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Archive for Florida

A Hotbed for Machine and Mammal

By Linda Tancs

In the 1800s, Florida’s Blue Spring Landing was a hotbed of activity for steamboat owners. It was owned by gold prospector-turned-orange grower Louis Thursby, who purchased Blue Spring (a first magnitude spring on the St. John’s River) in 1856. In the 20th century, the site even hosted an episode of the Underwater World of Jacques Cousteau. The documentary highlighted Blue Spring as a winter refuge for the manatee, Florida’s state marine mammal. As a result, the state ultimately purchased the land, creating Blue Spring State Park in Orange City. Manatee season runs from mid-November throughout March, and the park fills to capacity quickly. A self-guided tour of the Thursby house is also available.

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Florida’s Oldest House

By Linda Tancs

In St. Augustine, Florida, the Oldest House Museum Complex features Florida’s oldest house (over three centuries old), the Gonzalez-Alvarez House. The dwelling is a National Historic Landmark and an example of the oldest Spanish Colonial structure in existence in Florida. Docents lead guests through a 25-minute guided tour. The house is one of many stops along the Red Sightseeing Trains route.

 

Florida’s First Magic Kingdom

By Linda Tancs

Before The Mouse, there was the house—that is, the Tampa Bay Hotel, a lavishly grand hotel built by railroad magnate Henry B. Plant as a respite for wealthy Northerners. Affectionately referred to as Florida’s first “Magic Kingdom,” the 1891 Victorian-era getaway with soaring minarets (inspired by trips to the Middle East) is a National Historic Landmark now occupied by the University of Tampa. A section of the building is reserved as the Henry B. Plant Museum, featuring original opulent furnishings and artifacts from the hotel collected by Mr. and Mrs. Plant during their world travels as well as educational exhibits related to the late Victorian period, the beginning of Florida’s tourist industry and the early years of Tampa as a small village before Plant left his imprint.

 

The Singing Tower

By Linda Tancs

The Singing Tower at Bok Tower Gardens delights visitors with a 60-bell carillon sitting atop 298-foot Iron Mountain, the highest point along the Florida peninsula. Developed as a bird sanctuary, the peaceful respite in Lake Wales, Florida, is awash in moss-draped oaks and a garden designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. that give way to the 205-foot pink tower of marble and coquina stone. A National Historic Landmark, it’s particularly ablaze with springtime blooms of azaleas, camellias and magnolias.

A Part of Florida History

By Linda Tancs

Bathed in tall palms, Fort Lauderdale’s Bonnet House Museum & Gardens is a part of Florida history. In fact, archaeological evidence suggests that the estate represents one of the first sites of Spanish contact with the New World. And a shell midden illustrates habitation by the Tequesta, one of the first tribes in South Florida. In addition to its historic significance, the grounds are one of the last examples in the area of a native barrier island habitat. Five distinct ecosystems can be found on the property, including the Atlantic Ocean beach and primary dune, a fresh water slough, a secondary dune, mangrove wetlands and a maritime forest. The property’s former owner, Evelyn Bartlett, was a passionate orchid collector. When she gave Bonnet House to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, the orchid varieties she left them comprise one of the largest collections in the Southeast.

The Space Walk of Fame

By Linda Tancs

The Space Walk of Fame Museum in Titusville, Florida, pays tribute to the U.S. space program, honoring the men and women who made the space program possible and the astronauts who flew the missions. The Space View Walk monument area features actual hand prints of the Mercury astronauts as well as edifices dedicated to Apollo, Gemini and shuttle missions and to those who died in the line of duty serving the space program. Inside the museum you’ll find exhibits such as photos, old launch consoles and even Soviet cosmonaut mementos.

Old Florida

By Linda Tancs

The winter estates of inventor Thomas Edison and auto magnate Henry Ford are representative of a bygone era, tropical “old Florida.” Their historic homes are located in Fort Myers at Edison & Ford Winter Estates. Henry Ford purchased his home, The Mangoes, in 1916, providing him the opportunity to vacation with his good friend Thomas Edison. The porch, adjacent to the vintage garage, offers a spectacular riverfront view of the Caloosahatchee River. Edison’s Seminole Lodge contains the oldest structure at the Edison Ford complex, the caretaker’s cottage. Over the years Edison renovated and expanded his getaway to include more family bedroom suites in the main house, a guest house and pool complex. Besides their beautiful homes, the estate features over 20 acres of botanical gardens, nine historic buildings (including Edison’s botanic research laboratory) and the Edison Ford Museum, which contains an impressive collection of inventions, artifacts and special exhibit galleries sure to stir innovation and creativity among its visitors.

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