Greatest Landmarks of Florida’s Long Hispanic Heritage

The influence of the Hispanic world began in 1565 with the establishment of the oldest continuous European community in the United States – Saint Augustine.  The entire state was under Spanish rule for some 240 years before the final “purchase” by the USA in 1821.  People of Hispanic background, particularly from Cuba, remained part of the development of the state up until today.

In 1822 Joseph Marion Hernandez of Florida became the first Hispanic American to serve in the United States Congress.  130 years later Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, born in Havana, became the first Hispanic women elected to Congress.

If you want to study the role of Hispanics in Florida’s long history, here is a list of some of the places where that story comes alive with buildings and events.   Logically any tour on this topic begins in Saint Augustine.  Here is was the first Hispanic population in the Florida settled and while most of St. George Street are reproductions, it is based upon drawings of the original street in the early 1700’s.

The Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest structure in Saint Augustine, protected the town folk from four invasions that destroyed most of the dwellings.  Less visited but less crowded is Fort Matanzas, located on an island protecting the city from an attack from the South.

floridatraveler st aug the fort

The first Catholic service in the United States was performed near where the Nombre de Dios chapel is located.  It makes an interesting contrast photograph with the enormous modern cross monument in the background.   The oldest Catholic diocese is centered in the downtown square at the 1797 Cathedral Basilica.  Do go inside to see the interior.  The statue in the courtyard is Father Felix Varela, born in Cuba, raised in Saint Augustine, and famous as a priest representing the early Irish Catholic immigrant in New York City.  Father Varela has been nominated for sainthood by people in both Cuba and the United States.

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The Tiny Chapel of Saint Augustine

Walking along St. George Street, you will discover that the majority of buildings are exact reproductions of Saint Augustine in the first decade of the eighteenth century.   Besides being heavily damaged by four attacks on the city, many Spanish destroyed their properties when they left in 1821 since the Americans weren’t going to purchase a property unless it had something of value like a liquor license.   The best property to visit is the Pena-Peck House (1750) at 143 St. George Street, for this was the Treasury Office where most of the town’s residents – soldiers, priests, and port workers were paid by the Spanish Government.

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The Pena-Peck House

The other Spanish town in Florida was Pensacola, the capital of Spanish West Florida.  Little property dates from the Spanish period excepting the Lavalle House and Fort San Carlos de Barrancas.  The museums at the Square contain a great deal of Spanish artifacts and historical material.

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The LaValle Cottage

The Panhandle had a lot of Catholic missions, long since gone, but outside Tallahassee is a wonderful reproduction of Mission San Luis, the center of a vast mission system centered in Apalachee Indian country.  The location is not just a real archaeological dig site, the attraction has reproduced the mission, the church, and meeting center where priests and Indians preyed and worked together. 

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At Mission San Luis: A Tribal Meeting House

Down the Gulf Coast, west of Bradenton on the Manatee River is the DeSoto National Memorial, the most impressive of several historic sites honoring the Spanish conquistadors that explored La Florida. Scholars debate where DeSoto landed, but this site has a replica of a Spanish village and a great history museum describing the early visits to Florida by Europeans.

Floridatraveler DESOTO MISSION SITE

A Lecture On DeSoto and the Florida Tribes

Although Cuban fishermen operated villages in Tampa Bay in the 1600’s, Tampa’s rich Hispanic heritage originates mainly with the arrival of Vicente Martinez Ybor and the cigar industry in the 1880’s.  Ybor City, the Latin Quarter just northeast of downtown, is the place to take in a large historic district with the Latin clubs, stores, restaurants, and even some cigar factories. Ybor City mixed Spanish, Cuban, Afro-Cuban, and Italian workers with German cigar box artists and American and British investors.

If you visit Ybor City walk down Seventh Avenue from 22nd Street where Florida’s oldest restaurant, The Columbia, is located, to 13th Street past the Italian Club and the Centro Espanol, now part of a huge entertainment complex.  If you go north on 13th over the trolley tracks to 9th Avenue, you see the Ybor Square Factory, Ybor’s largest cigar factory in the United States.  On the east steps Jose Marti summoned the Cuban workers to support the fight for Cuban Independence.

floridatarveler ybor city -ybor-square

Opposite the south side of the factory is the Jose Marti Shrine and Park, donated to the people of Cuba by the people of Tampa.  Here once stood the home of Afro-Cuban leader Paulina Pedrosa.  The garden here represents both some of Marti’s poems and the spot where Marti forgave one of the Spanish agents who tried to poison him at a reception.

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Miami has been the home of Cuban exiles in the earliest days of the town, but the gigantic influx of Cubans after the takeover by Fidel Castro in the 1950’s made Miami 54% Cuban and 70% Hispanic.  The city is sprinkled with Hispanic attractions.  The best tour is down Calle Ocho from downtown in Coral Gables with at stop at a restaurant and a bakery or quick service spot.  The Domino Club at Maximo Gomez Park and the Bay of Pigs Museum at 1824 SW 9th Street are two key locations.

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General Gomez Guards The Domino Games

Key West is filled with buildings showing its Hispanic past, but the most impressive ones developed after the failed Cuban Revolution in the 1860’s when hundreds of Cuban cigarmakers and many cigar manufacturers left Cuba for better economic and political security.  Local guides do a good job of located the island areas of interest.

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The Gato Factory in Key West

My favorite places in Key West related to Cuban-Hispanic history are the Cuban Club at 1108 DuVal Street, the Armas de Oro Cigar Factory, and the 1890 Cigar Workers Union Hall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Punta Gorda: No Longer A Fishing Village at Mouth of Peace River

When my family moved from Massachusetts to Charlotte County in 1961, Punta Gorda was a small fishing port town which was also the county seat. The Vanderbilt property was turning into the giant retirement town of  Port Charlotte.  It was assumed by some that south of the Peace River would be all the old-timers and north of the river would be all the Northerners and most new businesses.  They were wrong.

Punta Gorda was a small cattle port until 1885 when Unionist Kentucky lawyer Isaac Trabue purchased hundreds of waterfront acres to promote the coming of the Florida Southern Railway. Trabue lost his riparian rights to his land and the townsfolk didn’t cater to his choice of “Trabue” for town name. One of the town’s young leaders Albert Walter Gilchrist rose to General of the Florida militia, leader of the Southland Development’s resort hotel, and eventually Governor of Florida.  Despite the lost of the town’s one landmark – the waterfront resort built for Henry Plant’s railway – the town slowly grew.

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Punta Gorda of Old: the Big Victorian  Railroad Resort

In 2004 a huge hurricane came into Charlotte Harbor and ripped into Punta Gorda.  The historic Victorian homes on the waterfront with their great wooden structures survived as they have for one hundred years.  The newer houses, built in the booming 1960’s, lost their roofs.  The downtown hotels were ravaged, torn down, and actually replaced by larger more resort-like hotels.  New restaurants popped up and downtown Punta Gorda has suddenly developed a nice compact night entertainment and tourist walking district.

 WHERE TO START:  Begin in the front of the CHARLOTTE COUNTY CONVENTION CENTER, 75 Taylor Street, site of the 1887 Punta Gorda Hotel which brought investors like William Vanderbilt and Andrew Mellon to the area.  To the northwest is the COLLIER BRIDGE which replaced the original 1921 bridge. The towering 1975 GILCHRIST BRIDGE chops up downtown.  Drive west on RETTA ESPLANADE (1885), once directly on the Peace River before the dredging of the nice riverfront park. At 260 Retta Esplanade is the PUNTA GORDA MUSEUMonce the town library.

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Old Charlotte County Courthouse At Night

At 401 Retta Esplanade is the JAMES SANDLIN HOUSE (1893), a Victorian Gothic with a steep gable roof and a widow’s walk. Sandlin was the only native Floridian on the first City Council.  In the next block is a nice 1914 two story frame vernacular at 551 RETTA ESPLANADE, but more interesting is the GEORGE McLANE HOUSE (1887), 565 RettaEsplanade, is a Queen Anne with a wraparound porch. McLane, a Confederate vet from Alabama, was Justice of the Peace during the town’s often violent early years.

Turn left on MacGregor. Cross Marion, the main commercial street, and turn left on Olympia and then left again on Gill.

On your right at 507 West Marion is the FIRST METHODIST CHURCH (1914), a fine brick edition in a Latin cross. The city’s oldest congregation, they are proud of their lancet windows.  Cross Marion past a nice 1900 Victorian house at 108 Gill Street.   Turn right on Retta Esplanade, then right on Cross to pass the MAXWELL BUTLER HOUSE(1893), a small frame cottage with a shotgun plan and broad and batten siding.

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Turn left on Olympia and left on Sullivan. On your right is the PUNTA GORDA WOMEN’S CLUB (1927), 118 Sullivan Street, built on land donated by Judge William Cooper of Chicago for a library, one of the many uses for this structure.   My mother ran dancing classes in that building.

Turn right on Retta Esplanade and right on Taylor. On the right was the SITE OF THE TOM HECTOR HOUSE (1895), where in 1887, 34 men (four African-Americans) voted over the objections of town father Trubue to incorporate. On your left is the old CHARLOTTE COUNTY COURTHOUSE (1928), 227 Taylor, a Neo-Classical structure with the required side doors for officials to slip out.

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Home of the Founder of Punta Gorda

You will have to get directions for our next building for it has been moved to a small park away from downtown.  That structure is the transplanted ISAAC TRABUE COTTAGE (1886), a shed like cottage of Punta Gorda’s founder. Still on Marion east of Cross, on the left, is the SMITH ARCADE (1926), once the original post office.

At 133 Marion is the MERCANTILE BANK BUILDING (1912), a Classical Revival edifice that housed the FIrst National Bank until the Stock Market Crash. Down at 316 Marion is PUNTA GORDA CITY HALL (1927), a cute Neo Classical temple with a plaque dedicated to Gilchrist, a bachelor who left money for holiday treats for local kids.

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Fishermens Village: Waterfront Rooms, Shops, Restaurants

One other beautiful historic house is east on Olympia, the A.C. FREEMAN HOUSE, a masterpiece of restoration.  For lunch you might want to drive west along Marion and turn on the signs to FISHERMEN’S VILLAGE, a complex of shops, restaurants and fishing facilities built on the City Pier. It is an appropriate tribute to the town where fishing was once a key business.  There are boat rides up the scenic Peace River and into massive Charlotte Harbor where there are resorts on two of the islands.

A mile west on Marion, through Punta Gorda Isles, is PONCE DE LEON HISTORIC PARK, a picnic site on grounds where some believe the Spanish explorer landed in 1513.  It is highly debatable if that is the case, but it is a good spot to view vast Charlotte Harbor.

 

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Florida’s Military Role Boomed With World War II

In Honor Of America’s Soldiers: Past and Present

Prior to the start of World War II, there were just seven military installations in Florida.  The start of World War II changed all of that for Florida’s flat terrain and good weather made the state a key training ground for military aviation in both World Wars and military training took over the hotel industry in World War II.  By 1945 there were 120 military facilities in the State of Florida.

Florida was divided up with the Navy taking the East Coast and the Army taking the Gulf Coast.  However, existing bases like Pensacola Air Station and bases in Miami and Jacksonville were grandfathered in their original locations.

My father Marston S. Leonard was one of the hundreds of thousands of American and foreign soldiers who came to Florida for training.  While becoming at officer at Drew Field (Tampa), he met my mother: an entertainer whose band was decimated by the draft.  She was running shows for the troops; my father was in public relations in the Army Air Force.

floridatraveler Drew field

After four dates, they were wed and I was conceived at the now defunct Hyde Park Hotel at the entrance of the University of Tampa.  Ironically, everyone in my family was married in Tampa.  After all these years, I presently teach a few history classes just one-half mile from some of the Drew Park buildings where my father started his military career in 1942.

There are still 20 major military installations in Florida, including Central Command at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base, the headquarters of Middle East strategy and intelligence and where Desert Storm was organized.    Florida is #5 in US Dept of Defense contracts.   24,526 service people serve on seven air force bases, 23,223 in navy and marines on 7 naval bases, 4,757 coast guard personnel on 15 stations.  Some 2,982 army people are found on bases.  Counting the Florida National Guard there are 109,390 military people in Florida.   Ten percent of America’s retired military are living here.  There are 9 VA hospitals, 11 VA Outpatient Centers, and 9 military cemeteries.

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Here are a few of the lesser known Florida spots honoring our military.

The Tureous Homestead and Museum – Altoona

There are dozens of WWII memorials in Florida, but none as unusual as this small museum located at 42118 FL 19 in Altoona, Florida.  The 1890’s cracker house was the boyhood hood of US Marine and Medal of Honor recipient Robert M. Tureous, Jr.  His story is not typical of most soldiers for he was classified 4F.  Young Robert personally financed two expensive and costly operations to change his draft status.  He died on Okinawa when he rescued his company from an entrenched Japanese garrison.  His grave is in the Glendale Cemetery in Umatilla but his personal effects and medals are here.

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Florida National Cemetery – Webster

There are 1.5 veterans living in Florida requiring more military burial locations. In 1988 Florida’s largest National Cemetery opened fifty miles north of Tampa at Exit 62 on I-75 in the rolling hills of Sumter County. The impressive Memorial Trail escorts viewers to many commemorative monuments dedicated to individuals and units of World War II.  It is one of the nation’s most attractive military cemeteries.

NAS Richmond – South Miami

There were dozens of military bases in Florida, but only this massive naval station 19 miles southwest of Miami at 12400 SW 152nd Street was a blimp training center.  It was the largest blimp base in the world with three 16-story hangars.  On July 18, 1943, navy airship K-74 was shot down by Nazi U-131 off the Florida Straits. A 1945 hurricane wrecked the base, 25 blimps, and 365 aircraft.  Today, most of the land is the location of the Miami Metro Zoo, but Building 25, blimp headquarters, still stands as a reminder of the past.

Floridatraveler CAMP BLANDING

1606 Dr. Martin Luther King Drive Jr Drive, Pensacola

General Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. of Pensacola, Florida, was one of the famous Tuskegee Airman of World War II, but that was just the start of a long and illustrious career.  He became the first African-American four-star general in U.S. history and became head of NORAD in 1975.  There are a number of memorials honoring him, but none more compelling and unusual that that engraved on the concrete steps of the humble cottage at 1606 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.  The steps read “Chappie’s First Steps” honoring where the General took his first steps as a baby.

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The Douglas Munro Memorial at Crystal River

Douglas Munro Memorial at 123 N. W. Highway 19 Crystal River City Hall was dedicated September 27, 1995.  This site honors the only member of the U.S. Coast Guard to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. Located in the Little Spring Memorial Park behind City Hall in Crystal River, this project came to be through the efforts of personnel at the USCG Station Yankeetown and members of the Crystal River Fraternal Order of Eagles.  Petty Officer Munro died September 27, 1942, while in charge of twenty-four Higgins Boats involved in the rescue of several hundred US Marines trapped by enemy fire on Guadalcanal.

Navy Seal Museum at Ft. Pierce

This museum of A1A at Fort Pierce Beach marks the birthplace of the secret world of Naval Special Warfare.  The National Navy UDT honors a group that has been in the news in the Middle East recently, but whose role in earlier wars is amazing.

God Bless America.

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Two For The Price of One at Walt Disney World

Everyone likes to get any type of good deal they can and that certainly includes a vacation trip to the Walt Disney World area.  If you are vacationing at WDW, you probably realize that the only inexpensive Disney properties – the “value” resorts – are standard motel rooms with a huge food court, lots of kids in pools, and a morning bus ride to the parks that seem like New York’s Grand Central Station.

There are options in the more expensive categories and non-Disney hotels that offer what I view as an extra benefit.  Here is a concept that you might not have ever considered in evaluating resorts.  It works because of the heavy concentration of hotels in and around WDW.

You get two resorts for the price of one due to the shared facilities of two related resorts right next to each other.  That means twice the options for restaurants, recreation, and services if you select the resorts in this article.  You don’t take a bus or taxi, you just take a three minute walk between facilities.

FLORIDATRAVELER THE DOLPHIN

I Like to Watch the Epcot Fireworks From a Dolphin Balcony

Since I like to gather my points to get free or less expensive rooms, I use my SPG Points at the Dolphin and Swan complex, two non-Disney resorts inside the Epcot hotel area and using WDW’s free boat service into Epcot and Disney Hollywood Studios.   These are deluxe resorts whose rooms usually cost up to 40% less than similar rooms at the adjacent Disney luxury resorts.

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The Boat Leaves The Swan For Epcot or the Studios

Since these hotels share a monstrous convention facility, when there is no conventions, prices drop.  The Dolphin features as main restaurants Shula’s Steakhouse and Todd English’s Blue Zoo, while the Swan has Il Mulino Trattoria from New York City (but without the super high prices) and WDW’s best sushi place.  The pool area and the spa has to be large due to the number of rooms.

Just two hundred yards closer to Epcot is the Yacht and Beach Club resorts, two Disney deluxe hotels that share the same waterfront and facilities.  The huge Boardwalk entertainment village with its nightclubs and restaurants are a short Disney boat trip across the lake as is Epcot and Disney Hollywood Studios.

FLORIDATRAVELER yachtbeach

The two resorts at first look like one resort, but they have different personalities.  The Yacht Club is more sedate and low key and has the yacht basin with its rental craft and the Yachtsmen Steakhouse, the best steaks in a Disney resort.  The Beach Club is more colorful and family-oriented since it has most of the massive pool complex, an ice cream parlor, and a wonderful seafood buffet spot in Cape May Buffet.

FLORIDATRAVELER BEACH CLUB pools

Disney’s Best Resort Pool Collection

Disney’s only lazy river is here and the Beach Villas are so close to Epcot, you can hear the music from the England exhibit.   These four resorts are on Disney property.

Most visitors are not aware of Bonnet Creek.  If you look at a Google Map, you will be shocked to see the resort area, with its golf course and hotels, is surrounded by Disney World on three sides and I-4 on the other.  You are closer to some Disney parks then if you were staying in some Disney resorts.    Bonnet Creek is not something Disney people want to advertise.  In the 1960’s when the Disney team was secretly buying up 27,000 acres of Central Florida there was a Taiwanese businessman who would not sell this land.  And the Courts won’t let Disney block it off at Buena Vista Drive.

floridatraveler WALDORF ASTORIA

At the Waldorf Its Four Chairs Or Golfing Fore

The guests at the Caribbean Beach Club might wonder what are those tall hotels peaking over their trees.  It is the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek and the Hilton Waldorf Astoria, complete with a small convention hall between them and the beautiful Bonnet Creek Golf Course in their backyard.

Outside of the Five Star Four Seasons Resort north of WDW, the Waldorf Astoria has the best service I have seen in the Orlando area.  When you arrive you get a personal concierge who will make you feel like Richie Rich.  There is 24 hours room service including food from the Bull and Bear restaurant, which duplicate’s its noted New York City menu of the closed 1931 landmark.

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Pools at the Waldorf Astoria

While the Waldorf is adult creature comforts, the nearby Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek is more fun and games with a giant lazy river complex.   The prime restaurant here is La Luce.  Yes, it is under the wing of Napa Valley super-chef Donna Scala who owns the California restaurant with the same name.

Why stay at one resort when you can use two for the same price?

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Manatee County: The Beaches Between

I used to live in Bradenton and it always bothered me that when I went up North I had to always say “it’s between Sarasota and Saint Petersburg.  I would also be asked in there were any beaches there for people have heard to Saint Petersburg Beach, Clearwater Beach, Longboat Key, and Lido Beach.  They somehow missed Anna Maria Island.

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That is a big mistake.  If you don’t like a wall of tall condos and huge waterfront resorts, go to Anna Maria Island.  If you want a laid-back atmosphere with lots of delightful Oceanside restaurants where they move the tables and chairs onto the beach, you need Anna Maria Island.

ANNA MARIA ISLAND was first settled at the start of the twentieth century by Tampa Mayor MADISON POST who named the island for his wife Maria and his sister-in-law Anna. Just as Cuban fishermen were the first visitors to the island at the southern mouth of Tampa Bay, Post’s settlement was soon dominated by nautical types.

Captain Mitchell Davis was elected the first mayor. Farming was mostly homesteading. In 1912, CHARLES MARTIN ROSER, inventor of the Fig Newton, started the ANNA MARIA BEACH LAND COMPANY with pioneer settler GEORGE EMERSON BEAN who first settled the (Bean) Point at the island’s end.

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The Roser Church Is One of the Few Historic Landmarks

If you are arriving from FL 64 (Bradenton), you should stop at the DESOTO NATIONAL MEMORIAL, on 75th Street Northwest, honoring the landing of Hernan de Soto and his troops in 1539. Besides the museum, visitor center, and a nature trail passing the tabby ruins of a old homestead, there are exhibitions of Spanish colonial activities in the winter.

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At the Tip of Anna Maria Island

FLORIDATRAVELE ANNA MARIA PIER

Anna Maria Island Pier

If you head north past BRADENTON PUBLIC BEACH along Gulf Boulevard you might want to look at some of the oldest Gulf houses on  BEACH STREETincluding the Tudor home of Talmot Mundy, creator of the Jack Armstrong books.

Turn right on PINE STREET, Anna Maria Island’s original main road, with its OLD JAIL, 1923 ROSER MEMORIAL CHURCH, and stores. At the foot of Pine is the historic CITY PIER, first built in 1910. A right turn goes to the yacht basin, a left turn to Bean Point.

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The Sandbar: The Island’s Restaurants Are ON the Beach

GULF DRIVE is the hotel’s hotel row, where old estates like newsman Walter Lippmann’s estate (was at 5400 Gulf) have been torn done for high rises. The 1925 HARRINGTON HOUSE, however, is now a notable bed and breakfast.

Heading southward along Bradenton Beach, you should turn bayside over the Cortez Road Bridge into CORTEZ, an old fishing village where a drive down 124th Street will lead to the 1890 JESSE BURTON STORE, the CHURCH OF GOD. Off 123rd Street is the 1906 CAPTAIN BILLIE FULFORD HOUSE. The store is a maritime museum and there are lots of traditional old fish camp style seafood restaurants.

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The Pelicans Know Cortez Is The Place For Fish

FL 684 (Cortez Road) will lead eastward to US4l. If you continue south on FL 789 (Gulf Boulevard), you’ll cross the bridge onto Longboat Key and into the condo infested waterfront of Sarasota County.

 

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The Most Dangerous Natural Thing To Fear In Florida

I know people in various parts of this nation who won’t visit Florida because Florida is a dangerous place.  Some of these people just don’t want to leave their home for a week or two.  Others have unrealistic fears like the lady who didn’t want to go to Florida because we have hurricanes.  She lived in Oklahoma City.  I should have asked her how many days does the local weather man give when a tornado is approaching your area so you can seek the best shelter.

We do have natural things in Florida that both visitors and Floridians need to recognize. Afterall, eighty percent of our new residents come from another state (60%) or another country (20%).   So what should you fear?

FLORIDATRAVELER HURRICANE IN MIAMI

Miami Before A Big One

HURRICANES:   Ask people from other states what they fear about Florida and many will say “hurricanes.”  Most Floridians know that living next to the beach may mean packing up the automobile and hoping your house is still standing when you return, but I find that safer than living on a California earthquake fault line.

Hurricanes have always played a big part in Florida history.  The 2017 Hurricane Season has just started here in Florida.  Oddly most people associate hurricanes with Florida’s summer months, but Florida’s biggest storms have come in September.   The September 19, 1559 storm that destroyed Tristan de Luna’s attempt to build a colony in Pensacola Bay was probably a hurricane.   The Florida Land Boom truly ended with the September 18, 1926, storm and two years later in September 16-18, 1928, a hurricane killed 2,500 people or more, when Lake Okeechobee became a thirty foot tidal wave sixty miles from any ocean.  Thanks to modern weather forecasting most causalities of Florida hurricanes are people who did not obey evacuation orders.

SHARKS:  Florida is the “shark bite” capital of the world, but globally there are only 98 shark attacks reported each year with an average of six fatalities.  We humans kill between 30 and 100 million sharks per year so it is a good thing no shark is reading this book.  Florida has more shark attacks than California and Australia for we have relative warmer water and swimmers in huge numbers all year around.

FLORIDATRAVELER SHARK IN FLORIDA WATERS

          You are 132 times more likely to drown on a Florida beach than tangle with a Florida shark.  Heck – you are 391 times more likely to be killed in a Florida boating accident.  But if you really want to lower the odds of meeting a Florida shark, here are some pointers: don’t surf or swim out to sandbars. Avoid murky waters.   And you are 70% less likely to have a shark bite you if you vacation in the Gulf od Mexico rather than the Atlantic Ocean.

HEAT and HUMIDITY:    Visitors always tell me they couldn’t live in Florida in the summer because of our high humidity.  We don’t hide the fact that Florida has a humid subtropical climate.  Appropriately, a Florida doctor John Gorrie is noted as the first inventor of air conditioning way back in the 1851.  The good news is that when there is sweltering summer heat we head to our oceans, lakes, and rivers with nice breezes.    Gainesville (74.4%) is our most humid city but it ranks only 67th of all US cities with 50,000 or more people.  It should be noted that when there is a huge national heat wave it is people in the slums of New York, Chicago, and Detroit who are dying.  Floridians have fans if they have no air conditioning.

FLORIDATRAVELER GATOR ON FLA GOLF COURSE

“I Wonder If He’s Going To Concede The Hole?”

ALLIGATORS:   Gators are twice as likely to eat you in Florida than sharks.  The death of a two year old boy at the Grand Floridian Resort at Walt Disney World created global headlines.  A tourist family on vacation from gator-less Nebraska hardly expected an alligator in the middle of a huge resort, but most Floridians know male alligators during mating season from April to June are more aggressive, will roam across busy highways and golf courses let alone vacation parks, hunt at night for food, and even ignore their natural fear of humans.   Fortunately 95% of those attacked by gators escape or at least those are the percentages of the people we know were attacked.

Considering the fact Florida has 20 million people and 1.25 million alligators, it may shock you there have been just 24 alligator deaths since 1973.  Most years incidents of gator bites number less than a dozen.   To improve these odds, I highly recommend: never feed any alligators, never swim at night in any freshwater Florida lake or river, and never wander off a swampy trail into tall grass.  Few alligators have practiced the act of jumping up at people in trees like the performing alligators at Florida zoos, but it is good to know that alligators can move faster than you for thirty yards.

FLORIDATRAVELER LIGHTING AT CAPE KENNEDY

12 … 11 … 10 … Cancel

LIGHTNING:  Now here is a Florida danger that tourists forget.  Central Florida between Tampa and Daytona Beach is the “lightning capital of the USA.”  Lightning is more fatal than hurricanes since we now can predict the latter days before the latter’s arrival. Since 1953 hurricanes have killed 216 people in Florida, but lightning has killed 468 people.  82% of all those struck by lighting are male because golf, fishing, and boating are the major activities of people while getting hit by lightning.  What makes lighting so dangerous in Florida is that it often precedes the arrival of rain by several miles.  If you see a dark cloud coming toward you in the distance, get out of the water or the open field and head for cover.

FLORIDATRAVELER CORAL SNAKE

“Mary, is it red on black or what …?

CORAL SNAKES and RATTLESNAKES:  Florida is a warm place so it is home to lots of undesirable snakes.  In the last five years there were 42 snake bites in populous Southeast Florida – 21 by water moccasins, 11 from coral snakes, 3 from pigmy rattlesnakes, 2 from eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, and 5 unknown.  No one died.  Most were camping or fishing in a rural location.  I discovered there were no coral snake deaths or Florida deaths in the last ten years and all the USA deaths were by rattlesnakes, mostly in rural areas of the Western United States.  It was then that I realized Florida is quite urban and access to a hospital with anti-snake venom explains why few people will die of snake bites in Florida.  Now don’t take this as a suggestion to run barefoot through a field of tall grass or stick your hand in a hole in the earth.

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BAD BUGS:  People who fear bugs are not likely to love Florida.  There is a reason that some bug men here drive a Lexus.  Visitors don’t want to hear about scorpions and black widow spiders.  We have three of the former and two types of the latter.  Florida scorpions can not deliver a fatal sting.  The spiders are more painful.   People who leave their backyards with debris or put their garden gloves and sneakers on an open back porch are giving these little creatures a place to nap until nightfall.  GOOD NEWS: I have never seen a live scorpion in my fifty plus years in Florida.

If you are on a hot Florida beach at noon and you feel a sharp bite on the back of your neck, don’t blame mosquitoes.  Those nasty long-legged uglies rarely attack in warm sunlight.  Mosquitoes are just one of three blood-sucking flies that can ruin your day.  Lousy biting midges, also known as sand flies or no-seeums do attack people, but mainly hit at dusk and dawn.  The probable bad insect in this case is the stable fly (or dog fly), a light colored house fly that likes to dive bomb people even on warm days.  If you see these guys around you, pick another spot on the beach.

FLORIDATRAVELER SUNBATH IN MIAMI BEACH

But the most dangerous thing you will probably face on a summer Florida vacation is SUNSHINE.  Florida is closer to the equator than any other state other than Hawaii and people underestimate the power of the Florida sun.  The bad news is all those collegians baking away all day on a Florida beach will not know how much danger they are in until several decades later.  And the whole danger can be drastically reduced with a regular splash or spray.

 

Posted in environment, florida education, florida history, florida vacations, mcbobleonard, Recreational Experiences, Walt Disney World | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Celebrate Summer And Visit Florida’s Old Attractions

It’s coming: summer time in Florida and the temperature is already hot.  The big theme parks are crowded with huge lines awaiting a short flight to Pandora at Disney’s Animal Kingdom or a quick train ride from Hogsmeade at Universal Studios.

Perhaps this is a good time to think about going into Florida’s attraction past, where there’s room to walk under the shaded trails and perhaps sail on a glass-boat along a river of cool spring water.    Not all of Old Time Florida has been leveled by the rise of gigantic amusement worlds.

In fact the State of Florida has rescued some of the most scenic wonders of Florida and maintained them for future generations.  The good news is that that if some of these places seem a little more low key, they are also a lot lower in price and crowds.

So here is a little drive around Florida to some spots I have enjoyed for decades.

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park on US19 in Spring Hill north of Saint Petersburg still has the mermaid show, but for just $13 adults and $8 kids you get the mermaids, a wildlife show, riverboat rides, and access to Buccaneer Bay, a complete waterpark.  You can also rent a kayak and explore the spring river.  Parking is not $10 – it is free.

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All these visitor oriented state parks have continued restaurant service for visitors.

FLORIDATRAVELER Weeki-Wachee-Park-Map

Twenty miles up the road on US19 is Homosassa Springs State Park with the same low fees. The floating underwater Fish Bowl is still there as are all the manatees, pontoon boat rides, and wildlife shows.   What will shock urban folk is how quiet a park heavily forested will seem compared to the noise level at the mega-parks.

FLORIDATRAVELER Homossassa Fish Bowl

The Old Fish Bowl Takes You Down To The Springs

People who travel I-75 by Ocala will be pleased to see Silver Springs State Park offers the glass boat rides gliding over the crystal clear springs of the Silver River.  But today you can rent kayaks and canoes and even some family-sized vessels to take your own 4.5 river trip.  Plus this park has cabins and RV facilities.

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The Silver River Has Been Popular Since the 1870’s

Many famous old commercial attractions have survived into the 21st Century.  At Vero Beach, you can still see the beauty of McKee Botanical Gardens, an attraction since the 1930’s.  The incredible bamboo structures of folk artist and founder Waldo Sexton are still part of the site.

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McKee Gardens Is Soooo Restful

Maybe the influence of having the beachside Disney Vero Beach Resort nearby has influenced the Gardens.  Kids can check out for free  to take some five different nature adventures around the gardens.

I always loved visiting West Palm Beach’s Lion Country Safari, the first drive-through zoo in the nation.  There are still 900 animals to greet you real close. At a cost of one-third the big places, you can visit here with its five rides, restaurants, amusement park, and wildlife shows.   There is also a Koa Campground on the location.

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Dreaming About A Convertible?

In Miami there is still the famous Miami Seaquarium (1955) Virginia Key in Biscayne Bay.  The park always has specials and events so you need to look at the online discounts, which include a Family Four Pack for $99.

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Forget Playing With Dolphins When You Can Sea Trek

Of course, it costs extra if you want to play with a dolphin, swim with a seal, pet a penguin, or take an underwater reef exploration.  This is not the park I recall first visiting when I was a college student at the University of Miami in the 1960’s.

FLORIDATRAVELER JUNGLE ISLAND

If you prefer birds Miami’s Parrot Jungle (1936) is now Jungle Island and it is located in a zoological park on Watson Island.   The birds are still around but people today seem to like sloths and lemurs more.

Floridatraveler PARROT JUNGLE

“We’re Jungle Island not Parrot Jungle.”

I have just touched the tip of these attractions.  The Shell Factory down in North Fort Myers is now a complete amusement park.   Gatorland in Orlando still has the gators, but now you can fly over them on a zip line.  That’s as interactive as you will get with Florida alligators.

FLORIDATRAVELER GATORLAND zipline-over-the-alligators

No Jumping Gators Allowed!

Posted in adventure vacation, attractions, conservation, environment, florida history, Florida parks, florida vacations, Historic Buildings, Tampa, travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment