My family started coming to Florida from New England during the Christmas holiday in the late 1950’s – before the Interstate Highway system was completed. Our “short-cut route” to get from the East Coast of Florida to the West Coast was taking US 301 from the Jacksonville area to Ocala.
The road back then was not the divided four-lane highway it is today. And it also had one of AAA’s most notorious and infamous locations – the largest and most active speed trap in the United States. Still my father cut across on US301 with me reading the AAA map as if the car was a B52 bomber trying to avoid flak over Nazi Germany. We never got a ticket, but my father’s hair started to fall out the next day.
“Look out – on the next curve you have to go from 60 mph to 20 mph in fifty yards and there is usually a police car hiding behind the large billboards.” The billboards got such negative reviews from Florida visitors, eventually the advertisers pulled out.
Dad never wanted to go down the East Coast in the 1960’s
In 2007 the hamlet of Lawrey (population 700) wrote 9,000 traffic violations on their tiny strip of the highway. That world has now changed in 2014 when a corruption scandal gave the State of Florida the moxie to disband the Waldo Police force and place the road under the control of the Alachua County Sheriff. Later that year the town of Hampton was dis-incorporated.
The big town of this section of US301 is Starke and if it is lunch time instead of visiting all the national fast food joints along the route, you should turn west or east of Call Street for some real home cooking from the locals. I suggest the Call Street Café (111 West Call) or Tony and Al’s Deli (200 East Call).
Call Street Cafe Is Certainly Small Town Florida
One of the reason for all the food places is the nearby Camp Blanding, the primary military reservation and training base for the Florida Army National Guard, the non-flying units of the Florida Air National Guard, and all the Army ROTC units in Florida, Georgia and Puerto Rico. On the 30,000 acre facility, East on FL16 is the Camp Blanding Museum and Memorial Park, filled with military hardware and the history of the Camp which opened in 1940.
As a historian, I have to promote the fact you can go in the “rural, backdoor” to Florida’s most beloved literary attraction – the country home of author Marjorie Kennan Rawlings. Her Cross Creek residence looks as it was when she wrote The Yearling and Cross Creek. With its barn, livestock, lake, and gardens, it is a nice place for a picnic or a lawn for the kids to burn some calories.
On hot nights Rawlings slept on the porch near her old car.
Another landmark not far off US301 if you check the GPS or road map is one of Central Florida’s oldest towns – Micanopy. There is nothing new here which is why the place was chosen for the film Doc Hollywood. The gift shops are antiques and the restaurant is rural casual at its best.
Only Thing Not Old In Micanopy Are The Automobiles
US301 misses Gainesville with its masses of university students, but if it is the weekend, you will catch a lot of traffic going to the Waldo Flea Market. One of the largest rural flea markets in Florida, there is a lot of grocery items as well as Floridana stuff that I find fun to see. South of Alachua County is Marion County, often neglected by tourists despite the fact that the famous Silver Springs, the largest artesian spring in the world and Florida’s oldest tourist attraction (1878) is now operating as a State Park. It is less commercial and crowded but the wonderful glass-bottom boats are still cruising the Silver River.
I-75 is just ten miles west of US301 as both head southward toward Tampa so pick one to get back on the Interstate dragstrip.