Panama City Is Not A Beach

Compared to its glamorous beach-side little sister Panama City Beach, the town of Panama City is a large bayside residential community serving Tyndall Air Force Base to the east and the booming beach and bay suburbs to the west side. Panama City is the largest town between Pensacola and Tallahassee and, if you are staying in the area, worth a drive into the downtown area.Large buildings and fancy condos are not part of downtown Panama City which has a small town laid-back appearance and an almost empty-looking waterfront except for the large marinas.

TOURING PANAMA CITY by automobile is usually easy for there are lots of parking spaces along the main drag of Harrison Avenue and at key public buildings. To reach downtown from the hotel strip of Panama City, drive east over Hathaway Bridge, continue east on US 98 (W 15th Street) and turn right (south) on Harrison. Use the map once you get to the marina at the end of Harrison to decide what to do – you’ve already driven past the downtown shops.

floridatraveler PANAMA CITY map

The town obtained its name when developer George West discovered his bayside site was about halfway between his native Chicago and Panama City, Panama.

PANAMA CITY HALL at 9 Harrison has parking if there is lunch time traffic in the downtown area. Across the way is the large PANAMA CITY CIVIC CENTER which hosts most of the big attraction events in the region.

floridatraveler PANAMA CITY THE RITZ in heyday

The Ritz in its heyday was the only show in the County.

JOSEPH DYER BUILDING at 13 Harrison next to Harrison House Furniture is a non-descript 1910 white building brought to the site from Sandy Creek by boat to become the first brick structure in the town. At 39 Harrison is the ELLIS & COLEMAN BUILDING, redesigned in 1933 to become the Bay Theater.

floridatraveler PANAMA CITY MARINA

Boating Is The Top Sport in Panama City

Across the street in the next block at 100 Harrison is the two-story 1911 WILKERSON BUILDING, used as the first town bank, a post office and the town telephone company. Opposite it at 101 Harrison is 1915 terra cotta FIRST NATIONAL BANK with its famous 1926 street clock, a symbol for downtown. A few doors down is the 1933 ROY VAN KLEECK BUILDING (131 Harrison) with its original pine flooring.

A National Register building is the lovely 1934 W. C. SHERMAN ARCADE at 228 Harrison Avenue with a nice two-story atrium. Opposite it is the 1926 COMMERCIAL BANK, built with buff brick and Indiana limestone in an unusual Georgian Colonial Revival style. At 318 Harrison is the 1926 two-story brick FLEMING FOLKES BUILDING, with a facade almost original to the Land Boom days.

floridatraveler PANAMA CITY ARCADE

The Panama City Arcade Building

You could go East of 4th Street (see map options), but we’ll finish Harrison since the 400 block has two main structures.The RITZ or MARTIN THEATER at 409 Harrison was built in the Art Deco style and today houses an art and performance center. The J. S. WILSON FURNITURE and HARDWARE BUILDING (1926) is a three-story brick building that houses the City Information Bureau.

floridatraveler SAPP HOUSE Panama City

The Sapp House

If you drive down 4th you won’t miss the OLD CITY HALL, a 1926 Mediterranean Revival beauty which is headquarters for the Visual Arts Center. The J. ED STOKES BUILDING at 18 East 4th Street was the law office of the long time State Senator. The 400 block is the 1915 BAY COUNTY COURTHOUSE, probably remembered by many as the site of the Gideon case, which required all arrested to have access to a lawyer.

 Third Street starts more residential homes and the JUDGE J. MERCER SAPP HOUSE (1916), with its first elevator and hot water, is the most impressive home in Bay County.At 17 East 3rd Street is the 1909 ROBERT McKENZIE HOUSE, a two story-clapboard frame. Both of these homes are on the National Register of Historic Places.





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Looking At “Florida Foods” In The Good Ol’ Summertime

When its hot and humid in Florida and I am preparing to teach a few classes – my 50th year teaching in the Sunshine State – it is hard to write a serious column.

For some reason I always identified the summer with food.  Spending my childhood summers in a Massachusetts beach resort, some of my best memories was of eating out: fried clams, lobster rolls, frappes (milk shakes), and salt water taffy.   It got be to wonder what foods people should identify with Florida.

Cuisine in Florida obviously is shaped by the people who came to Florida from the native Indians to recent migrants from Latin America and Asia, the climate and terrain which shape what can be found or produced, and the lifestyle of Floridians.  But mostly I think of living in a state where saltwater is on three sides.

FLORIDATRAVELER Frenchys-Rockaway-Grill-on-the-Beach

Grouper sandwich on a Florida beach

A favorite Florida beach meal is a large grouper sandwich.   My favorite place to have it is at Frenchy’s Rockaway Café for its porch sits on North Clearwater Beach with a view of sea gulls, waves, and beach volleyball games.  I will confess that the original Frenchy’s started in 1981 and gained the reputation to build additional restaurants. But it lacks a beach location.

floridatraveler GROUPER SANDWICH at frenchys

It isn’t a good beach restaurant or even a decent beach bar if it does not make a grouper sandwich.  It is OK to have salmon and mahi mahi (dolphin – the fish), but a restaurant will be judged from Pensacola Beach to Key West for its grouper sandwich.

floridatraveler FUN POSTCARD fishing 1912COMEDY

You don’t eat smoked mullet in New England.  You don’t fish for mullet; you net mullet at night.   You don’t bite into a mullet unless you want your mouth full of tiny bones; you scrape the meat out with a fork and it takes a little practice.  Mullet is not for lazy diners.

floridatraveler TED PETERS SMOKEHOUSE mullet

The Smokehouse Filled With Mullet

For 65 years and five generations Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish in South Pasadena has been smoking mullet over red oak for six hours at an open-sided, rather dumpy place that doesn’t have a view of any water or beach and doesn’t take credit cards.  The customers wouldn’t want it any other way.


Sure, Ted Peters cooks other seafood and serves drinks.

When I think of Florida and summer, I think of the Florida Keys and fried cracked conch. The native people down there are known as conchs and you shouldn’t question that.  Even when you discover the conch or queen conch is a large snail that lives in a large, high spire glamorous shell.  The people of the Caribbean brought this dish, breaded in light flour and deep fried into a golden delight.

floridatravler cracked conch cafe

The Florida Keys are lined with quaint little seafood places serving cracked conch.  I like the Cracked Conch Café in Marathon for they put it on a nice bun.  The atmosphere is typically family business with dogs on leases and a “snail-like pace.

floridatraveler CRACKED CONCH from marathon

Since I went to the Keys, I better journey down to Key West and pick a place for Key lime pies.  Most commercial key lime pies outside Florida are made with Persian limes for the tiny key limes were almost destroyed in the 1930’s by a disease.  Enough trees survived in people’s backyards and local cooks treat the fruit that makes the Official State Pie (2006) as royalty.

floridatraveler PEPES CAFE

Real key lime pies use only condensed milk for their pies, key lime juice, and egg yolks.  Most meringue toppings use egg whites.  Pepe’s Café on Caroline Street is the oldest restaurant in Key West and have been making key lime pies there since 1909.  Like many good restaurants in the Florida Keys, people don’t judge a place by its exterior but by the food inside.


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Cassadega – Still America’s Spiritualist Town

The Travel Channel rated CASSADEGA one of the ten weirdest places in America, but considering the fact it was the only complete town that made the list, it is a fitting rating for an entire village. Cassadega is a real community of people with common although unusual beliefs.


But Cassadega, located between Orlando and Daytona Beach via the Lake Helen exit of I-4, is a real functioning community with real economic, religious, and social institutions. What makes the place so unusual, is that its main economy is spiritualism talking to the deceased via some of the town’s two dozen mediums or during a church meeting.   This is no medicine man show and people who come for a lark will be turned away.

Floridatraveler The Store

While the local residents (some 100) accept the steady flow of curious tourists, smiling skeptics, and entertainment seekers, they are very serious and professional in responding to the honest questions by visitors seeking information. Most of the residents are licensed psychics and certified spiritualists.

When Spiritualist leader GEORGE COLBY arrived in the rural farm area in 1894, few of the nearby farmers realized how a SOUTHERN SPIRITUALIST CAMP MEETING site on 57 acres of land would put the location on the map. The National Register of Historic Places site has no campgrounds for the name camp refers to a gathering place for believers of spiritualism.

FLORIDATRAVELER Cassadega George Colby

Colby had good reason for seeking a winter refuge for spiritualism since he had TB. Incredibly bathing in the waters of Spirit Lake cured him. The best way to feel Cassadega is to walk around the rural streets. I must say that you will experience more on foot than driving in your automobile.

The buildings have been restored in recent years and today’s Sunday healing is held Sunday mornings in the COLBY MEMORIAL TEMPLE (1923) with other Sunday lectures at the ANDREW JACKSON DAVIS BUILDING.

Floridatraveler Cassadega the Lake

HARMONY HALL is a place with a gift shop, a library on Spiritualism, and what might best be described as a Chamber of Commerce for the mediums. BRIGHAM HALL is another meeting spot for speakers and guests.


Certified mediums are listed online at Cassadega’s main website and many of them have websites and email addresses besides telephone numbers. Since most people don’t know what to expect from a visit to a medium, the Spiritualist community is very deliberate in giving step by step instructions to potential visitors.

FLORIDATRAVELER cassadega hotel

The CASSADEGA HOTEL (1928) replaced a Victorian structure that burnt in a fire. Although it is convenient to Daytona Beach, I would NOT book some race car pals into this hotel as a lark. The place is said to be haunted, but that won’t compare to the cold shoulder you will get from all the serious believers if a bunch of ghost hunters with equipment showed up.

The hotel is the home for many of the town’s New Age spiritualists who use a tarot deck and practice a holistic form of spiritualism.  Most of the in home resident offices are more traditionalists.

The Cassadega populace takes their spot in the Florida sun with pride and respect.

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Cruising Florida’s Forgotten Coast Is A Peaceful Excursion

In the summer months the Panhandle beaches from Pensacola to Panama City are crowded with vacationers from Alabama and Georgia.  The highways are sometimes resembles South Florida and the restaurants and hotels are filled.

Summer doesn’t seem to offset the relative peaceful calm of Florida’s Forgotten Coast – that section of the Gulf of Mexico from St. Marks to Port St. Joe.  This is Florida with an emphasis on natural attractions and small, friendly towns, and outdoor activities like hiking, fishing, and boating.  The coastline does not have great beaches but two of Florida’s best beaches are on St. George Island and the St. Joseph Peninsula.


 The most common route for people in peninsular Florida is to start in Tallahassee and head southward toward the Gulf of Mexico and St. Marks on FL 363, the route of Florida’s first and long-gone railroad.  There are two attractions worth a stop. The Ed Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, off  363 via Fl 267 to FL 61, is one of the world’s largest and clearest springs famous since the days of the Creature from the Black Lagoon   There are boat tours and swimming and 1937 27 room Wakulla Springs Lodge built for tycoon Ed Ball.


For history buffs there is another sight east off Natural Bridge Road: the Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic Site where in 1865 in Florida’s second largest battle the Confederacy halted an attempt to capture Tallahassee.

 At the end of FL 363 is the still-functioning St. Marks Lighthouse (1831) constructed in part with materials from the ruins of nearby San Marcos de Apalache Historic Site, where there is a museum telling the story of this site going back to the Spanish.  Backtrack to US 98 and head west along the coastline.

floridatraveler ST MARKS LIGHTHOUSE

St. Marks Lighthouse Standing Strong

 If it’s near lunch time the small family seafood restaurants have been serving travelers for decades. Panacea has several old-fashioned family seafood places.  The larger town of Carrabelle is famous for having the world’s smallest police station.  Look for a phone booth with police emblems.


Panacea Might Have More Seafood Spots Than Traffic Lights

Carrabelle is where there is a ferry to Dog Island, a small isolated spot made famous a few years ago when several guys ran fake articles that the place was a retirement and vacation spot for dogs.  It was funny until people actually started showing up thinking it was a dog resort.  It has a nice beach, but you should head to the bridge for St. George Island.

FLORIDATRAVELER Carrabelle Police Station

Half of this island is State Park and campers fight for spots by one of Florida’s most lovely island beaches.  There is a St. George Inn here and some rustic stores.

FLORIDATRAVELER -st-george-inn

The St George Island Inn

Apalachicola, at the mouth of the large Apalachicola River, is famous as an oyster and fishing port, but it was a historic center for trade even before the Civil War.  There are lots of lovely Victorian houses, a neat downtown that will shock you, and several key spots. The John Gorrie State Museum is where a Florida physician trying to keep yellow fever patients alive developed one of the earliest air-conditioning systems.  Nearby is the 1839 Trinity Episcopal Church that is an incredible pre-fab first assembled in New York before shipment to Florida.  There are several neat bed and breakfast places in Apalachicola, like the famous 1907 Gibson Inn, not far from the Maritime Museum.


Continuing westward on US-98 , people looking for an incredibly long white beach and recreational facilities should drive onto the St. Joseph Peninsula and Cape Blas and look at St Joseph Peninsular State Park with a beach and park which has been selected best in the nation by TripAdvisor.  Unfortunately, the summer is a big season here.

The tiny town of Port St. Joe has the nearby Florida Constitutional Convention Museum Historic State Park, where in 1838 Florida’s first State Constitution was passed.  The village of St. Joseph almost became the state capital until a hurricane leveled the town.

You can drive north on FL-71 to get back to I-10 or continue west toward Panama City and the developed beach cities of the Florida Panhandle.


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Walt Disney World Goes On The Offense

Twenty years ago if you remarked that Walt Disney World was losing market share in the Central Florida entertainment sector, people would laugh at you.  Today, Floridians would not flinch over that remark thanks to the booming success of Harry Potter over at Universal.

Here in the middle of a hot Florida summer, what once seems a disadvantage for Universal does not seem to be one.  Walt Disney World is so vast that it can expand parks and attractions for years to come.  Universal property is very condensed so that their new water park is actually right next door to their second moderately priced resort.

Image result for universal new water park

Universal Calls Volcano Bay A Theme Park And Not A Swim Park

Universal’s theme parks and entertainment complex City Walk are a short, refreshing boat ride away from their major resort hotels.  Waiting for a bus in ninety degree heat to take you from Animal Kingdom on twelve miles of crowded roadways to Magic Kingdom seems a monstrous contrast.

This month at the important Disney meetings in California, it became obvious that the Brain Trust in Burbank has been listening to mounting concerns and questions from the media, visitors, and stockholders.  I happen to be all three.   Disney plans billions of dollars in new projects, many representing extreme changes.

Real theme hotels with great interactivity – my favorite Disney hotel and that of many despite its isolation from most part attractions is the unique Animal Kingdom Lodge.  No other amusement park in Florida can surround a hotel with African animals, stock the lodge with people from Africa, and have top notch restaurants with African styled foods.

My favorite moderate resort is Port Orleans Riverside where a swampy Southern river with rustic buildings seems part of the landscape.

Image result for star wars disney hotel

Disney will build a Star Wars themed hotel where multi-day packages include costumes and complete all-day interactivity with the cast members.  I suspect this hotel might relate to the next topic.

Real theme interactive mini-parks within existing parks – much like Universal’s wonderful creation of Dragon Alley and Hogsmeade, Disney is building on the backside Toy Story Land which will open in the summer of 2018 and the monstrous Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, a 2019 themed futuristic city.

floridatraveler Toy-Story-Land_

WDWMAGIC pic of Toy Story Land Under Construction

While Pandora at Animal Kingdom was a nice addition to Animal Kingdom’s goal of being also a nighttime park, it has serious limitations.  It is based upon one hit movie and not a popular series like Toy Story and Star Wars.  Kids can go on the riverboat ride but must be 44 inches tall for the fantastic Flight of Passage 3-D experience.

floridatraveler pandora river ride

The Pandora River Ride Won’t Sell Theme Park Toys

Even WDW can’t find a cast of ten foot cast members to represent Navi and I suspect that would scare many parents who aren’t in sci-fi.  Flying dragon toys will not outsell magic wards that interact with electronic props.

Incredible new transportation options – as noted in April, Disney is planning to connect Epcot and Disney Studios to several large moderate resorts with a Gondola Skyway. At the present-time, only deluxe resorts have a non-bus transportation option.  From Epcot, of course, you can take a monorail to Magic Kingdom.

Replacing Old Attractions With More Updated Rides –  next month the Energy ride at Epcot (which often wasted an hour of visitor’s precious time) will close and become the site of the Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster and also closing will be the Movie Ride at Disney Studios, replaced with an real interactive Mickey Mouse ride in a trackless system.

floridatraveler -Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-

At Guardians Attraction in California

I loved Ratatouille when he popped out of serving table at the French restaurant. Now “the French rat” will get a fun kids’ ride built behind the French pavilion at Epcot. There is a need for more rides in World Showcase and the idea of the French bakery next to the ride is a big winner.

floridatraveler rattatouille view-of-restaurant-interior

“I  now get my own ride?”

As rumored for months, the popular TRON coaster is coming from Disney’s Asian parks to a spot just behind the speedway at Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland.  The train will actually go under Tron – a strategy that works well with rides at Busch Gardens and Sea World.

floridatraveler TRON in asia disney pk

Visitors in Asia Love the TRON ride

Just to show Disney is really going out of this world with its ideas, there will be a Mission Space Restaurant where the window view will not be of Florida.  Think of “Soarin with food”.



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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.

floridatraveler st aug Mission_chapel_inside1

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.

floridatraveler st aug pena-peck

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.

floridatraveler Lavalle-House

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. 

FLORIDATRAVELER mission_san_luis tallahassee

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.


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.

floridatraveler Ybor_City_Marti_Park02

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.

floridatraveler miami domino pk gomez statue

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.

floridatraveler key west GATO FACTORY

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.

floridatraveler puntagorda-banner

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.

floridatraveler puntagorda courthouse

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.

floridatraveler freeman house

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.

floridatraveler punta gorda trabue cottage

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.

floridatraveler puntagorda fisherman-s-village-at

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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