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.
This is perseverance… at one point this Wood Stork drops the fish and seems to momentarily question the wisdom of what it’s doing… meanwhile, another wood stork ambles by in the background, along the water’s edge… when I drove by an hour later, this little fellow/gal was still at it.
For a little Friday relaxation, you may enjoy watching some manatees floating down the springs at Blue Spring State Park on their way to the St. John’s River. On cold winter days, manatees are typically abundant here as the springs remain a constant 72 degrees year round. Blue Springs State Park is in Orange City, Florida, an easy drive from Orlando, if you ever happen to visit the area. We did not see many on the day we were there, even though it was very chilly, but the sight of these three floating by made our trip especially worthwhile.
To see what’s happening right now, check out the live webcams! In 2018, 485 manatees spent the winter here–imagine that!
On a family history note, these springs (of which there are many in central and northern Florida) are not far from Enterprise, FL, the place my second-great-grandmother’s nephew, Charles Jaques Jr., passed away on May 10, 1886, at age 22. He was the son of Dr. Charles Jaques and Katherine Louise De Forrest.
Enterprise is just 7.5 miles from Orange City, and I can’t help but wonder whether Charles came upon these springs in his travels around this area, which back then (mid-1880s) would have been frontier land and just starting to get populated.
From the 1850s – 1880s, the St. John’s River was an important transportation route, and steamboats would have landed regularly at Blue Springs Landing. It seems possible that Charles would have made his way here via a St. John’s River steamboat, and I’d like to think that he saw manatees in the springs and the river along the way, sightings he would surely have reported back to friends and loved ones, and hopefully he had a chance to do that.
There is something very special and memorable about manatees, and if you ever get a chance to visit Florida in the winter, do your best to try to see some.
Happy New Year to you all; I am resurfacing after a pesky December health-wise, and a New Year’s Florida ‘staycation’ spent in and around the beautiful Ocala National Forest, north of Orlando. Today, I’m sharing a few scenes from the forest’s Silver Glen Springs at the south end of Lake George—its trails strewn with palmettos, its trees festooned with Spanish moss, and its crystal clear springs a steady 72 degrees F. year-round. Spectacular! I hope to gather steam as the month progresses and get back on track with some family history posts. Meanwhile, to all my many cousins (no matter how distant) among this blog’s readership, please feel free to write a guest post or submit information that can help me develop a post for you. Let’s get those stories ‘out there’!
We recently took a canoe ride along a portion of the Blackwater River which starts at the 7,271-acre Collier Seminole State Park on the western edge of the Everglades and takes you out several miles through a vast mangrove swamp until you reach the Ten Thousand Islands. Were it not for the fact that the mangroves produce tannin, the water would be crystal clear (which would be much more comforting for the purpose of alligator spotting!). It’s an incredibly peaceful experience; just remember your bug spray and sunscreen and to stay in your canoe so you don’t bring home any physical souvenirs (or lose a limb!). We’ve done this trip several times, and the mangrove tunnels where the river narrows are (for me) the most special part of the journey. The water is like glass and the reflection of the mangroves on the water makes for some heavenly scenes. In winter there’s the added benefit of seeing lots of birds.
When you go through such uninhabitable terrain, it is easy to see why the Seminole Indians were never defeated, and also easy to see why the author of the below small article on the Ten Thousand Islands, published in 1886, found this part of Florida “desolate” and “gloomy” in comparison with the northern part of the state, which was fairly well inhabited and offered comforts that clearly would have been absent in south Florida at that time. Coming here in the hot and humid months of the year especially, one can be eaten alive by no-see-ums and mosquitoes and burnt to a crisp by a relentless and unforgiving sun. The article was printed in November, so hopefully the author escaped the worst of the bugs and weather—in any case, he lived to tell his tale!
Thankfully, we 21st-century South Floridians are able to enjoy these wild environments by day and return to the comforts of our homes at night.
Have a tranquil weekend, all.
Daily Alta California, Friday, November 12, 1886 (Credit: California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside – . All newspapers published before January 1, 1923 are in the public domain and therefore have no restrictions on use.)