Gatorama is a long-time Florida attraction located off the most beaten paths in South Florida, but it’s well worth a visit and the price of admission. Hundreds of alligators and crocodiles of all shapes and sizes are on display, as are some other Florida creatures. We were there in July, and since then, the local ABC7 station has done a story on the gator and croc training that goes on there. It’s surprising and fascinating and well worth the view. Enjoy, and have a great weekend!
The birth of another great-nephew this week (named Wyatt) coincided with a birth of a very different kind—the emergence of a beautiful Monarch butterfly in the passion flower vine growing just outside in the milkweed bed. We failed to notice the chrysalis until just after the butterfly made its appearance. We named it Wyatt in honor of our newest family member and enjoyed watching it take its inaugural flight to the nearby tamarind tree. Can’t wait to watch baby Wyatt take flight, too. The sky’s the limit! Or is it? Perhaps, he will be the first family member to travel to the stars and beyond!
Murals are popping up all over these days, and in most cases, I would say they are a welcome addition. The town of Lake Placid (FL)—population roughly 2,200—is no exception, and here, this south-central Florida community seems to be taking things to a whole new level, with 47 murals so far. We traveled through there not too long ago, during the “off season,” so few people were around. In the snowbird months, the place would be bustling with all sorts of activity; there’s even an outdoor movie area downtown (see murals with white space in center). And, by the way, Lake Placid is also known as the “Caladium Capital of the World”—my sister has been to their Annual Caladium Festival several times and always brings back all sorts of fantastic bulbs that, after planting, emerge in pink, green, and white swathes to liven up the slow summer months. I hope you will enjoy these scenes; perhaps they will encourage you to stop by this historic little Florida town when you are next in this part of the world.
I love old houses, and I’m sure I am not alone in that regard.
Here in Florida, it can be a challenge to find homes over a certain age, depending on where you live, of course, especially the further south you go.
Because truly old homes are not as plentiful as up north, I periodically search for ones for sale on websites like Realtor, etc., where you can filter out results based on age and other criteria. It’s fun (IMO) to look at old home interiors you would otherwise probably never get to see. I was doing that a few days ago when I came across the John B. Stetson mansion at 1031 Camphor Lane in Deland, Volusia County, Florida. We’d been in that area a couple of times in recent years, visiting nearby De Leon Springs and Blue Springs, but had no idea the Stetson mansion, celebrated for its history and its architectural mix of Moorish, Gothic, and Tudor styles, would have been within such easy striking distance.
Who was John B. Stetson? If you have not heard of him, you may still be familiar with the Stetson hat.
Born in 1830 to a New Jersey hatter and his wife, Stetson, while still a young man, was diagnosed with tuberculosis and told he may not have much longer to live. He took off for the West, wanting to lay his eyes on that expansive majestic land while he still could. That’s when he came into contact with the region’s settlers and cowboys, who until then had largely been wearing caps made of coonskin and other furs, not very practical. Returning home to Philadelphia, he came up with the Stetson hat, and started turning them out in 1865. They sold like hotcakes and became known as “the boss of the plains.”
Stetson lived well into his seventies and along the way became known for his generosity as an employer and a philanthropist. His hat-making business had treated him well. His company survived and thrived, and it’s still going strong today: https://www.stetson.com
Seeing as how Stetson’s Florida mansion, built in 1886, is up for sale (for $4.7 million), this is an ideal time to get a look inside at the interior without paying an admission fee and without having to physically go there. The sellers purchased the house a decade ago and completely restored and renovated it. The result is stunning, and although this is a private residence, they have generously been permitting people to tour the estate and experience this very interesting piece of history. In fact, it’s the #1 Deland attraction on Trip Advisor. Hopefully the eventual buyers will want to keep this up.
To go to the listing and its 122 photographs, click here: John B. Stetson house. For the Stetson Mansion website, click here.
Some images from a recent stroll through the historic Everglades Wonder Gardens in Bonita Springs, Florida. It was the end of the day, and I had this small zoo/botanical garden to myself. Nothing like nature to lift one’s spirits and relieve the stressors of the day. I hope you have a chance to spend some time this coming weekend in the great outdoors.
Last month we drove an hour northeast of here to visit the historic town of Arcadia (population about 8,000). We’d driven through there before on a few occasions, stopping for lunch but never sticking around to check out all the antique stores—something for which Arcadia is famous. I must say, I am not a big antiques shopper, but I have never in my life seen so many antiques and so many vintage items and so much crazy STUFF!
We got there pretty early and after perusing a few cavernous antiques malls, had a delicious lunch at Mary Margaret’s Tea and Biscuit Restaurant where the wait staff dresses in period outfits. When it was time for dinner, we stopped at the Magnolia Street Seafood and Grill Restaurant, which is the top-rated place in town. It did not disappoint; in fact, it was honestly some of the best seafood I’ve had; the hush puppies were amazing.
However, there was a bright spot in all this lost family history since I was able to reunite one massive mid-nineteenth-century family Bible that originally belonged to a Long Island Civil War veteran with a living descendant I tracked down via Ancestry.com. I connected him with the shop owner, and for $50, this Bible (complete with loads of handwritten names in the middle under Births/Marriages/Deaths) was heading back into that family. I felt good about that, and it wasn’t hard to do, so I am glad I made the effort. The last family member to own it died in 1986, so it had been floating around “out there” in the universe for quite some time.
The only other thing I saw that was actually labelled was the below wedding photo of Mae and Victor Falsitta. I found someone I believe to be a descendant on Ancestry, but they never responded to my message. Perhaps, someone will find the photo here. I do remember which shop I saw it in, so any Falsitta family member reading this, feel free to contact me.
Plenty of people were shopping and buying, giving lots of old items a fresh start with a new owner. By and large, shoppers were on the older side, which is understandable. However, I could not help but wonder what will become of all this stuff once those of us over a certain age are no longer around. But that’s neither here nor there, really. Some other stuff will eventually replace all of this stuff or add to it. (Somehow I can’t imagine these places being even more packed.)
What did I buy? Just a few cookie cutters and a couple of kitchen gadgets that intrigued me. I learned that my grandmother’s mouli grater is not one of a kind, nor is my Dad’s old cake cutter. My grandmother’s old meat grinder that we use every Christmas to make cranberry and orange relish also has plenty of “siblings”… So anyone out there with a particular nostalgia about a certain item has a pretty good chance of finding it, or one like it, in Arcadia.
Arcadia is packed with history, and all these antiques stores are mini-museums and an education in themselves. I would definitely recommend a visit; its an old town with that old Florida feel—something you don’t get to experience much when you stick to the coastal towns and cities in the southern part of the state. Arcadia is also famous for being a rodeo town. The first one took place in 1928 as a fundraiser to get a building constructed. The most recent rodeo event was held earlier this month and attracts fans and competitors from all over the US. Perhaps, we will try to go next year just to have that experience.
Anyway, happy Friday, everyone! Here are some photos from our travels…
I often think about Florida’s earliest settlers and what it must have been like for them to experience the diverse and alien habitats within the peninsula. It was a harsh environment without all of today’s conveniences and navigational know-how. No signs to alert them to dangers that may lie ahead: alligators, bears, boars, panthers, fire ants, thorny plants, swamp land, poisonous snakes. No guidebooks. No weather alerts that a hurricane was coming. No hospitals. No experience with the tough and thorny flora.
On the other hand, these early arrivals got to see Florida in a pristine state, something denied most travelers today except those who venture into places that are protected by the state and/or hard to reach places that remain inhospitable and uninhabitable.
While you can enjoy Florida’s many beautiful state parks and national forests, which definitely have their pristine areas, you’re never far from signs of civilization and never far from help if you need it (which is a good thing, of course).
On a side note, a couple days ago I met a woman who grew up in the Everglades back in the 1950s and 1960s. Wow—the stories she can tell are unbelievable. She still spends time camping out in places 99.9% of today’s Floridians would never dare go. I admire her. A tough lady who has had a very unique life experience and knows the Ten Thousand Islands like the back of her hand.
I’ve been in Florida long enough to respect the land and wildlife habitats. Long enough to know to be wary of threats and dangers I may encounter along the way.
When I was very young, the The Yearling (Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman) made a deep impression on me for obvious reasons. The film was on TCM a couple of weeks ago, and this time, seeing it through the lens of someone who knows Florida much better than I did 50+ years ago, it was still gut-wrenching during that one part of the film, but I marveled at the family’s fortitude, understood their decision making, and winced at Jody’s ability to run barefoot everywhere. I don’t know anyone who would attempt that today other than at the beach.
An 1839 map of the Florida territory shows just how sparsely populated Florida was, with virtually no development whatsoever south of Lake George.
By 1895, things were much different, although south Florida, apart from its eastern edge, had yet to really be discovered. Below is a map from an 1895 publication called The Tourists’ and Settlers’ Guide to Florida.
Today with a 20 million+ population, there are plenty of signs around, telling us where to go and what not to do, which is not a bad thing. They no doubt deter many from engaging in reckless behavior. Sure you hear stories of people doing silly things from time to time, like the young man who thought he could swim across a stretch of Lake Okeechobee without any repercussions. Those types of things do leave you scratching your head.
Here are a few warning signs I’ve seen in my travels (and I’m happy they were there):
We often travel to nature preserves near our home to try to catch glimpses of birds like pileated woodpeckers. A few weeks ago, I heard lots of tapping, walked out the front door, and looked up! And, there they were… not one… but TWO!
We’ve visited the Six-Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in Fort Myers twice. Once last March and most recently this past January where we spotted the above alligator coming out of the cool water to sun itself. The cypress trees were bare and missing much of the water they are used to standing in during rainier times of year.
Many people think of Florida as the land of eternal summer, but that’s definitely not the case. The seasons here are distinctive, as any year-rounder will tell you. Of course, we don’t have the extremes experienced in more northern climates (and most of us probably like it that way), but if you live here long enough or visit at different times of year, you do notice the differences, especially if you come in summer. As you scroll down the photos below, you can see the changes between January (left) and March (right) – (or, perhaps, top/bottom, if you are viewing this on a cellphone/tablet); we visited at the same time of day, but you can see the lighting looks different; summer is on its way.