August, 2011


August, 2011


Port St. Joe - Florida Scallop & Music Festival

On August 5-7, don’t miss the Florida Scallop & Music Festival along St. Joseph Bay in Port St. Joe. Parking is free or you can pull your boat up close to the beach to hear the music.

Scallops are the center of this celebration, with food vendors serving these tasty mollusks almost any way desired--or you can take home some frozen scallops for later. Relax at George Core Park-- around the pond and under the shade.

Friday afternoon kicks off with local businesses and all-day merchant sidewalk sale where local artists and vendors showcase their best work. That night is the festival’s kick-off party at the Thirsty Goat Lounge.

The live music schedule is: On Saturday, August 6 from 9-10:30 p.m., Atlanta Rhythm Section headlines with Champagne Jam, Spooky, and So Into You. The Kevin Jacobs Band performs from 6-8 p.m; and Bo Spring Band from 4-5:30 p.m. On Sunday, August 7, listen to Brian Bowen from 1-2:30 p.m. and The Curry Brothers from 2:30- 4 p.m.

On Saturday, a Scallop Festival 5K Run starts at  8 a.m. on the newly paved Port City Trail system. At the same time, the Classic Car and Boat Show will start lining up at Captain Fred’s Place. Judging begins at 1 p.m. with the winners announced at 3 p.m.  The car show site is about a block from beautiful St. Joe Bay.  The new air conditioned Tourist Development Building is adjacent with restrooms available.

Both days there will be a Kid’s Zone complete with bounce house and slide.  Kids are sure to be entertained with the educational marine exhibits and petting zoo. There will also be pony rides, mechanical bull riding, and fun arts and crafts activities. Go to  www.scallopfest.net or call the chamber at 850-227-1223 for more information.

Florida Caverns State Park – Marianna

Traveling around our state is commonly done by air or highway. Rarely does anyone go underground in the state of Florida. But that can be done at the Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna. Located just off I-10 about one hour west of Tallahassee, this park presents a geographical experience unknown to Florida flatlanders.

This is one of the few state parks with dry caves and the only one in Florida to offer cave tours to the public. This natural phenomenon is explained by the sea levels falling millions of years ago, hardening underwater materials into limestone. Over time acidic groundwater dissolved crevices just below the surface, creating cave passages large enough to walk through. Dazzling stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone and other fragile cave-drip formations were created by a similar dissolving process due to naturally acidic rainwater.

This park's geography of bluffs, springs and caves are referred to as karst terrain.  The underground habitat provides for the blind cave crayfish, cave salamanders and three species of cave roosting bats.

Guided tours through the caves lasts for about 45 minutes and takes you along a moderately strenuous path over a third of a mile long.  There you can view a number of beautiful formations as your tour guide explains them.

During the Depression, this 1300-acre park was completed by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Projects Administration (WPA) and officially opened to the public in 1942. A walk around reveals a 9-hole golf course, a Visitor Center, and remnants of the Marianna Federal Fish Hatchery.

Interpretative brochures at the front office and signage on the trails lead to wild flower walks, bird walks and caves. Rangers provide reptile programs, guided cave tours, and guided nature walks.

The special topography of the park is characteristic of the Marianna Lowlands featuring sinkholes, deep and beautiful blue springs, cliffs, bluffs, and outcroppings.

Amenities in the park include 6 miles of multi-use trails for horseback, bicycles or walking, that give an overview of some of Florida’s most unusual natural architecture.

The park also has two nature trails for foot traffic only that allow closer exploration of the beautiful rocky bluffs that tower above the river floodplain. The terrain is steep in places and considered mildly strenuous. Because the bluffs are such a unique environment, many species of plants seen here are not found elsewhere in Florida.
A boat ramp is located between the park entrance and the family camping area with the recommendation of small boats only. Signage on the scenic Chipola River says experience "The Real Florida.” However, while it may be real, it is certainly not typical of Florida. A unique river sink is located here, due to the natural tunneling of the limestone. The Chipola suddenly dives 90 feet below ground, and then rushes back to the surface 1/4 mile downstream.

In a more tranquil setting there are 38 campsites with electric and water hookups available for RV and tent camping—32 of these sites offer sewer hook-ups as well. Six picnic areas offer tables and grills--available on a first-come, first-served basis. Five pavilions may be reserved in advance for special events. There is a playground with state-of-the-art equipment, and benches for sitting.

For swimmers, the Blue Hole Spring rises near the campground, creating 35-foot deep, natural swimming area. However, scuba diving is not permitted, and you swim at your own risk since there are no lifeguards on duty.

Guided tours of the cave are offered every Thursday through Monday, except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Tours leave from the Visitor Center, which opens at 9 a.m. each day. Reservations are available for groups of 25 or more. Group reservations must be made at least two weeks in advance and are conducted on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays only.

Tour fees (plus tax) are:  0-2 years of age-free, age 3-12 is $5, 13 + is $8. The last cave tour leaves at 4:30 p. m. Call 850-573-0390 for group reservations. Call 850-482-9599 for general tour information or go to www.floridastateparks.org/floridacaverns.


St. Augustine -Alligator Farm


The city of St. Augustine is one of Florida’s main tourist attractions, and for good reason. The historical significance brings thousands of people to visit sites that have meaning not only to the founding of our state, but the nation as a whole.

However, if anyone suggests that St. Augustine is important for its alligators they usually get a quizzical look that challenges their logic. But it’s true. While alligators are everywhere in Florida, they’ve played a more important role in St. Augustine than any other city.

It started in 1893 with the establishment of an alligator farm that offered the perceived lurid attraction of these dangerously huge, frightening, reptiles that helped to fashion a perverse (in some opinions) image for the state. In fact the St Augustine Alligator Farm is vital enough to be listed on the National Register of Historical places.

Early in the last century the farm became an established attraction not only for tourists, but also for scientific study. The research at the Alligator Farm resulted in large measure from the fact that it contained the three oldest collections of the species in existence.

Over the years the farm attracted enough attention to get mention in popular magazines of the day as well as scientific journals. In the early days of television it was the subject of several shows and documentaries filmed by some of the best-known Hollywood studios.

The attention, which the Alligator Farm focused on the crocodilian creatures, contributed to public awareness of their plight in the 1960s and 1970s, when the species was nearly hunted to extinction.

As time went on the attraction changed hands and advanced to more than an alligator farm. Acquisitions were made from other Florida zoos that included ostriches, crocodiles, Galapagos tortoises, and a variety of monkeys, birds, and examples exclusive to Florida wildlife. A museum was also established that contained a number of mounted marine and terrestrial specimens.

Currently animals of specific interest include Komodo dragons, a fifteen-foot, 1250-pound saltwater crocodile from Australia named Maximo, and albino alligators from the bayous of Louisiana that carry a legend of good fortune for anyone who gazes upon them.

Along with the four-legged reptiles there is an impressive array of exotics such as snakes, skinks, red-ruffed lemurs and cotton-top tamarins. Included in the exhibit of birds is the imposing southern cassowary.  The cassowary is the world’s most dangerous bird. You didn’t know birds were dangerous? Well, if they’re big and mean enough, they are.

The southern cassowary is second in size to the ostrich, reaching as much 190 pounds and over six feet tall. They’re flightless and freakish in their black bodies with bright blue faces and necks and a double waddle hanging from their throat. But don’t make fun of them or do anything else that ticks them off, because they have sharp blade-like claws several inches long that have been known to slash humans and large animals to bits.

On a more appealing note, in the late 1970s, a nature trail was introduced to complement the wildlife displays.  At the same time, the quality of exhibits offered to visitors continued to improve as the collection grew and the presentations acquired greater polish. A roofed theater and an open amphitheater were constructed for formal exhibitions of snakes and alligators that included lectures on the reptiles’ habits and behavior. The cooperation of the Florida Audubon Society was obtained in the improvement and expansion of the rookery that is home to unconfined herons, ibis and egrets.

In 1989, The American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums extended accreditation to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, thereby elevating the institution to a select list of facilities throughout the nation recognized for the quality of their collections.

In 1993 the park was expanded to include "Land of Crocodiles." Here, all 23 known species of the world’s Crocs are exhibited in individual habitats.    

And, in 2001 the Anastasia Island Conservation Center was opened. It’s used for various social functions as well as home to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Crocodilian Biology and Captive Management School.

It seems that the most strange and dangerous of nature’s offerings have always had the ultimate fascination. It’s a quirk of man’s character—and useless to analyze. However, the antidote awaits you at St. Augustine’s Alligator Farm.

It’s also nice to know that a small, privately owned, specialized zoo can be successful. The Alligator Farm is located at 999 Anastasia Blvd. in St. Augustine. It’s open everyday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.—with extended summer hours from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fees: Adults-$21.95, and for children age 3-11 it’s $10.95. Call 904-824-3337 or go to www.AlligatorFarm.com.

Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Museum - St. Augustine

There’s more than one Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Museum, but the one in St. Augustine is especially intriguing because the building itself holds secrets and mysteries nearly equal to the contents.

It was unusual from the beginning because poured concrete construction was not common in the 1880’s, and the architecture resembled a fortress. It was intended to be a “concrete castle” for owner William G. Warden, a partner in Standard Oil. Later it became a classy hotel, named the Castle Warden Inn, owned by Pulitzer Prize winning author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (“The Yearling”) and her hotelier husband Norton Baskin.

And what about the talented Mr. Ripley? He was a frequent visitor to St. Augustine and stayed in the hotel often, but the museum was not created until a year after he died—though he certainly would have approved the housing of his bizarre discoveries in a place with such a unique and mystifying past.

Since the museum’s creation in 1950, staff members have chronicled strange and sometimes scary events.  They’ve reported doors slamming and footsteps when there is no one there. A television set on display turns itself on—sometimes when it’s not even plugged in. Further, they’ve heard sobs and apparitions peering from upper floor windows long after the museum is closed and secured.

Could it be ghostly forms that cannot be separated from their abnormal remains in the building, or maybe it’s the result of that horrible 1944 fire.

It seems that Marjorie Rawlings had allowed a friend named Ruth Hopkins Pickering to sequester herself in the fourth floor penthouse, out of the sight of her abusive spouse. A fire broke out in which Pickering and another woman died. It’s long been speculated that it was no accident—a double murder and a fire to cover it up. The second woman appeared unrelated, but maybe she just got in the way. Who knows?

During the Ripley’s Ghost Train Adventure (one of three sights visited on a 90-minute trolley tour) the final 30-minutes will investigate three rooms on three different floors of the museum after hours--when all the exhibits are darkened and the ghosts come out. You’ll hear other theories and stories concerning the tragedy at the Castle Warden and the sightings of both women still gazing out the windows.

Diverse collections paralleling the newspaper series include real shrunken human heads, an elaborate pirate display, and the Peel Car; the world’s smallest production vehicle. The world’s largest operational erector-set Ferris wheel is extraordinary, and having your picture taken with The Lizard Man is creepy.  Some of the more gross exhibits include real shrunken human heads, rosaries made of human bone, and a drum kit featuring two human skulls fused together with the membrane made of human skin. There are over 800 other unique exhibits and artifacts that will entertain every member of the family.

Along with the oddities collected world wide, Ripley himself is a fascinating study. Born LeRoy Ripley in 1890 in Santa Rosa, California, he was a prodigy athlete as well as an artist. He pitched semi-pro baseball at age 13, and at the same time illustrated the posters advertising the games.

By age 15, Ripley had worked at both the San Francisco Bulletin and San Francisco Chronicle.  In 1913, he was drawing sports cartoons for the New York Globe and had changed his name to Robert. Once on a slow sports day he decided to draw up nine unusual sports events in small sketches. The cartoon was originally titled, “Champs and Chumps,” but after deliberation he changed it to “Believe It or Not!”

It marked a new entity that became immediately popular and Ripley never looked back. At a time when few people traveled out of their own neighborhood, Ripley journeyed the globe looking for weird things to report that his readers could never have dreamed of. His favorite destination was China after which he imitated the oriental language by signing his cartoons as Rip Li.

Ripley was known as being extremely eccentric, although conversely very shy. He dressed in flamboyant color combinations; often wearing bat-wing ties with coolie shirts, and Eskimo parkas. He kept a 28-foot boa constrictor as a pet and while he drew, he permitted squirrels and chipmunks to scamper around him—although obviously not within range of the boa. He thought smoking and playing cards were evil, but he drank heavily. He loved the ocean and purchased a Chinese Junk for sailing, but couldn’t swim a stroke.

It is claimed that Robert Ripley was one of the most famous people in the world during the first half of the twentieth century, and his fame has not receded much. Ripley’s legacy is kept alive in museums, and the Believe It or Not! cartoon appears in 17 languages, disbursed to 200 newspapers in 42 countries.

If you can call death fitting, Ripley didn’t let his fans down. Believe it or not, he died of a heart attack at age 58 while taping an episode for his television series that dealt with death and death rituals.

At the museum you can learn more about Ripley and his life-long passion with the freaks of nature and the oddities of man’s creation—every facet mesmerizing.

For more information on Ripley’s Ghost Train Adventure, go to www.ghosttrainadventure.com. Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum is located at 19 San Marco Avenue in St. Augustine. It’s open Mon., Wed., and Fri. from 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; on Tue. from 9 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; and weekends from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Go to www.ripleys.com/staugustine or call 904-824-1606.


Lake Placid - Caladium Festival

Caladiums create a startling splash of color at the Caladium Festival in Lake Placid on August 26-27. Over 100 arts and crafts vendors add to the fun.  There will be plants and bulbs for sale, food and refreshments and entertainment.

Lake Placid and surrounding Highlands County is blessed with natural beauty and rich soil. Caladiums were first grown here in the 1940s and today consist of over 1200 acres, owned and managed by 14 families-- several with the third generation in the business. Caladiums are popular due to the bright color of the leaves. Simple growing requirements make this shade-loving plant from the Amazon rain forest ideal for carefree gardening. It has no pests and is environmentally friendly, requiring neither insecticide nor fertilization.

Caladiums are grown in large fields often compared to the tulip fields in Holland. The drive by the fields is worth the trip just to see the patchwork of color of over 40 varieties of red, white, and pink caladiums.

Simultaneously with the Caladium festival, their Annual Car Show will take place on Saturday, August 27. This event draws vintage and special cars, trucks, motorcycles and antique tractors.

Lake Placid’s 27 pristine freshwater lakes provide a popular destination for fishing, boating, swimming & water sports. But Lake Placid is also home to many award-winning murals. Be sure to take the walking tour of the 42 historical murals. A short video can be viewed at the Chamber where you can get a map/booklet of the mural tour.

Call 863-465-4331 or go to www.visitlakeplacidflorida.com for more information.


Orange County Regional Historical Center 

An affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, the Orange County Regional History Center is one of the largest history museums in Florida. The two-acre center is home to:  The neo-classical 1927 five-story courthouse, history museum with long-term and changing exhibitions, Joseph L. Brechner Research Center and Library, Historical Society of Central Florida archives, Emporium Gift Store, and Heritage Square park.  The History Center is accredited by the American Association of Museums, the highest honor a museum can receive.

The Historical Museum began in 1942 in the 1892 red brick Orange County Courthouse downtown as a pioneer kitchen exhibit for the Central Florida Centennial Celebration. The collection grew and was moved several times. In 2000, the Historical Museum moved again, back to its original location downtown, into a renovated 1927 Courthouse as the Orange County Regional History Center, and the Orange County Historical Society became the Historical Society of Central Florida, Inc., operating the History Center in partnership with the Orange County Board of County Commissioners.

The Orange County Regional History Center presents the most compelling stories from 12,000 years of Florida history with a Central Florida connection, all in an interactive environment perfect for visitors of every age.

Visitors enter through a limestone cave into the Natural Environment exhibit that features native flora, fauna, and rock formations; First People looks at when the first humans arrived and how Native Americans lived in the days before European contact – of particular note is the display on the Windover Pond site discovered in the 1980s, a treasure trove of artifacts showing how post-Ice Age people lived; First Contact then helps visitors imagine the Indians’ reaction and the changes to their lives after the arrival of the Spanish in the early 1500s, and also the French and English – by 1650 most native tribes had been decimated by war and European diseases; a recreated early 19th-century Seminole Settlement provides a better understanding of Florida's most famous Indians and explains why the Seminoles weren’t really a tribe; and a reproduction of a Florida Pioneer cabin lets curious guests feel a Spanish moss-filled mattress, learn what folks did for fun in the 1870s, and explore the much-discussed origin of the term "Florida Cracker." 

Additional permanent exhibits include Cattle and Citrus, Central Florida's first major economic enterprises – at one time Florida had more cattle than Texas and many innovations that changed the citrus industry began in Florida; the 1927 Courtroom B features the original cork floor, angled jury box, judge’s bench, mural painted during the Great Depression, scratches on the benches from handcuffed prisoners, and a defendant’s table with convicted serial killer Ted Bundy’s name carved into the wood – though the origin of the name can’t be verified; the Transportation exhibit shows how the railroad and roadway systems coincided with boom periods in Central Florida’s growth; Destination Florida: Tourism Before Disney explores the “Golden Age of Tourism” nearly a century before Disney; Sacrifice and Prosperity shows how war shaped the area; Aviation with its replica B-17 looks at how Florida’s flat terrain and year-round good weather brought military bases and airports – and consequently industry; The Day We Changed shows the impact of Walt Disney World; the newly renovated African American Community exhibit looks unblinkingly at race relations with both Indians and African Americans – slavery and segregation (an old welfare department sign points to "white and colored" waiting rooms) and finally emancipation; and “The Road to Modern Orlando” timeline shows the area’s remarkable growth through population figures, photos, and maps. 

Current limited-run exhibits: July 2-September 25, 2011, Games People Play: The Evolution of Video Games, an Orange County Regional History Center 10th Anniversary Exhibit, shows the evolution of electronic games, from the development of the first computer games and rise and fall of the arcade, to the advanced game consoles of today;  January 21-March 18, 2012, Beyond Baseball: The Life of Roberto Clemente, from the Smithsonian Institution, is a bilingual tribute to Roberto Clemente Walker (1934-1972), who played baseball with the Pittsburgh Pirates for 18 years and remains a legendary figure in sports, in philanthropy, and in the hearts of millions of Puerto Ricans and Americans. The exhibition was developed by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, the Smithsonian Latino Center, the Clemente family, and the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico. Special exhibition prices apply.

The History Center, located at 65 E. Central Blvd. in Orlando, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. General admission is $9*, seniors (60+), students and military with I.D. $7, and children ages 5-12 $6. Historical Society Members and children ages 4 and under are free.  *Special admission prices may apply for limited-run exhibitions. Parking is available at the adjacent Orlando Public Library garage on Central Blvd.  A self-guided Audio Tour of the museum’s permanent exhibits is available free of charge with admission into the museum.  Call 407-836-8500 or 800-965-2030 or go to www.thehistorycenter.org.

The August Stomp-Clermont

It’s harvest season and at Lakeridge Winery and Vineyards located in the rolling hills of Clermont...that means it’s time to stomp grapes. Who knows…you may get lucky win a prize for your efforts. This event is held Saturday, August 20 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, August 21 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Your $2 entrance donation will benefit the Lake and Sumter Boys and Girls Clubs and you can listen to continuous live music. Lakeridge wine, beer, soft drinks and a variety of food is available for purchase, along with complimentary winery tours and tastings.

Their tours are normally offered seven days a week, Monday - Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; and Sunday - 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. Every 15-20 minutes they begin in the upstairs theater to view a 12-minute video on the growing of the Florida grapes to the wine-making process and the finishing with the bottling and labeling. Along the catwalk you can view the production area, and from the balcony is a spectacular view of the vineyards.

The wine tasting features six to seven varieties of award-winning wines, ranging from dry to sweet and sparkling are offered. The winery tour and wine tasting lasts approximately 45-50 minutes. Afterwards, browse the large retail area whose gift shop features all the Lakeridge Wines, gourmet foods such as fine olive oils, a variety of salad dressings, assorted cheeses, crackers, gourmet mustards, salsas and hot sauces. There are enough gift items and wine accessories to satisfy any home wine enthusiast.

Phone 800-768-WINE (9463); call locally 352- 394-8627; or go to www.lakeridgewinery.com for more information.


Osprey - Historic Spanish Point

Historic Spanish Point is a 30-acre archaeological, historical and environmental museum located on Little Sarasota Bay in Osprey. This complex museum with many layers and facets chronicles the evolution of Florida inhabitants from prehistoric times to the early 20th century founders who settled our state.

 “A Window to the Past," an exhibition built inside a prehistoric shell mound called a midden, uniquely showcases an archaeological excavation behind glass walls and a multimedia presentation to educate visitors. Midden is the word used by archaeologists to describe any feature containing waste products relating to day-to-day human life. The objects found, representing hundreds of generations, layered one atop another teach people of today about the prehistoric people who created them. 

The habitation of this premier archaeological site dates back 5,000 years, covering several archeological periods. At a time when most tribes were nomadic, searching for food, the Archaic Period shell ring midden indicates a permanent community. One might conclude that ancient people, like the present population, decided that the Florida peninsula was a pretty good place to stay and live. But, for some unexplained reason, archaeologists say that prehistoric people disappeared from this site about a thousand years ago.  There is no evidence of European contact, indicating that the site was abandoned until the Webb family arrived in 1867.

John Greene Webb and his family were from Utica, New York. A Spanish trader they met in Key West told them of this elevated point of land on the bay. When they found the special piece of wilderness, it was to their liking and they settled. It was the Webbs who named their homestead Spanish Point to honor the good advice of the trader.

John Webb and his family planted citrus, sugar cane, and vegetables, then erected a packinghouse to prepare produce for market. They also encouraged winter boarders who found the climate and activities along the water as pleasant as we do today. Thus the first tourist resort in the area was established. Homestead era buildings including the restored 1901 Guptill House, the tourist resort boarding house called White Cottage, and the reconstructed Mary’s Chapel, are points of interest on the museum grounds.

In 1910, the Webb family sold parcels of the homestead to Mrs. Potter Palmer who made her first impact on Sarasota history and on the Spanish Point homestead that year. The Chicago socialite and widow of Potter Palmer came to Sarasota to establish a winter estate.  Her late husband whose dry goods business later became Marshall Field and Company was responsible for much of the development of Chicago’s State Street and Lake Shore Drive. In the Windy City he is probably best remembered for the elegant Palmer House Hotel.

She was far ahead of her time. This was a woman who dined with royalty, socialized with captains of industry, enjoyed close connections to the White House, and had a good head for business. She raised children, enjoyed her grandchildren, and chaired the Board of Lady Managers for Chicago's World's Columbian Exposition.

Mrs. Palmer purchased thousands of acres for cattle ranching, citrus groves, and real estate development. The Webb homestead was part of the land she chose for her 350-acre estate which she named "Osprey Point." She preserved the pioneer buildings and connected them with lavish formal gardens and lawns like the elegant Duchene Lawn and the stunning Pergola & Sunken Garden.

Mrs. Palmer died in 1918 while visiting her winter estate. The Palmer family maintained Osprey Point and in 1959, her grandson Gordon Palmer sponsored the three-year excavation of the archaeological site, which now encompasses the museum at Historic Spanish Point. With the encouragement of family members, Spanish Point, in 1976, became the first site in Sarasota County to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Historic Spanish Point actively preserves and interprets the Florida native environment and natural ecosystems. Examples of over 50 percent of the tree species native to the region can be found on the property. Some of this variety can be attributed to the changes in elevation created by the prehistoric shell middens. 

Wildlife is attracted to the site, and many species of birds and insects can be viewed throughout the museum’s 30-acres. The creation in 2004 of a butterfly garden added a contemporary garden to the historic site--one of the largest and most beautiful on the gulf coast. Florida’s majestic osprey perch atop tall trees, pileated woodpeckers are seen and heard year round and monarch butterflies stop by for a snack on their way to winter in Mexico.

Experience the 5,000 year-old heritage at Historic Spanish Point—it’s a living drama of Florida’s ascent from prehistoric to polished,—a benefit to all. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $10-adults; $9-seniors 65+; $5-kids 5-12; free for kids under 5. Call 941-966-5214 or go to www.historicspanishpoint.org.

Burroughs Home & Gardens - Fort Myers

Fort Myers is accordingly recognized as home base for some of our most celebrated figures of the past.  The names of Ford, Edison and Firestone flow like poetry permanently joined to the city—their fame certified by contributions to industry.  But, another man, and a friend of the famous trio, is often left out of the mix. Although his input may not have been as visionary as the other three, he certainly made his mark on Fort Myers.

While the estates of Ford and Edison are viewed in awe by thousands of tourists every year, from an architectural stand point, they hardly compare to the elegant former abode of Nelson T. Burroughs.

Before coming to Fort Myers, Burroughs, a wealthy businessman, had already left his mark as a banker on his obscure birthplace of Cherokee, Iowa, and the almost as murky town of Greenville, Mississippi as president of a large wholesale grocery business. However, dealing extensively in Chicago real estate, seemed to be his main interest—that is, until he arrived in Fort Myers where the “City of Palms” begged him to make it his home.

Mona, the youngest daughter and last resident, despite her reputation as a vagabond, was forever bonded to the home overlooking the Caloosahatchee River.

When Mona died in 1978, she willed the home to the City--stipulating that it be used as a park, library, or museum. For a while the house fell into disrepair and some say that it was Mona’s ghostly image waltzing across the verandah (expanded at her wish to the size of a dance floor) that convinced the city to restore the house to its rightful stature.  The outcome was a listing in1984 on the National Register of Historic Places, and as a local historic landmark in 1994.

Oddly, a man named Murphy, who was a cattleman from Montana, in 1901, built the house bearing the Burroughs title. Burroughs didn’t purchase the property until 1918.

Perhaps it was the primitive conditions living among the bovines on the harsh Montana prairie that persuaded Murphy to assemble the antithesis with all the amenities known to the architectural craft at the time.

Murphy hired an architect to design the 2-½ story, 6,000 square-foot home in turn-of-the-century Georgian Colonial Revival style. Murphy selected embellishments such as Palladian, bay and stained glass windows, dentils, brackets, balustrades, a widow’s walk and a sweeping veranda.

Inside are eleven-foot ceilings, pine floors, quarter-sawn oak fireplaces and a winding grand staircase. Extraordinary for its time was indoor plumbing and electricity. Electric bells and an early version of an intercom were used to summon servants.

The second floor has four bedrooms, two with fireplaces, and a study with a Palladian window, two full baths, and large landing. The third floor was used as servants’ quarters.

Upon completion, the house was recognized as one of the jewels of First Street--then known as Millionaire’s Row. When the Burroughs family moved in, the house also became known for the social events showcased by the occupants. Guests were the elite of Fort Myers. They attended garden parties and lavish dinners, and danced on the concrete tennis courts--all the while admiring the lush gardens and artesian-fed freestanding grotto that was a first in the city.

The Burroughs had two sons, one of whom died earlier, and two daughters. It was daughters Jettie and Mona who became fixtures of the house. It is said that Jettie, the spinster, was the reliable one who took care of family affairs, while the thrice married, unaccountable and carefree Mona gallivanted across the globe. It is ironic then that in the end it was Mona who made sure that the house was preserved for all to look upon as an important artifact of a gilded age.

The house today is alive and sparkling under the management of the Uncommon Friends Foundation. The title comes from the writings of James Newton who dubbed the likes of Edison, Ford, Firestone, Charles Lindbergh, and others as visionaries who were his “Uncommon Friends.”  The Foundation safeguards the James Newton Archives and the remaining Burroughs Family furnishings and artwork that remain in the house.  Additionally the grounds are offered as a perfect waterfront setting for weddings, receptions and private parties.

Currently, on each Friday morning at 11a.m., foundation docents dressed in period costumes as Mona and Jettie conduct tours of the home and gardens. You can walk among live oaks on the lush grounds, and relax on the verandah as you watch the river roll by. As well as displaying the house, “Mona and Jettie” share the history and colorful tales of growing up as the privileged daughters of one of Fort Myers’ wealthiest families. They may even point out antics of the ghostly Mona playing (as in life) the practical jokes that some swear continue to occur.  Regardless, you will find the stories spellbinding and the home and gardens are definitely uncommon.

Tours are $10; with lunch included, the cost is $20. Go to www.burroughshome.com or call 239-337-0706 or email



Fort Lauderdale

 The Museum of Discovery and Science

The Museum of Discovery and Science and AutoNation IMAX is located in the Arts & Science District, across from Riverwalk's Esplanade Park and the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Here you can spend a day of discovery exploring over 200 fascinating interactive exhibits at the Museum of Discovery and Science: See sharks and the largest living Atlantic coral reef in captivity, hang out with bats, be charmed by a 12-foot snake, plus pet alligators, turtles and iguanas. Test your pilot skills in nine cockpit simulators and learn about Florida's amazing Everglades in the Living in the Everglades exhibit. Discover our place in aerospace at Runways to Rockets, and take a simulated trip to the Moon or Mars. Make it a play date at the Discovery Center, designed especially for children under seven.

Other permanent exhibits are: POWERFUL YOU! which showcases the amazing miracle of the human body; GO GREEN shows where your waste goes after the garbage truck takes it away; At MINERALS ROCK EXHIBIT learn that minerals are the building block of the entire Universe. The iron in hematite, in spinach and in the hemoglobin in our blood is all the same.   At the GREAT GRAVITY CLOCK  you can set your watch by the biggest kinetic energy sculpture in Florida, or discover Florida's unique ecosystems in the bi-level ecology exhibit of FLORIDA ECOSCAPES. ANIMATION will be on display through September 5 and you can explore animation from concept to finished product.

Your day’s not complete without experiencing an IMAX 3D film adventure on the five-story-high screen at AutoNation IMAX Theater, home of the BIGGEST screen in South Florida. It’s an 80 ft. x 60 ft. screen with 15,000 watts of digital surround sound broadcast from 42 speakers. The 300 steeply-sloped cinema seats bring the audience closer to the screen, so that the size of the image dominates your peripheral vision. The result is a "virtual reality"-like experience which immerses the audience in the film. 3D films are viewed using electronic liquid crystal headsets. The IMAX™ experience is truly an unparalleled fusion of sight and sound.

And before you leave, lots of educational and intriguing games, toys and books and other unique gifts can be found at their Explore Store.

Ticket prices are broken down for exhibits only or IMAX only, but the best value for non-members (except for special engagement films)a ticket which includes both: $16-adults, $15 seniors, $12- children age 2-12, free for those under two. Hours are Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p. m. and Sunday from noon–6 p.m. For  more info call 954-467-6637, or visit  http://www.mods.org.

  Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

Travel to old mansions has become popular, especially for those enamored by a bygone age. It’s partly because they’re a peek into another era that no longer exists—a time when monstrously extravagant estates were not only affordable, but fashionable.  The stronger fascination, however, seems to be the spying, from a relinquished perch, into the lives of those who resided in a way that almost no one can imagine today. It’s a bit like voyeurism—viewing the intimacies of other people’s existence from a safe station--and the more royal their status the more enthralling. It’s a characteristic possessed by many who are drawn to these places, unaware and uncaring of the more significant history lesson.

Vizcaya, situated on Biscayne Bay is one such attraction. And, in the city of Miami where there are numerous mansions from yesteryear, this is a standout.

James Deering, a vice president of International Harvester Company, built Vizcaya (a Spanish word meaning elevated place) during the second decade of the last century. It was a confluence of epochs—a time when the manufacturing of farm implements benefited from both the agricultural and industrial ages, producing a huge world market.

At a time when Miami’s population was about 10,000 there were more than 1000 laborers on the Vizcaya project alone—many craftsmen recruited from the Caribbean and Europe. In addition to the house and gardens, the complex included a farm, livestock and other service facilities that covered 180 acres.

As was the vogue with those who possessed the wherewithall, Deering looked to Europe for inspiration. Deering hired a young New York artist by the name of Paul Chalfin to oversee the entire project. It seemed an odd choice rather than one of the prominent architects of the time, but perhaps it was the artist’s free time that gave him preference. Together they scoured Europe for extended periods evaluating architectural concepts and making outright purchases of components such as doors, mantels, and entire ceilings to be incorporated into the flamboyant obsession.

The building architect, F. Burrall Hoffman was instructed to have the house materialize as an Italian estate that had stood for 400 years and renovated through the generations. The finished creation had 34 decorated rooms with antique furnishings and artifacts, and although it appears to be two stories there is a peculiar integration of 12 additional rooms for servants on an intervening level between the main public rooms and the bedrooms.  Those rooms are not open for inspection, but hopefully soon will be.

Construction on the bayfront before the perfection of air conditioning made it desirable for the free flow of ocean breezes through the house, funneled from the open courtyard. The humid salt-permeated air was bound to take its toll, though it’s doubtful that Deering witnessed much of the effect in the remaining nine years of his life.

Deering took up residence for winters only, beginning Christmas of 1916. It was a time too, when life expectancies were not as long, and men at their pinnacle with the ability to build such estates often did not live long to enjoy them. But perhaps his demise a year before the hurricane of 1926 was preferable to seeing the damage inflicted on his beloved house and grounds.

Deerings’ heirs contacted Paul Chalfin, the original designer, to oversee the restoration, which was not completed until 1934. As well as the house repair, the acres of gardens, which initially required the combined vision of Chalfin and landscape architect Diego Suarez seven years to perfect, also needed refurbishment. The Renaissance Italian and French design that was created to resemble a vast outdoor room with an island pool, fountains and statuary was like the house—ransacked by the winds.

The restoration complete, the heirs operated the estate for a while as an attraction, but when another hurricane hit only a year later they were overwhelmed. In the ensuing years most of the acreage was sold off for development. In 1952 they conveyed the house and gardens to then-Dade County, and in 1955 the county exercised an option to acquire the remainder. Today the domain covers more than ten acres—a fraction of the original site, but still large by today's standards—especially in the heart of a city like Miami.

Listed as a National Historic Landmark, Vizcaya is open to the public every day except Tuesdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s filled with treasures from around the world that were carefully integrated into the design of the house—an atmosphere that is enhanced by serenades from the 1917 pipe organ every weekday from 4-4:30 pm.

The Deering heirs (nieces) donated the extensive array of furnishings and art to the county with the understanding that the compound would be used as a public museum in perpetuity. The collections that represent 2,000 years of artifacts from North America, Europe and Asia, are now protected by climate and humidity control that necessitated the enclosure of the courtyard in glass—impeding the salt air, but never the view.

In recent decades Vizcaya has been a diplomatic center of Miami-Dade County, hosting dignitaries such as Queen Elizabeth II, Pope John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the King and Queen of Spain. It’s also been the setting for international events including the Summit of the Americas and the signing of the Free Trade Agreement.

Vizcaya is more than a manifestation of one man’s dreams. It is a serene and stunningly beautiful museum of American culture. It is one of those entities that represents more than the sum of its parts. It stands for a period the similarities of which we will probably never see again. It should be preserved for posterity, and to be appreciated must be seen.

Vizcaya is located at 3251 South Miami Avenue in Miami. Admission is $15-adults; $10 for seniors 65+ with ID, students with ID, and visitors using wheelchairs; $6-children age 6-12; and free for children 5 and under. Vizcaya is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. except Tuesdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Call 305-250-9133 or go to www.vizcayamuseum.org.