Florida Is Losing Its Old Landmarks

The destruction of the Belleview Biltmore, the largest and oldest wooden hotel in the United States, is another reminder to me that if you can’t preserve a historic structure as a new beginning, it will probably be lost for future generations.  The 1897 icon created by Henry Plant for his Victorian railroad tourists could not be saved despite the efforts of several preservationist groups..

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End of Belleview Biltmore (Tampa Tribune photo)

Tobacco Road (1913), Miami’s oldest bar and nightclub, closed this fall and was demolished.  Not even the ghost of Al Capone could save it though fans have preserved most of its interior and neon sign in hopes of resurrecting it somewhere along the Miami River near its old haunt.

As a historian, I am always asked about “things old” and Florida still has many landmarks.  The oldest continuous hotel and oldest continuous bar are both in Fernandina Beach’s historic downtown.  The Florida House (1857) was the vacation spot for U.S. Grant and Andrew Carnegie, and a place for Jose Marti to plan for smuggling rifles into Cuba from Jacksonville.

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Florida House – The Oldest Hotel

Three blocks away on Centre Street is the wonderful Palace Saloon (1878), the last tavern to close during Prohibition and haunted by the long time bartender who burnt to a crisp in the backdoor apartment.  The historic bar and wall murals alone are worth a visit.

The oldest continuous restaurant in Florida is Tampa’s venerable Columbia Restaurant (1903), believed to be the largest Spanish restaurant in the nation, perhaps the world.  You should take a walking tour of the many beautiful dining-rooms from the original corner room saloon to the wine cellar.

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Just one of the Columbia Restaurant rooms

You can’t use the word “old” in Florida without mentioning Saint Augustine, the oldest continuous “European” city in the United States.  Despite a lot of misuse of the term “oldest” you do have the oldest fort and oldest house.  More important you can visit the oldest tourist attraction in the Saint Augustine Alligator Farm (1893).  The oldest continuous bed and breakfast is the delightful Kenwood Inn (1865), a three-story house with 13-bedrooms, a pool, and two ghosts featured on a television series.

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The Kenmore Inn of St. Augustine

Although people have been coming to Silver Springs by steamboat as early as the 1870’s, the oldest continuous modern-type tourist park was Cypress Gardens (1939-2009), now incorporated into the new Legoland Florida park.   Visitors will recognize the famous gardens although seeing giant lego women in hoop skirts will probably give old-timers like me a few nightmares.

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Lego Women At old Cypress Gardens

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About floridatraveler

Historian and travel writer M. C. Bob Leonard makes the Sunshine State his home base. Besides serving as content editor for several textbook publishers and as college professor, he moderates the FHIC at www.floridahistory.org
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