed.

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At 31 Broad is the PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH BUILDING, converted in 1947 by Henry Carlton Sr. into new location for his grocery founded in 1910.  Up the road at 120 Broad is the DIXIE THEATER (1926), where the only talkies are businessmen doing commerce.

The next intersection is the center of Brooksville. At 1 Main Street is the FIRST NATIONAL BANK (1910), a two-story brick structure with its original cast iron columns.  On the south-side of Broad you should see the massive wall mural of “The Brooksville Raid” by Antonio Caparello.  The walls of buildings in Brooksville have several neat historic murals in the downtown area.


In the northeast corner stands the HERNANDO COUNTY COURTHOUSE (1913), a rectangular Classical Revival brick edifice designed by William A. Edwards, complete with Ionic columns. Despite two major additions over the years, the courthouse has remained one of the most photographed public buildings in Florida.

TURN LEFT (north) ON MAIN STREET (called Howell above Broad). At 115 North Main is R.RDINGLE DEPARTMENT STORE (1912), one of the early large firms. CROSS JEFFERSON STREET. On your left is BACON’S DRUGS (1926) and on your right the notable HERNANDO STATE BANK (1905), where J. A. Jennings was first President.

At 115 North Howell is WEEKS HARDWARE (1913), a two-story brick owned by John Weeks, first President of the First Federal Bank. Across the street is the J. M. ROGERS DEPARTMENT STORE (1912), 120 North Howell.

CROSS FORT DADE. On the right you can stop and get more local information at the CHAMBER OF COMMERCE . 101 Ft. Dade Avenue, or at the nearby  1950  FREDERICK EUGENE LYKES JR LIBRARY, a great resource for local history..

As you go north the road curves and becomes Howell.  At 201 Howell is the 1970 CITY HALL.  At 253 North Howell (Howell) is the W. A. FULTON HOUSE (1880), a lovely 2-story double verandah home of the organizer of the Florida Citrus Exchange. Look carefully to see where the dog trot design once existed.  At 307 Howell is the TANGERINE PLACE (1925), a mission style hotel where in 1931 City Attorney Herbert Smithson was gunned down by rum-runners. Across the street at 310 Howell is the 1905 ROY CLEF HOUSE a lovely Colonial Revival.


Brooksville’s residential streets are lined with interesting buildings and often covered by huge oak trees. If you are driving you might want to go block by block as far as Bell Avenue, where the OLD HERNANDO HIGH (1925) is located.

If walking, I would but skip tree-lined IRENE (you can see it later) and TURN RIGHT ON OLIVE STREET. At 61 Olive is the ST ANTH CATHOLIC CHURCH (1908). nicely converted into a cool, private dwelling. (I wonder if there is a church cemetery in back.) At 48 Olive is the most noted Brooksville home, the residence of GOVERNOR WILLIAM SHERMAN JENNINGS  (1880). The three-story frame house has a wonderful octagonal bay tower and is in fine condition. Jennings was Governor in 1900 and his wife May Mann, a leader for women’s rights, started the Florida League of Women’s Voters.


GO DOWN BROADWAY and turn into IRENE where you’ll love the old road and the W.E. LAW HOUSE (1890) a Colonial Revival at 58 Irene.  The backside of the larger Olive Street houses shows some old barns.

 RETURN TO MAIN STREET, heading south past the Courthouse. At the southeast corner at 2 Broad Street is   the J. A. JENNINGS BUILDING (1915), a two-story brick vernacular started by the city’s first clerk (1880). South Main has a lot of older commercial buildings including the 1885 GRIMSLEY COUNTRY STORE BUILDING, at 100 S. Main. At 131 South Main is the 1931 BROOKSVILLE WOMAN’S CLUB

CROSS LIBERTY STREET. At 140 South Main is DOGWOOD STATION (1919), a popular place to shop. At 210 South Main is MONTAINEER ANTIQUES (1925) in a classic Sears & Roebuck catalog house.

TURN RIGHT ON EARLY and drive to BROOKSVILLE/MAGNOLIA. TURN RIGHT to see the fine OWEN WHITEHURST HOUSE (1896), 321 South Brooksville, a two-story double veranda house. TURN AROUND GOING ORTH ON BROOKSVILLE to 133 South Brooksville and the COOGLER HOUSE (1910). Theodore Coogler came from South Carolina as an early settler. Colonel F. B. Coogler was the town’s first treasurer (1880).

YOU’LL NEED YOUR CAR TO DRIVE EAST ON LIBERTY:  At Liberty and Saxon Avenue is the once famous: ROGER’S CHRISTMAS HOUSE where. Mary Roger’s Christmas gift shop once attracted visitors for miles around when in 1972 she turned a bookstore into a popular Christmas store complex.  The store closed in 2014 but her legacy to Brooksville will be remembered.  Next door is the 1864 FRANK SAXON HOMESTEAD, a Queen Anne Revival restored by Mrs. Rogers.

YOU MUST VISIT the HERITAGE MUSEUM, 601 Museum Court at 600 West Jefferson, located in the 1850 Stringer House, a Queen Anne masterpiece with a four-story tower. F. L. Stringer was a State Senator and judge.


 CHINSEGUT HILL, located five miles north off US41 by Lake Lindsey is worth the drive. Colonel Byrd Pearson of Columbia, South Carolina, founded the plantation. His daughter wed Governor Francis P. Fleming. Colonel Raymond Robins, social economist and Progressive Party leader, owned the estate for years and donated 2,000 acres to the State. Today University of South Florida uses the mansion for private retreats, but the exterior of the house ion a hill is beautiful.


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