It should not surprise Florida visitors that the Sunshine State has over one hundred “ghost towns” – some of them just a note on a map while others reveal the remains of a more prosperous past.
Florida ghost towns all tell a story of hopeful beginnings and sad endings. Much like the gold ghost towns of the West, Florida has ghost towns when the phosphate ran out. Other places are the remnants that lost their purpose when the railroad closed or went the other way. Some towns were lumber camps and when there was no good trees, the town was gone.
And then there are the others whose story deserves at least a mention in an article like this. Please note that civilization has slowly crept into the backyard of some of these hidden places.
There are some of my favorite Florida ghost towns:
To get to Indian Key, you’ll need to hitch a ride on a boat at MM 78.5 at Robbies Marina on Islamorada or if you are daring rent a kayak to sail to Indian Key State Park and its dock on the Gulf side. The park ranger will probably meet you to tell you a story of death and destruction as well as how to travel the many trails.
Indian Key Is A Mysterious Round Speck In The Keys
Indian Key was once the county seat of Dade County. That was back in 1836 when there was a booming port and village thanks to the notorious Jacob Housman, who made a living as a wrecker gaining the spoils of sinking ships in the Keys. Some say he lit bonfires to confuse ships going along the Florida Straits. The island had a hotel, stores, warehouses, and wharves when the Second Seminole War broke out, making the island a dangerous place.
The Indians Did Not Burn Everything
On August 7, 1840, with the Florida Naval Squadron patrolling elsewhere, a band of Indians attacked Indian Key. They killed 13 of the town’s 70 residents, including noted naturalist Dr Henry Perrine who was U.S. Consul to Mexico. The Indians burnt the buildings to the ground, but the State of Florida had maps to show what the ruins and cisterns represent.
I have recruited visitors to this waterside park south of Fort Myers for years for few states have a complete ghost town of a 19th century utopian community: homes, meeting places, stores, and more. In 1894 Cyrus Reed Teed, “the Great Koresh”, brought his followers to tiny Estero to establish a “New Jerusalem” under his Koreshanity.
The Planetary Was A Key Building
I won’t even try to explain the tenets and lifestyles of this group except to say the colony grew into an agricultural village of several hundred by 1920 and declined. In 1961, the last surviving members donated the eleven neat historic structures and their gardens to the State of Florida. Since this is both a State Historic Site and a lovely State Park with camping and boating on the Estero River, it is an interesting spot to stay.
The Home of the Great Karesh
If you are near Perry, Florida, in Taylor County, you can see the ruins of what was once one of the great Dixie spa and hotels of the South – the Hampton Springs Spa and Hotel, which finally burnt down in 1954. The resort, off US98 west of Perry was a popular health spot in the early 1900’s. Teddy Roosevelt did a few laps in the sulphur swimming pool.
Today you’ll see the hotel ruins, the swimming pool, the goldfish ponds, and some of the riverfront remains. Cracker farm houses still dot the vicinity and there is a foot bridge over the river the last time I went. I believe people want to make the spot a county park.
A Resort In Ruins
Located on FL 70 north of Arcadia the town of Pine Level was once the county seat of Manatee County for eighteen months. Ironically its tiny wood courthouse is sitting in a historic park in East Bradenton. This was a lawless cowboy town where Saturday night bar fights were too common for the good coastal people. The cemetery of Pine Level is a beautiful sight and the area still has rustic farmhouses, some in ruins. The Pine Level Methodist Church stands as the pillar of the remaining community.
Strange: That Courthouse Is Now 40 Miles Away in Bradenton
Photo by Mike Woofin, Mr. Florida Ghost Town Writer
North of Orlando and southwest of Oviedo on FL 426 is Slavia, a good example of the many ethnic groups that came into Florida when the railroads connected the state in the 1880’s to the North. Unlike Tarpon Springs with its Greeks and Ybor City with cigar-makers from around the world, Slavia remained a small farming village started in 1911 by Lutheran Slovaks from Cleveland.
St. Lukes Is Still Around But The Center of the Complex
Driving around the area, you will identify stores and street names with Slovak names and the St. Lukes Lutheran Church has grown from a simple brick structure to a huge complex with school facilities.