Sarasota Is Still The City of The Arts

In 1936 circus magnate John Ringling died.  The man once worth over $200 million dollars had just $311 in his bank account. Yet in his will he gave to the State of Florida Ca’d’Zan, his 1.2 million dollar waterfront mansion, his 21-gallery museum with one of the world’s largest private art collections of Masters, and his gardens and grounds.   He wanted his Florida home town of Sarasota to be a center for the arts.

floridatraveler RINGLING COMPLEX

It took the State of Florida ten years to fight over the estate with Ringling’s many creditors.  The State and Sarasota not only got one of the great art museums of the nation, another legacy was the Ringling College of Art and Design, started in 1931, and rated as the #2 American animation school by Animation Career Review.

floridatraveler RINGLING MUSEUM best pic

Ringling Gave Sarasota One of the World’s Top Art Collections

If Ringling came back to Sarasota today, he would be very pleased.   The St Armand’s Key shopping center out by Lido Beach is still lined with sculpture as is most of downtown Sarasota.  Main Street is filled with art galleries and bookstores and quality antique shops.

floridatraveler st armands music ode

Everywhere in Sarasota There Is Art

Most of all, few cities the size of Sarasota has the vibrant environment of the arts whether it is theater, art, motion pictures, music, or anything creative.  The waterfront Van Wezel Hall with its purple shade hosts the big traveling shows, but local talent abounds in this community.

The Florida Studio Theatre (1973) in downtown Sarasota isn’t just a stage at 1241 North Palm Avenue, it is a village of theaters – the historic Keating and Gompertz Theatres, the European-style Goldstein and John C. Court Cabarets, and the Bowne’s Lab Theater.  The FST has over 30,000 subscribers, making it the third largest subscription theatre in the United States.


Florida Studio Theater Lights Up Downtown

FST’s Mainstage Series has produced 33 world premieres and 89 regional premieres.   The Cabaret Series has 40 world premieres to its list.  Stage III hosts the annual Sarasota Improv Festival.  But the most impressive program to me is the “Write A Play” celebration in its 26th year.  School kids across Florida from grades Kindergarten to 12th grade write original plays and the winners get to see them in production.  Over a million Florida children have participated or have seen these plays.

There are enormous turn-outs in Sarasota County for every event in the arts and the town has thus attracted more than its share of artists, writers, actors, and show people.  I remember years ago going with my father, a newspaper editor in nearby Charlotte County, to an arts meeting in downtown Sarasota and seated next to us was mystery writer John D. MacDonald and Pulitzer Prize winner MacKinlay Kantor.

Despite the town’s size, the Sarasota Opera is in its 59th season at the 1926 Edwards Theater (now the Sarasota Opera House).  Also downtown is the Jazz Club of Sarasota which was founded in 1980 by Benny Goodman’s publicist Hal Davis.  The Club runs fifty events every year, including the Annual Sarasota Jazz Festival which attracts visitors from across the globe.


The Sarasota Opera House

The Ringling complex contains the Asolo Repetory Theatre (Florida’s largest Equity theater) and Florida State University’s MFA Acting Conservatory.  Not only does the center have a huge stage; there is the 1798 original Asolo, Italy, theater, and the 1900 Dunfermline Opera House built right into the complex.  You can say Sarasota’s arts are very international!

The Asolo complex is home to the Sarasota Ballet which produced 141 separate ballets last year, including many original works.

floridatraveler SARASOTA BALLET

The Sarasota Sculpture Center (SSC) sponsors the Sarasota Season of Sculpture where the downtown area of the waterfront has showcased 140 sculptures representing 18 states and 13 foreign countries.  The amazing Embracing Our Differences exhibit, with its 45 giant billboards, attracted  271,000 visitors.

floridatraveler asolo rep theater

Asolo Has All Kinds of Historic Theaters

Sarasota has always appreciated all the creative arts.  Sarasota High School operates the Sailor Circus Academy and performs routines that you would expect on a big stage in Las Vegas. Very unique is McCurdy’s Comedy Theater and Humor Institute.  Their Green Room is a traditional comedy club often hosting famous TV comedy acts.  The Politically Correct Comedy, the Stand-Up Comedy Boot Camp, and the Kids Komedy Kamp has turned hundreds of locals into comedy performers.

Most reflective of how Sarasota treats the arts as a gathering for all its residents, Les McCurdy started in 2005 Special O’Laughics, a workshop that teaches mentally challenged adults the art of stand-up and sketch comedy.  When it comes to the creative arts, Sarasota is truly a “City of the Arts.”

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Florida’s Unique Ghost Towns Are Not Invisible

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.

floridatraveler indian key state park aerial view

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.

floridatraveler Indian-Key-cistern

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.

floridatraveler koreshan-state-historic the PLANETARY

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.

floridatraveler house of cyrus teed the Great Keresh.jpg

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.

floridatraveler HAMPTON SPRINGS SPA

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.

floridatraveler -Hampton_Springs_FL_hotel09

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


 floridatraveler store in SLAVIA

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.

floridatgraveler st lukes lutheran church 1939-Church-+-Parsonage

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.



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Florida Architecture Is An Attraction In Itself

Not everyone comes to Florida to enjoy the beaches, the sunshine, or such natural attractions as the Everglades and the St Johns River.   People find the diversity of cultures and lifestyles of the Sunshine State an interesting tour.

In this blog, I have written about most of the famous man-made structures of Florida such as Ed Leedskalnin’s mysterious Coral Castle in Homestead, the Underwater Hotel of Key Largo, the spiritualist village of Cassadega, and the utopian colony that existed in Koreshan State Historic Site in Estero.

Here is just a potpourri of buildings that always seem to fascinate or amuse or attract me. This is just a wide range of places you should visit if you’re in that part of Florida.

The award for most entertaining public building goes to the 1940 Church by the Sea in Madeira Beach ar 495 137th Avenue Circle.  The Spanish style church was originally designed with a light to be used as a nautical landmark for boaters in the nearby Gulf.  The light was ineffective and replaced with a large lighted cross.  What the architect never realized the church resembles “Chicken of the Sea” – a humorous cute chicken, as seen from almost every angle.

floridatraveler DUCKY CHURCH BY THE SEA

It is not the Chicken of the Sea Church

Most important symbolic public building is the Opa-Locka City Hall, built in the 1920’s by airplane pioneer Glenn Curtis, who wanted an exotic Middle Eastern look with its onion dome and colorful minarets.  With streets like Sharazad Boulevard (the hall) and Ali Baba Avenue, Curtis had a Land Boom dream for this development.  Today the town is usually cast as a nightmare – in financial straights, a high crime rate slum and blight of poor people.  A few years ago Miami-Dade County stripped the town of funding after money was misused.

floridatraveler OPA LOCKA CITY HALL

But people in Opa-Locka are trying to restore the town with a lot of art projects and new housing and restoration.  Their City Hall reminds them of their origins and dreams.

For my I have to look architecture I choose the remains of Stitsville in Biscayne Bay off Key Biscayne.  There are only seven of the original 27 fishing cabins left of Eddie Walker’s and everytime I am in Miami I have to look to see if the latest storm has cut down the numbers.  For deteriorating structures now owned and left to decay by the National Park Service, they sure are wanted as sites for movies and TV shows.

floridatraveler Stiltsville cluster 670

One Mile Off the Miami Coast Survivers

My favorite exotic restaurant design is The Bubble Room out on Captiva Island.  Taking and old rustic beach cottage and jamming it with more curios than the Smithsonian has exhibits, the original owners started decorating with classic dolls and toys, but over the years everything nostalgic from old fashioned Christmas items to Hollywood glamour shots has plastered every inch of the building.  If you can stand the pumped in pre-Laurence Welk music, you like the American menu for lunch or dinner.

floridatraveler the bubble room

The Inside Is Actually More Colorful

Most unusual historic building is another interior shocker.  The 1856 Haile Homestead on the plantation called Kanapaha, just outside Gainesville, looks like a classic vernacular structure until you enter the house.  Nearly every wall in the plantation is covered with 12,500 words and selected art works.

floridatraveler HaileHomestead

The Hailes Even Wrote On Their Own Photographs

This is not graffiti drawn by some wild street gang that broke into the building.  The words were written for decades by Thomas Evans and Serena Chesnut Haile and their fifteen children and it’s a strange family album of life in agrarian Florida.  The house is now a historical site so the private wall writing is now sponsored by the State of Florida.

Florida’s most beautiful house reflects by bias as a historian.  I have never found a home new or old, big or small, that matches James Deering’s 1916 Viscaya mansion.  The gardens resembles a walk on a regal Tuscany estate until you are confronted with the tropics of Biscayne Bay.  I saw a manatee cruising along the Renaissance boat dock.


The Pride of the Coconut Grove

Every one of the 34 rooms open to the public is a magnificent showcase of exquisite taste in furniture and decoration.  Regardless of your architectural taste, you will be impressed. It is not shocking that I discovered it was voted the most beautiful building in Florida by the website

 My most impressive museum is the modernistic Tampa Museum of Art by Stanley Saitowitz.   Sitting on the Hillsborough River across from the 1891 Tampa Bay Hotel (University of Tampa), the structure has glass and panels that reflect different views from every angle of the building, from the riverfront to the rising skyline of downtown Tampa.  At night the museum is a panorama of changing colors.

floridatraveler TAMPA ART MUSEUM

I will admit the Dali Museum in downtown St. Petersburg with its DNA helical staircase has the most exciting interior.  The glass enigma of 900 glass triangles looking like two giant space craft eggs crashing into the building would make Dali proud.

Polk County seems to have the monopoly on education with  the most impressive college campus.  Small private schools like Rollins and Stetson have more attractive campus designs than the gigantic cities formed by Florida’s big universities.  Lakeland’s Florida Southern University campus contains the Child of Sun collection, the largest gathering of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the world.

floridatraveler florida southern

My favorite building remains the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel.  After Wright’s death, his protégée Nils Schweizer added six more buildings including the Library to Wright’s ten original buildings.

Ten miles east on I-4 is my most impressive education building – the Innovation, Science, and Technology building of the new Florida Polytechnic University.  From the distance it looks like a multi-armed robotic armadillo or space ship.  The view will change for the roof and walls move.  You have to walk into the structure to really appreciate its design.

floridatraveler FLA POLY TECH UNIV

If you want to talk about modern architecture, you have to visit Miami, whose booming skyline is the third tallest in the United States.  I will confess I agree with those who state that the view has become in places a condo cluster of curved edifices with little concession to nearby structures.

Still I love seeing the twenty story Atlantis condo with its five story square hole down the middle.  Made famous by shows like Miami Vice, the Atlantis triggered a global list of buildings with empty spaces.  Actually if you have binoculars, you’ll see the square palm court contains a Jacuzzi and a red spiral staircase.

floridatraveler THE ATLANTIS holy condo

My favorite skyscraper is the second tallest building in Florida.  The789-foot Four Seasons Hotel and Tower goes up 64 smooth looking floors of steel. concrete, and glass.  A bank and offices are located on the first six floors, the 221 room hotel is on floors 7 to 36, and the 84 luxury condos do the upper floors.   The southeast side is the most photographed angle.

floridatraveler Four_Seasons_Miami_complete_20100206

All this makes me want to take a trip around Florida.

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Fish With A View: My Best Seaside Seafood Restaurants In Florida

Vacationers in Florida are shocked that some areas of Florida are thin on quality seafood restaurants and even disturbed when people start recommending chain restaurants available back home.  Despite a coastline of 1300 miles, seafood is not inexpensive in Florida.

So here are our favorite seafood restaurants with an island location or sea view or at least some water to see, for we feel that people come to Florida to eat seafood with a location better than a parking lot.  That location may mean jacked up prices, but even in Florida the rising cost of seafood is why you see so many Floridians on bridges and piers and boats with a rod in their hand.

I admit Joe’s Stone Crab isn’t on the waterfront at Miami Beach, but I would be expelled from the Florida writing fraternity to not mention the most profitable family owned seafood place in the nation.  Even more shocking it closes down when the crabs are out of season.  This is an institution not a restaurant.

floridatravelerJOES STONE CRAB

The Most Profitable Private Restaurant In The Land

Another seafood institution is Jacksonville Beach’s Marker 32.  Since 1992 diners have come for the creative seafood dishes as well as a second floor dining-room panorama of a sunset over the intracoastal waterway.  Don’t be stunned when you see trigger fish with grits – there are all the Florida favorites on the extensive menu.

floridatraveler jacksonville-marker-32-intracoastal-sunset-

The Sun Goes Down At Marker 32

The Florida Keys are loaded with good seafood places and the competition is fierce. You can’t complain about Key West’s Sunset Pier at the very end of DuVal Street at the fancy Ocean Key Resort and Spa.  The big rating booster for me is the moderate prices for both lunch and dinner at this prime spot.  And the seafood is wonderful.

floridatraveler sunset-pier-at-ocean

At The Southern Tip of Florida: Seafood

In tribute to the dozens of fine family seafood places in the Keys, I select The Fish House in Key Largo.  An institution in the Northern Keys since 1982, it has all the ingredients you expect – it has its own fish market filled with grouper and yellowtails, tacky lighting and decorations all over the outdoor patio and inside plus photographs of famous TV chefs who came here.  The delicious dishes won’t burn a hole in your wallet.

floridatraveler the fish house

Nautical Casual Is A Key Largo Theme

Here in Tampa, we have no ocean, but Oystercatchers in the Grand Hyatt on the Clearwater Causeway gives you a nice waterfront sunset and a choice of weekend buffet, lunch or dinner.  As a hotel restaurant it is expensive but you pay for Grouper Saltimbocca or Lobster Mac and Cheese and other dishes.

floridatravler osytercatchers has a sunday buffet

Oystercatchers Has A Big Sunday Buffet

The Maritana Grille at the majestic and historic pink palace known as the Don Cesar on St Petersburg Beach is in an Oceanside resort on the Gulf of Mexico, but the owners clearly want you to enjoy the seafood over the view.  The price is very heavy here and it is also strong in meat entries but the iron griddled fish items and pan seared sous vide boost the seafood choices into orbit.  When it comes to special occasions, this Grille is a favorite of both locals and visitors.

floridatraveler maritana at don cesar

The Pink Palace At Night: the Don Cesar

Florida’s Panhandle always get short-changed in national publications, but this is home to many of Florida’s most popular seafood spots.  Trebeache on Santa Rosa Beach on Highway 30A is deserving of its popular status for its potato wrapper grouper and all its oyster offerings straight from the nearby waters of Apalachicola.

florida traveler trebeache

Trebeache at Santa Rosa Beach

Pensacola and Pensacola Beach is a port and fishing area and there are so many good seafood places it was not easy picking one.  The problem I had is that most are across the highway from the water and I want an outdoor table where I can smell the salt water breeze.  Red Fish Blue Fish is a wildly designed lunch and dinner spot with huge portions of seafood at modest prices.  It isn’t fancy, but this is the vacation culture of the Panhandle.

floridatraveler red fish blue fish

Red Fish Blue Fish Sunset

The most exciting and beautiful waterfront seafood restaurant I have seen in recent years is the popular 15th Street Fisheries at the Lauderdale Marina.  At night when fancy yachts arrive, the place comes alive.  You can dine on the docks or take a window seat on the second floor.  The prices are quite fair for high priced Fort Lauderdale and the food and service are very good.

floridatraveler 15th st fort lauderdale

15th Street Fisheries: Urban Waterfront

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Florida Animal Sanctuaries Are Unlike Animal Parks

Animals have always been big business in Florida.  Walt Disney World has Animal Kingdom to compete against Tampa’s Busch Gardens.  Sea animals have their place at Sea World while there are six other dolphin playgrounds.

Lion Country Safari started in Palm Beach County in 1967 was the first drive-through animal preserve and today people not only want to get as close to the wildlife as possible, in some cases they want to interact with them whether they are porpoises or giraffes.


No Convertibles At Lion Country Safari

Major cities like Miami (MetroZoo), Tampa (Lowry Park), Jacksonville Zoo are successful traditional animal zoos.  We can include the numerous alligator farms and tropical bird stops in another category.

Several of Florida’s old wildlife attractions have become state-owned operations such as Silver Springs, Homosassa Springs, and Wakulla Springs.  Many of the old animals are living out their life now under public supervision.

FLORIDATRAVELER giraffe-feeding-on-Busch-Garden-Tampa

Busch Gardens: Meals On Wheels

Less known but growing in importance are Florida’s wildlife parks and refuges that emphasize preservation and rehabilitation and education of endangered and deserted animals.  The animals are not likely to perform shows taught to them by trainers.

The biggest trend in animal centers have been in small somewhat niche training areas.

My favorite is Big Cat Safari here in Tampa.   This is an accredited sanctuary for exotic cats saved from abusive roadside zoos, bankrupt carnivals, and backyard breeders.

FLORIDATRAVELER big cat rescue LionTigerLigerTalk

It Can Be Boring Waiting For Dinner

Lions, tigers, cougars, bobcats and more fill the 80-acre habitat.  Big Cat also rescues and rehabilitates and releases Florida bobcats.  Visitation is expensive and limited at these sanctuaries since there is no desire to flood the facilities with tourists.

Forty-five miles further north in North Dade City is the Giraffe Ranch, home to not just giraffes but other African grazing animals.  You can the herds by vehicle, Segways, or even camels.  Other options include walking llamas and feeding ring-tailed lemurs.

floridatraveler giraffe ranch safari-by-camel

To Take A Camel Ride To See Giraffes

The Endangered Animal Rescue Sanctuary in Citra, ten miles north of Ocala in FL318 East, is a forever home to lions, ligers, tigers, and bears.  Membership is required to take a tour and like most of these places, people make reservations since visitation is limited and scheduled.

Down in Naples Nancy and Kert Smith operate Shy Wolf Sanctuary and their residences not only include a huge pack of wolves and wolf dogs, but also dingos, cougars, and even prairie dogs.  Their program mainly goes to clubs and schools to educate people about wolves but they require a great deal of volunteers and helpers.


Don’t Expect me To Jump Thru A Hoop


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10 Great Florida Literary Landmarks To Visit

It was not until well into the twentieth century that Florida had the urban population and economy to bolster its own literary marketplace.  For decades most Florida writers were snowbirds, who found places like Saint Augustine and Key West warm and inspirational winter hideaways.  That has been changing in the last fifty years as Florida has developed a literary heritage.

Here are my ten favorite literary showcases:

Cross Creek, south of Gainesville, is almost synonymous with the home of Florida’s most beloved author Marjorie Kinnon Rawlings, Pulitzer winner for The Yearling.  This simple farm house, its barn, and grounds tells the story of life in the 1930’s in rural Florida with its colorful Crackers and Northern visitors.


A Trip To Cross Creek Is A Trip Into Her Novels

You should spend time at the nearby land and walk the small estate.  The barn uncovers a lot of ancient treasures and there are some priceless photo ops like the old Rawlings automobile and her old typewriter sitting on the porch.

In a more urban setting is Ernest Hemingway’s Key West home at 907 Whitehead Street.  The two storied  French Colonial house was built in 1851 savage wrecker Asa Tift and with an elevation of sixteen feet is safe from recent street flooding. Here Hemingway wrote To Have And To Have Not and Green Hills of Africa.


The Hemingway House Is Rustic Yet Neat

The tour of the house is a fascinating look at the author and Key West’s laid back lifestyle, although the island’s first indoor plumbing and the pool, a real luxury.  Everyone looks for the descendants of Hemingway’s cats and you can’t miss them – they are all over protected like rare species.

Down the street at 1431 Duncan Street is the winter home of Hemingway’s pal Tennessee Williams.  TW actually wrote A Streetcar Named Desire when he lived in the nearby La Concha Inn.


The Simple Tennessee Williams House

In a simple cottage at 3744 Stewart Avenue in the ancient Coconut Grove section of Miami is the home of “the Mother of the Everglades” Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890-1998).  Her The Everglades – River of Grass is the most famous ecology book in Florida history.


The Queen of the Everglades at her humble Cottage.

Most people identify Jack Kerouac with San Francisco, but he did the rewrite of On The Road and finished The Dharma Bums in a little bungalow at 1418 Clouser Avenue in the College Park section of North Orlando.  The house now houses young writers in residence.  Kerouac later lived in Saint Petersburg but that is a private house.

FLORIDATRAVELER _jack kerouac house

The House Still Houses Young Writers.

Most fans of Zora Hurston visit Eatonville, the African-American town just north of Orlando, where she grew up.  Unfortunately, the homes in Their Eyes Were Watching God are gone, but there is a Hurston Museum and her father’s church.  At 1734 School Court in Fort Pierce is her last home and a Dust Track Trail leads to the Hurston Library and the Garden of Heavenly Rest Cemetery with her grave.

FLORIDATRAVELER 1960 zora hurston fort pierce

Zora Hurston’s Last Home in Fort Pierce

Saint Augustine is loaded with literary spots.  Hurston lived in a apartment at 791 King Street where she finished her autobiography and taught at a local college.  The strange Ripley Believe or Not Museum was once owned as a luxury hotel (Castle Warden) by Marjorie Rawling’s husband and that third floor penthouse was meant to be her urban home.


Rawlings Hated the Place so Stayed on Crescent Beach

She hated it for the entire town visited her so she usually stayed at her beach house.  One weekend she let her friend stay in the penthouse and the woman died in a hotel fire.  Her ghost is one event that Ripley won’t advertise.

If you are a writer and plan to spent some time at work in Saint Augustine, may I suggest the historic St Francis Inn.  Avoid the third floor (old attic) unless you want to meet a ghost of the son of a Confederate General who committed suicide when his romance to a black servant was revealed.

FLORIDATRAVELER st-francis-inn

If Only the St. Francis Inn Could Tell Us Its History

Van Wyck Brooks finished The Flowering of New England in the back cottage and won a Pulitzer Prize.  A few years later Edith Pope used the table for Colcorton and she was nominated for a Pulitzer.  Dozens of novels and articles were written in St Francis.

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Small Town Weekend Trips: Dade City

I spent last weekend on a little trip from my home in Tampa to do some antique shopping in Dade City and eat at the famous Lunch at Limoges luncheon at the 1908 Williams Department store.  You are missing the Real Florida when you don’t visit a few of Florida’s wonderful small rural towns.

Dade City is a one hour drive north of the Tampa Bay area on I-75 at the FL 52 exit or an hour and a half from Orlando west of I-4 and northwest on US98 in Lakeland.

People coming from I-75 had the added treat on diverting North off Curley Street to see rustic downtown San Antonio with its old Catholic school and the 1913 St. Charles Inn, built by Charles Barthle for the long gone Orange Belt Railroad.

 Continuing east on FL 52 you reach the lakeside campus of St. Leo College started in 1890 as a monastery by the Benedictine monks. While St. Leo has a lovely school campus, the institution offers classes online all over the USA and on military bases.
You should stop at the  St. Leo Abbey Church (1948), a Lombardic-Romanesque structure with Indiana limestone trim noted for its famous interior and marble Christ crucifix. You’ll recognize the image as a replica of a certain controversial cloth in Europe.


St Leo Abbey: Please Go Inside

Stroll over to St Leo Hall (1915), a four-story concrete building designed by Brother Anthony Poiger. The new boys dorm was named for actor Lee Marvin, despite throwing a youth out a second-story window while a student in 1941. Across FL 52 is a rough trail which contains the Garden of Gethsemane (1935) leading to the Our Lady of Lournes Grotto.

CONTINUE EAST ON FL52 along Meridian Avenue into DADE CITY. If you like  Victorian masterpieces I would turn right on 15th Street and then left onto Church Avenue’s Historic District. At 37412 Church is the First Presbyterian Church (1894), a wooden Gothic, As you travel east along Church toward downtown, you can’t help to notice the fine Victorian houses and large yards that showed that in its agricultural days the town was quite prosperous with citrus and cattle.


CROSS 12TH STREET. The last house on the left, opposite the Gothic First Methodist Church (1889), built of heart pone and cypress by James E. Lee, is the Gray Moss Inn (1910), 37641 Church, the Mediterranean Revival Brummer House when President Calvin Coolidge lunched here in 1923..

FLORIDATRAVELER pasco dadec grey moss inn front

The Gray Moss Inn Minus Calvin Coolidge

TURN RIGHT ON MERIDIAN AND LEFT ON 9TH STREET to see the Edwinola Inn (1912), once a two-story concrete inn, now a large retirement center. RETURN TO MERIDIAN and TURN LEFT to reach the commercial district.   Like so many small Florida towns many of the old stores are now antique shops, filled with items you may not find in large towns.

As you CROSS 8TH STREET, on the left is the 1924 Coleman-Ferguson Store , Meridian Street. In 1884 Henry Coleman and William Ferguson started a store which promoted the tiny town. Next door is the Bank of Dade City (1917), a financial institution that did not survive the Florida Land Bust and became a store.

The stores on Meridian downtown are the oldest in town; the Treiber Building at 37846 was built in 1900 as a hardware shop.   More interesting is the Old City Hall , now a store, past the courthouse toward the Old Railroad Depot, a classic structure.


People coming from Orlando will arrive downtown on 7th Avenue (US301) and should park to tour the downtown antique shops.  The center of town is the Pasco County Courthouse (1909), a two-story brick Beaux-Arts classic by Artemus Roberts. The nearby 1921 band-shell is a landmark.

 WHERE TO HAVE LUNCH: After a visit around Historic Downtown Dade City, you will hopefully have reserved a spot at (20) LUNCH ON LIMOGES , 14139 South Seventh Street, a wonderful bistro located in the middle of the 1908 O. N. WILLIAMS DEPARTMENT STORE. People travel for miles to eat here. In your downtown travels you will find other restaurants and even a tea house.

FLORIDATRAVELER pasco pecan grouper at limoges

I Had The Pecan Grouper

After downtown VISIT THE Pioneer Florida Museum (567-0262), four miles north on US301. You’ll love the 1864 Trilby Depot, the 1864 Overstreet House, the Lacoochee School, and the Enterprise Methodist Church.

FLORIDATRAVELER pasco 1860 john overstreet house pioneer museum

The Overstreet House Furnished Like 1860

There is a complete packing plant and a collection of some of the finest Victorian carriages and a unique oil carriage which supplied area farmers. ADMISSION is charged.  NOTICE:  The cows and horses surrounding this quiet spot are now part of the museum – they are real Dade City residents.


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