Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Discovering Old Florida

Discovering Old FloridaBy Erika J. Waters, PhDVintage Travel Guides, 2016 – 335 pagesGenre: GuidebookCollier County Public Library: Yes

Discovering Old FloridaBy Erika J. Waters, PhDVintage Travel Guides, 2016 – 335 pagesGenre: GuidebookCollier County Public Library: Yes


Maggie Gust

The full title of this little gem is “Discovering Old Florida: A Guide to Vintage South and Central Florida.” It is 7 inches in width and 5 inches in height, which makes it very easy to handle, and “tuckable” in that it will slip into your glove compartment or your day bag very nicely. It would also make a thoughtful addition to the nightstand in your guest room – your visitors will appreciate it.

For much of the rest of the country, Florida is the land of the weird and they still laugh and point at us for the 2000 US presidential election, but we know that 95% of our weirdness is wonderful. The people who settled early Florida, and even those who came 50 or 60 years ago while it was still mostly undeveloped here, were pioneer stock. Ms. Waters’ book is your passport to the places those intrepid early Floridians left behind.

Although the book covers Central Florida on down, let’s start here at home on Marco – did you know that Café de Marco, in business for over three decades, used to be the living quarters for the chambermaids of the Old Marco Inn? That inn was built by Captain Bill Collier in 1883 and boasted a two-story outhouse. His “ad” was “A dollar a day and bring your own meat.” Today Old Marco Island Inn and Suites occupies the site at 100 Palm Street. Go to oldemarcoinnandsuites.com for more about the history of the site.

Venturing out from home, I am intrigued by the city jail of Anna Maria City. Its walls are covered in graffiti, but it has no roof, no doors, and per the graffiti, “No guests for yrs and yrs.” If you’re traveling with kids, know that the Anna Maria Jail Museum not only gives walking tours but there are scavenger hunts for the children (free). This guide also gives you the lowdown on the local restaurants, two of which are located at the end of piers. One of them has two stories and there is optional inside or outside dining.

News to me was The Barefoot Mailman statue in Hillsboro Inlet. Ed Hamilton was the mailman who took over the route in 1887 and disappeared while on duty, inspiring the statue. “For settlements north of Miami, from 1885-1892, mail was picked up weekly in Palm Beach, sailed to Lake Worth and then carried by mailmen who trudged along the beach for a total of 68 miles. Legend has it that the mailmen, often rugged individualists who relished adventure and independence, would take off their shoes and whatever other clothing got in their way – sometimes even walking naked – as they hiked through the sand on hot days.” Many of the towns are introduced with these interesting snippets of local lore.

The book is categorized into 12 main chapters with cities grouped under such titles as “Where Ancient Meets Modern” covering St. Petersburg to Lutz, and “Wilderness and Wealth” which includes our Naples-Marco area. The table of contents also includes the symbol key for “Cash Only, Pet Friendly, National Register of Historic Place, Handicapped Accessible.” Besides the alphabetized-by-city-name index there is also a bibliography at the back of the book for quick reference, which includes web addresses for other vintage traveling sites. Have a day off and want to go on a day trip? Heading to Orlando and you need restaurants where Marley is welcomed? Want to give the newlyweds in your family a special Easter vacation at a quaint cottage? Check out the index for the city of your choice and flip to those pages – the restaurants and cafes are listed at the end of each city/region covered. Most of the entries list website and/or physical address and telephone number. There are many vintage photos and postcards in black and white throughout the book.

Even if you do not travel at all, this little book is fun to read. The author tells a good story in addition to organizing a huge amount of information efficiently. She has obviously done extensive research on her subject. No matter what your interests – haunted places, Art Deco architecture, antique shops, dive bars, nudist camps, botanical gardens, hot springs, architectural digs, caves, drive-ins, fishing hotspots, sponge diving, the space program – chances are it is in this book.

My rating is 4.5. The size and functionality of the book itself is just about perfect, organization is top notch with a short description of each town/city, followed by Museums, Historic Church and Cemetery, Lodging and Restaurants, whichever apply. As with any guidebook, by the time it is printed, some of the information may have changed. If you are interested in visiting any of these locales, please be sure to use the contact information provided before you go to avoid unpleasant surprises. The book is available at the local library and if you decide to get your own copy, check out Amazon and the vintagetraveling.com website for vendors.

Maggie Gust has been an avid reader all her life. Her past includes working as a teacher, as well as various occupations in the healthcare field. She shares a hometown, Springfield, Illinois, with Abraham Lincoln, but Florida has been her home since 1993. Genealogy, reading, movies and writing are among her favorite activities. She is self-employed and works from her Naples home.  Contact her at winetaster13@gmail.com or maggiesbookinblog.com.

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