December, 2011


December, 2011

Holiday on the Harbor - Destin


Travel to Destin  for their lighted boat parade. This twenty-fifth annual Holiday on the Harbor  celebration occurs on Sunday, December 4. In case of bad weather, the event will be held the next weekend, December 11.

In the afternoon, festivities along the harbor will include childrens’ arts and crafts plus live music. Children can share hot chocolate with Santa from 5-6 pm at Harbor Walk Village. Boats start lining up in the Harbor between 5-5:30 pm. The parade can be viewed from docks and restaurants west of Grand Harbor Condominiums on Destin Harbor.

Commercial, charter, and private boats will help light up the Harbor with the Destin spirit. The Lighted Boat Parade and judging starts at 6 pm--upstairs at Harry T’s Restaurant. Afterwards, fireworks in the East Pass will light up the sky.

Within a half hour of leaving Destin shores, fishermen are greeted by water as deep as 60 feet. In fact, 100-foot depths are within 10 miles of shore. There is no other location in the Gulf of Mexico that allows such quick access to water of this depth—thus the title of world’s luckiest fishing village. If you favor emerald green waters and sandy white beaches, don’t forget your fishing pole.

Call 850-837-6611, email kathydestinhistory@gmail.com; or www.destinhistoryandfishingmuseum.org; www.harborwalkdestin.com.

Destin History and Fishing Museum

Locals boast that Destin is "the World's Luckiest Fishing Village. But it's the access to deep water and the fish that run there, that most accounts for Destin's popularity with anglers.  Destin has the largest charter fishing fleet in the state of Florida, and is home to over 140 fishing boats--an indication of how productive and 'lucky' the waters off Destin are.

Destin’s history dates back to the seventh century A.D. Artifacts confirm American Indians lived here, surviving off the abundant seafood. Spanish explorers visited some 900 years later, and divers still find wreckage of old ships.

But Destin traces its immediate history to a fisherman, Leonard Destin, who moved and settled here from New London, Connecticut about 1845. For decades, he and his descendants fished and navigated the only channel passage to the Gulf of Mexico between Panama City and Pensacola, known as Destin’s East Pass.

In that era they fished close to the shore with seine nets from small boats called yawls, operated with oars. The oldest seine fishing boat still in existence is The Primrose, a 1920s-era boat now restored and on display at the Destin History and Fishing Museum. 

If there’s a rainy day when you can’t go fishing, check out this gem of a museum. In its 4,000 square feet of exhibit space you’ll discover the evolution of fishing in the area—from the earliest Indian’s methods, to seine nets, and the introduction of rods and reels. You can see the IGFA World Record Red Snapper and their famous Fish Wall with over 70 fish mounts of locally-caught species. A dry aquarium shark tank has 4 shark mounts.

Educational exhibits detail early Destin life and its founders, while photos and artifacts chronicle the fishing industry and Destin’s Fishing Rodeo.

There’s a collection of 1900s fishing reels, and a unique rod & reel constructed of split bamboo with an original Penn reel that belonged to Ernest Hemingway. There’s memorabilia and brief biographies on area Captains, plus Destin’s founding families’ portraits and histories.

In addition, prehistoric Native American pottery and points are displayed. There are even exhibits of an early Destin homestead and East Pass Bait & Tackle. On an adjacent property you can view the first Post Office of Destin built in 1935.

Destin History and Fishing Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm. Admission: Adult-$5; Seniors & Military-$4; Children-$3; Free for kids under age 6.  Call 850-837-6611 or go to www.destinhistoryandfishingmuseum.org.


Lightner Museum –St. Augustine

In travels around Florida there are many historical sites but only a few are presented as multiple attractions. The Lightner Museum in St. Augustine stands as a monument to two great industrial magnates, expressing the character of each in distinct fashion: It is Henry M. Flagler’s Alcazar Hotel containing Otto C. Lightener’s world-wide collections.

No sooner had the Ponce De Leon Hotel been finished in the spring of 1887, than Henry Flagler began erecting the Alcazar immediately across the street. Flagler realized that the wealthy and often jaded clientele of the Ponce needed more entertainment than admiring the hotel’s opulence and each other.

The Alcazar, although never intended to challenge the magnificence of the Ponce De Leon did provide first-rate lodging. The guest register for the opening season read like society’s Who’s Who. For only a few dollars the rooms were filled with the spillover of upper crust not invited to Flagler’s flagship on the opposing street corner, where suites for the privileged fetched as much as $100 per day.

The Alcazar’s attraction, which lured patrons of the Ponce De Leon--was the casino. No, this added enticement was not a forerunner to Las Vegas.  The only gamble was that a client might suffer a coronary after exercising an unconditioned body too vigorously.

The casino reference was the incorporation of a gargantuan indoor swimming pool, a gymnasium, baths, and behind the hotel, courts for the blooming popularity of tennis.  Nor were the facilities restricted to hotel guests—for twenty-five cents anyone could come in and join the fun. It proved a phenomenal success, making the Alcazar one of the most popular gathering places of St. Augustine.

Immediately Flagler began additions and changes to make the Alcazar “every bit as good as the Ponce de Leon.” It began with the expansion of the café into a large dining room, up-grading the general appearance, and the eventual addition of a fourth floor and forty more rooms to the original seventy-five.

In the meanwhile, guests, after a workout in the gym, enjoyed the Turkish and Russian baths—the former a 180-degree dry heat and the latter a steam room. Flagler brought an expert attendant from Chicago’s Palmer House to administer a believed “cure all” of multiple steam baths culminating with a plunge into cold water.

How many hearts this may have stopped, no one knows for sure, but around the swimming pool there were heart-stopping exhibitions every day as high divers plummeted from the second-floor ballroom balcony into the deep end—quite a stunt considering there was only six and one-half feet of water before contacting the concrete bottom.

It was said at the time, “the people of St. Augustine are proud of the Ponce de Leon, but they love the Alcazar.” However, it all ended, and sooner than anyone expected. After only a few seasons, winter vacationers discovered—due to Flagler’s own railroad—the warmer climate of Miami and Palm Beach.
Following years saw St. Augustine resorts rolling with the punches, but after the 1924 season, neither the Ponce de Leon nor the Alcazar ever turned a profit, and when the 1932 season ended, the Alcazar, as a hotel, closed its doors forever—the Ponce de Leon continued only for sentimental satisfaction.

During WW II the government leased Florida resort hotels to house troops while in training, but the Alcazar was reduced to a storage facility for furniture and fixtures from the Ponce de Leon after the Coast Guard began stomping through the halls, rattling precious Tiffany windows.

Ending the war generated a new flow of guests as vacation-starved travelers attempted to recapture the fascination with a bygone grandiosity, but it didn’t last. Although brief, it was the occasion that brought Otto Lightner to the slightly refreshed Ponce de Leon—with a frontal view of the derelict Alcazar that slighted the Ponce’s dignity.  Yet the boarded-up building was more than simply an aged structure—it had lineage and it had character, and it was perfect for Otto Lightner.

Lightner, from Chicago, began his career as a typesetter at newspapers, and later discovered a talent for rescuing publishers that were in financial distress—turning them to profit and himself to wealth. During the Great Depression he was the owner and publisher of Hobbies, one of the first antiques and collectibles magazines. Fascinated with collecting, he traveled the world collecting other peoples' collections. For the purpose of housing them, he bought large homes in Chicago, one of which--a Romanesque mansion on Michigan Avenue operated as a museum.  The old Alcazar looked like it could hold everything.

In 1947 Lightner finalized the purchase of the Alcazar for today’s price of a modest house, and immediately turned it over to the city to be held in trust. Neither did he waste time in bringing truckloads of his collections of everything from matchbooks and buttons to Victorian art.  Anthologies were scattered throughout the former hotel rooms contrary to standard museum exhibition policy. But, as one curator put it—Lightner had created an almost flawless mid-twentieth century period piece—it was hailed as the “Smithsonian of the South.”

In  1968 the city decided the once proud hotel needed further revitalization and with a million dollar bond issue they turned it into the city hall. Along with myriad offices, the Grand Parlor became the commissioners’ meeting room and the Police Department moved into the second floor.  Thanks to Otto Lightner it was probably the most majestic city hall in the nation—which won’t be forgotten because he insisted upon being buried at the front of the building.

Upon completion of the renovation in 1973 Lightner’s artifacts were moved to the casino area where they remain today.  The museum's first floor houses a Victorian village plus a Science and Industry Room displaying shells, rocks, minerals, and Native American artifacts as well as stuffed birds, a small Egyptian mummy, model steam engines, and a shrunken head. A Music Room is filled with mechanized musical instruments including player pianos, reproducing pianos, orchestrions, and others dating from the 1870s—eclectic to say the least.

The second floor contains examples of cut glass, Victorian art glass and stained glass work of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s studio. The third floor, in the ballroom's upper balcony, exhibits paintings, sculpture, and furniture, including a Grande escritoire created for Louis Bonaparte, King of Holland.

The displays are all interesting, but for many the most fascinating is the building itself. Recently the lobby has been restored to the opulence of its early days as the Alcazar. In addition the most distinctive features of the casino have been preserved almost intact. The gymnasium is still there and the baths have not been disturbed at all.

From the second-floor balcony you can look down on what was obviously a swimming pool—billed at the time as the largest indoor pool in the world. There is now a wooden floor over the deep end that accommodates a popular café. It’s a nice place to renew your energy after the tour, and the best place to allow conjuring up of past grandeur—the splendors from America’s Gilded Age.

The Lightner Museum in St. Augustine is open daily (except Christmas)  from 9 am – 5 pm. Admission for adults-$10; active military (ID)-$6; For those age 12-18 and college students (ID) is $5. Free for those under 12 with an adult.  For more info, call 902-824-2874 or go to www.lightnermuseum.org. Café Alcazar is open for lunch daily: go to www.thecafealcazar.com.

Oldest Wooden School House – St. Augustine

Although the exact date of construction is unknown, this wooden structure first appeared on tax records in 1716 and is a surviving expression of another time. There are no extant buildings in St. Augustine built prior to 1702 when the British burned the city. Constructed while Florida was under the rule of Imperial Spain, the walls are of red cedar and bald cypress and put together with wooden pegs and handmade (iron spikes) nails. The house is encircled by a large chain, which was placed there in 1937, to anchor it to the ground when a hurricane threatened.

When the original owner of the house, Juan Genopoly married, the house became a school and an addition was built. The schoolmaster and his family lived upstairs above the classroom, and the kitchen was located in a separate building to reduce heat and threat of fire. There was no electricity, running water or indoor bathroom. A well, privy and kitchen were all located out back.

Take a walk through the beautiful Gardens and notice a large pecan tree. It is said to be 250 years old and still bearing nuts. The shaded patio and garden offer a moment for quiet reflection. The Gardens are also available for weddings and private events.

The Oldest Wooden School House is located near the City Gates at 14 St. George Street in the historic district of downtown St. Augustine. Admission: Adults-$4.50; students (age 6-12)-$3.50; Free for kids age 5 and under. After visiting The Oldest Wooden School House, you will receive a complimentary diploma. Open daily except Christmas from 9-5, with extended summer and Holiday hours. Self-guided tour. Call 904-832-0192 or go to www.oldestwoodenschoolhouse.com or at http://www.facebook.com/Oldestwoodenschoolhouseandhistoricalgarden


Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens

This is a unique trip where you can experience a living museum. The Polasek has outdoor gardens dating to 1949—with many of the plantings originally placed by Mr. Polasek and his family. This three-acre garden on the shore of Lake Osceola  is a pastoral oasis in Winter Park. It is a colorful backdrop for fifty outdoor sculptures including freestanding and architectural sculptures by Czech-born American Albin Polasek, as well as works by other 20th century sculptors.

The museum’s gardens are a delightful retreat any time of the year—with its labeled trees and shrubs, beautiful flowers and sweeping lawns. But in winter, beautiful poinsettias, snapdragons and orchids are showcased. There is a butterfly garden, two water gardens, and many container gardens throughout the property. There are thousands of unique plant specimens, including rare varieties of begonias, aroids, and the cycad collection along the museum’s front drive.

Albin Polacek characterized himself as “a piece of rock broken off the Carpathian Mountains in the heart of Czechoslovakia and transported to the United States—the Land of the Free.” He was always deeply grateful to the U.S. for the opportunities that carved his destiny.

Immigrating here as a young woodcarver in 1901, he later attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia and the American Academy of Art in Rome. After nearly 30 years as the head of the Department of Sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago, he retired to Winter Park in 1949.

Founded in 1961, the museum holds an art collection focusing primarily on American representational sculpture, with over 200 works by Polasek.  He was awarded the 2000 honor of Great Floridian and inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2004. The Polasek Museum & Gardens is not only on the National Register of Historic Places, but in 2008 it was added to the National Trust’s ‘Historic Artists’ Home and Studios—an exclusive group with only 30 members throughout our country, including the homes and studios of sculptors Daniel Chester French and Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

The Albin Polasek Museum & Gardens is always a special place to visit, but during the holiday season, you can experience a unique event: Rain or shine, December 10 is the Winter Park Holiday Boat Parade and Festival of Lights on Lakes Virginia and Osceola.  At 3:30-4:30 p.m. there will be a water ski show on Lake Virginia with viewing on the Rollins College campus. Leading area water skiers will perform a one-hour ski show to music. Then head for The Polasek Gardens (free admission) for the parade. Limited onsite parking ($5 donation) begins at 4:30 p.m.  At 5 p.m. festivities at The Polasek begin with food, wine and beer, holiday music and a visit from Santa. Bring your lawn chairs, friends and family for this holiday tradition. Dinky Dock (off Fairbanks Avenue) is another public viewing area. At 5:45 p.m the parade begins on the east shore of Lake Virginia, proceeds clockwise and then winds through the Palm Canal to Lake Osceola— and passes in front of judges at The Polasek.

The museum gallery has changing exhibitions in a variety of media (paintings, photography and sculpture) throughout the year by local, national and international artists: Through January 8, 2012 is Darker Shades of Red: Soviet Propaganda from the Cold War.  This collection reveals the economic, social and political ideology of the Soviet Union from the mid-1940s to 1990 through striking poster graphics and Soviet ephemera.

January 17-April 15 –Artful Strings: Four Centuries of Harp Making provides behind-the-scene access into the International Harp Museum’s collection of rare harps (antique and contemporary.)

Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens is located at 633 Osceola Avenue in Winter Park. Hours are 10 am-4 pm on Tuesday-Saturday and 1-4 pm on Sundays. Call in advance to confirm dates and times. Admission includes entry into all galleries, a guided tour at posted times of the historic Polasek residence, chapel, and entrance to the gardens: Adults-$5; Seniors (60+)-$4; Students age 12 through college - $3; Free for children under age 12. Call 407-647-6294 or go to www.polasek.org.

Highlands Hammock State Park - Sebring

There are 140 State Parks in Florida—eight of them built by the Civilian Conservation Corp. before WWII.  The CCC was President Roosevelt’s back-to-work plan during the Great Depression that offered thousands of young men employment. Highlands Hammock in Sebring was their first Florida park project.

Nature provided the environment while the philanthropy of Mrs. Margaret Roebling afforded the land for public use, and in 1933 it was the job of the CCC to transform the raw terrain into an entity that protected and exalted the natural beauty.

The work was not easy, but the setting was perfect. The entrance of the park is on a ridge—the road dropping 50 feet into the hydric hammock amidst the basin swamp and blackwater stream habitats along Little Charlie Bowlegs Creek. Huge oaks, cabbage palms, and cypress trees dominate the site.

When alumni of Florida CCC camps decided on a museum, Highlands Hammock was the logical location, and was opened in November, 1994. Before embarking on a tour, most people find it interesting to watch a short video on the park construction. Also intriguing are the museum’s interactive exhibits highlighting the 1930-40 CCC activity.

Moving on to the natural elements, there are nine walking trails plus the boardwalk and historic catwalk that meanders through the old-growth cypress swamp. There is a three-mile driving and bicycling loop, and for those preferring to observe from horseback there is an eleven-mile day-use trail.

On any of these excursions there is an abundance of natural wonders. White-tailed deer are common and a sharp eye will catch Red Shouldered Hawks swooping through the giant oaks in search of prey. Deep in the cypress swamp it’s best to simply stop, listen, and observe. Toward evening you can hear the call of the Barred Owl, and flashes of black and white reveal the immense Pileated Woodpeckers as they play tag through the forest.

Park Rangers explain many of Nature’s little secrets on tram tours into the remote areas of the park where you could not otherwise go. You’ll see alligators, Gopher Turtles, wading birds, and yeah—probably a few snakes.  At certain times the cacophony of croaking frogs is almost melodious—without question music to the ears of nature lovers. The one-hour tours are offered once each day Monday- Friday at 1 pm, and twice on weekends at 1 and 2:30 pm.

Some people have an aversion to spiders, but the Golden Silk Spider weaves the most intricate and beautiful webs. The spider possesses a peculiar compound that produces a yellow silk that looks like golden threads in the sunlight.

The spider is harmless but its web is stronger than nylon and capable of snagging all sorts of small critters. South Sea islanders use the webs as fishnets, and eat the live spiders as a source of protein. However for a park dining experience you may prefer to brown-bag it at the picnic grounds—or at the recreation hall that is available for rent.

In addition to the show of nature, this month the park offers a concert. Music in the Park occurs on December 10 from 7-9 pm when Highlands County students present an outdoor Christmas Show. Picnic baskets and coolers are welcome. Bring lawn chairs, and depending on weather, bug spray.

Highlands Hammock State Park is located at 5931 Hammock Road in Sebring. Concert admission is $5 per person (free for accompanied children 12 and under) Park entrance fee of $6 per car is waived after 6 p.m. on concert nights.) Call 941-386-6094 or go to www.floridastateparks.org/highlandshammock


 Boca Grande Lighthouse Museum

Gasparilla Island was always exclusive—meaning it was difficult to access, even when it was primarily a shipping port with the unglamorous job of transferring phosphate from railroad cars to sea-going vessels.

Phosphate mining had prospered since the 1880’s, shipped down the Peace River on barges to Port Boca Grande, and in 1907 a railroad was built to more efficiently transport the valuable ingredient in the increased use of fertilizer.

It was later, after the Gasparilla Inn began attracting the elite of society, that the island became an enclave for the privileged as well as exclusive. And, it was later yet that islanders realized they possessed a rather precious and unique piece of real estate—and with rigorous resolve intended to keep it that way. It was this determination of an ad hoc citizens’ committee that led to the preservation of the island’s storied past.

The lighthouse, on the southern tip of the island was completed in 1890—a necessity to the busy seaport through which cattle were shipped to Cuba, and more than half the nation’s supply of phosphate flowed.

After using the lighthouse to scour the Gulf for German U-boats during the Big War, the Coast Guard, in 1966 deserted the site for a more modern and higher tower build farther inland. The original structure fell into disrepair, and further neglect allowed erosion to eat away at the foundation until it was in peril.

It was The Gasparilla Island Conservation and improvement Association (GICIA) that forced action on the part of the government in 1971, constructing a 265-foot jetty to block the attrition. Florida Power and Light, which had oil storage at the port assisted by pumping 100,000 cubic yards of fill around the base to save the lighthouse. A year later the Federal Government, for the establishment of a park, turned over the lighthouse and thirteen acres to Lee County.

In 1980 the GICIA placed the lighthouse on the National Register of Historical Places, but it took years to raise enough money for the complete renovation. By 1986 the work was complete, including a new powerful light and the re-commissioning as an active navigational aid. A short time later the park was transferred to the bailiwick of the state.

As the century came to an end, activity on the island’s southern tip had changed drastically from those early days. Some of the phosphate mines had played-out, and improvements of the Tampa port resulted in redirection of distribution, and abandonment of the railroad. Ultimately, Florida Power and Light converted to natural gas, eliminating the last use of the facility for oil storage and shipping.

The lighthouse stood majestically above the beach as an outward reminder of what once had been, but a citizens group known as Barrier Island Parks Society thought it should be more explicit.  It took a decade to raise the money and complete the work, but in 1999 the Lighthouse Museum opened to the public.

It’s a small, but well-executed museum that is comprised of the five rooms that were living quarters of the light keeper and his family. The tour starts with a history of the Calusa Indians who first occupied these shores, and moves on to the Spanish influence, and the development of Charlotte Harbor’s commercial fishing industry. Next--the saga of the railroad, the development of Port Boca Grande, and the story of the lighthouse itself. Followed is the chronicling of the town of Boca Grande and the Tarpon fishing industry. Sharing with a gift shop, the displays conclude with the geology, flora and fauna of the barrier islands and the Charlotte Harbor estuary. There is an abundance of memorabilia and artifacts. Especially mesmerizing are the great photographs of past people and activities.

The museum asks only for donations, and survives without state or Federal funding. It is well worth a visit. The lighthouse is one of nine in the state open to the public, and, excluding the panhandle, the only one on the Gulf coast.  Of course the park offers more than just the museum. There is also swimming, surfing, fishing, shelling and picnicking that can cram a whole day with frolicking.

The $5 toll to get on the island seems a little steep to some, but it goes to the Gasparilla Island Bridge Authority that provides the only entrance. And, in candid conversation with islanders, the implication is that it also helps to maintain the exclusivity. That’s the way they like it—and they believe you will too.

The Boca Grande Lighthouse and Museum is open Wed-Sat, 10 am-4 pm and Sun, noon-4pm. Closed major holidays. The annual lighting is held December 10 at 6 pm. The park has no admission fee, but $3 donation that supports all State Parks is suggested. Go to www.barrierislandparkssociety.org or call 941-964-0060.

Smallwood Store and Museum-Chokoloskee Island

The Smallwood Store is an appealing trip back to a legendary earlier period. Located deep in the heart of the 10,000 Islands, Smallwood’s was an outpost on perhaps the last frontier. At the turn of the last century railroads had for more than thirty years transported people and transposed the roughshod West to civility. Gunslingers had been neutralized. Fabled heroes like Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill Hickock were anachronisms—reduced to exhibitions that reenacted what the West had once been.

But Chokoloskee Island was stuck in a wilderness still dominated by snakes, alligators and lawlessness of the fastest gun. One might guess that the process and lessons learned in taming the area were not different from other parts of the country, but there are those who claim it never has been tamed, and that’s the way they prefer it.

Even today, as development creeps along the edges of the Everglades, the contrast with other parts of the state stands out. Just forty-five minutes east of Naples, one of Florida’s most upscale cities, the dichotomy is striking—and the story telling is rich—this is, after all, where they killed Mr. Watson.

Chokoloskee Island (pronounced Chukalusky by natives) was settled sometime in the late nineteenth century mostly by plume, hide, and fur hunters. It was an isolated haven for an unregulated trade by an ungoverned bunch. The closest sheriff was in Fort Myers, and he refused to set foot on the island for any reason.

For years, fulfilling the demands of an apparel industry catering to the wealthy, hunters ravaged the outlying islands of their animal resources—especially the bird rookeries—until they were nearly extinct. Even in later times island residents killed so many egrets for food that the birds became known as “Chukalusky chicken.”

It was into this atmosphere that Ted Smallwood merged—first by carrying the mail from Everglades City to Chokoloskee and Marco Island by sailboat, and in 1897, marrying and settling on Chokoloskee Island. He hunted alligators, fished, cut buttonwood, and raised vegetables. Although he assimilated into the community, he never fit the quasi-outlaw background that prevailed. Ted Smallwood was that one person in every group who sees a need and takes advantage—an entrepreneur, although he probably never heard of the term.

Even rapscallions and remaining Indians needed a supply of goods to sustain living, and Ted Smallwood was there to provide them. In 1906 he opened his store on the western shore of the island, at the same time becoming Postmaster of Chokoloskee, and incorporating the position into his business. Today the building appears as it was built—perched high on pilings, not so much for protection from floods or marauding wildlife, but for circulation of air in the stifling humid conditions. It was constructed on the water, convenient to the only mode of delivery possible. And, it could be construed as a forerunner to the modern convenience store—although the merchandise was different—tools, clothing, guns, ammunition, boating supplies, and the assorted hardware necessary in a semi-primitive state of existence.

Also into this community came Edgar Watson. Originally from South Carolina, Watson’s family had migrated to Florida’s Columbia County just across the Georgia border. At a young age Watson had found trouble there and fled to the Oklahoma territory, but danger was never far from his fast right hand. It was Watson, it is said, who killed Belle Starr, the notorious female desperado.

Fleeing prosecution, or more likely retribution, Watson showed up in the inscrutable Chokoloskee Bay country early in the 1880’s. There was no better place in the country for a man to lay low for a while.

Still, Watson never hesitated in confirming his reputation. It seemed wherever he went, men died.  Witnesses testified to his quick temper and even quicker reflexes—never his culpability. He went nowhere without a sidearm or a long gun.  Watson was so feared, that amongst the island group not known as timorous, or mannerly, men averted their eyes when he spoke, and deferred to him as Mister.

Watson acquired property on nearby Chatham Bend River where he grew vegetables and eventually processed syrup from his fields of sugar cane. The operation required several helpers whom he fed and housed during the season, but after harvesting, and time for wages, they always disappeared. It was theorized that after killing, he chopped them up and fed the Everglades gators—no remains were ever found. As intimidated as the Chokoloskee people were, fear, in due course turned to loathing, and they decided they had endured enough of Edgar Watson. When they knew he was coming to Smallwood’s store for supplies they greeted him en masse.

The confrontation on the water’s edge had Watson vastly outnumbered, and he first tried to talk his way free, but ultimately made his desperate and final move.

Even in their unrefined view of the law, the vigilantes knew the face-off in superior numbers made a poor case for self-defense.

Even considering the reluctance of law enforcement there was alarm of Watson’s killing by a single person, so they all fired—every one of them. Cutting loose with pistols, rifles, and shotguns they put him down like a mad dog.

Peter Matthiessen tells a detailed story—a fictionalized version, in his book titled Killing Mister Watson. Although the account is imagined to a degree, the life and demise of Edgar Watson is as factual as Smallwood’s store. Ted Smallwood kept the tales alive until his death in 1951, and his granddaughter can no doubt point to the exact spot where it all took place.

Not only did Ted’s descendants keep the folklore alive, they kept the store operating as well. When you see the museum, it surprises most people to learn it’s much as it was on the last day of retail business, which came in the relatively modern era of 1982.  Nothing is displayed in the usual archival manner—roped off or in glass cases, but exhibited exactly as merchandise was offered in a general store, turn-of-the-century style.

What is puzzling is that the store could operate for so long without modernizing, but consider that it was always compatible with its environ and people—connected by being disconnected with the main stream of society. Eight years before the store closed, it was entered on the National Register of Historic Places, and many people thought it was too much of a treasure to be kept from the public. So, in 1991 Ted’s granddaughter opened the doors again as a salute to Ted and to Florida history. It’s easier to get to now—linked by a causeway years after Ted’s death, but stepping into this store/museum is like entering a time machine that takes you to another zone—glorious in simplicity and grand in authenticity—an adventure you shouldn’t miss.

Smallwood Store and Museum on Chockoloskee Island is open 10 am to 5 pm daily (December 1-May 1). Go to www.smallwoodstore.com  or call  239-695-2989.


Celebrate the timeless history and traditions of The Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida at their 37th Annual Indian Arts Festival in Miami from December 26 to January 1.

This is a family-oriented, culturally-enriching event where you can enjoy a wide array of fun-filled activities--including the Miccosukee Fashion Show, world-famous alligator demonstrations, Native American dancers, storytellers, arts & crafts, and music.

The Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida resides in the historic Florida Everglades where they maintain their unique way of life and ancient customs. They not only transmit their heritage of beliefs and values to their descendants, but also their form of government is inspired by centuries-old practices and traditions. A poetic metaphor for the Miccosukee philosophy can be found in the colors of their flag, an artistic image that represents the Circle of Life.

Proceeds from the 37th Annual Miccosukee Indian Arts Festival benefit the Miccosukee Educational Fund and provide education programs for Miccosukee youth.

Ticket prices range from $9-$13. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The event takes place at the Miccosukee Indian Village, located 18 miles west of Miccosukee Resort & Gaming at Mile Marker 70, U.S. Highway 41, Tamiami Trail in Miami. For more information call 305-480-1924 or go to www.miccosukee.com. Special room and transportation packages are available at Miccosukee Resort & Gaming. For reservations/information, call 305-925-2555 or go to www.miccosukee.com/indianartsfestival


Grandview Gardens Bed and Breakfast-West Palm Beach

Nestled in an intimate tropical garden, this carefully restored 1925 Mediterranean Revival estate is located in the heart of West Palm Beach in the Grandview Heights neighborhood, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Grandview Heights was established in 1910 when the first residents were ministers, downtown shopkeepers, and the craftsmen who built the luxury hotels of Palm Beach. The name is derived from its location atop the Atlantic Ridge just south of Okeechobee Boulevard. Original residents with two-story homes could see the Atlantic Ocean over the island of Palm Beach from their second-floor windows. Today this neighborhood has the highest concentration of historically-significant architecture.

This restored 1925 home is the centerpiece of the Grandview Gardens Bed and Breakfast. It has the original pecky cypress, two-story vaulted ceilings, coral stone fireplace, and terracotta floors. Terraces overlooking the swimming pool and lush pocket gardens with tropical fruit and flora create an atmosphere of Old Florida charm that’s enchanting.

Addison Mizner moved to Palm Beach for his health when he was 46. He won the attention and patronage of wealthy clients with his Mediterranean Revival designs and subsequently designed the majority of  ocean-front mansions there. Constructed of stone, tile and stucco, they were better suited to Florida’s semi-tropical climate and threat of hurricanes, than the Northeast’s wooden architecture. Recognizable Mizner features included loggias, colonnades, French doors, casement windows, barrel tile roofs, hearths, grand stairways and decorative ironwork.

Mizner left an indelible stamp on South Florida, and in the 1920s was the best-known living American architect. The original architect of the home which is now Grandview Gardens Bed and Breakfast was designed by one of Mizner’s protégés.

This boutique B&B is situated to offer an ideal vantage point for exploring. It’s walking distance to City Place (revived downtown area with restaurants, street cafes, shops and entertainment,) the Kravis Center of the Performing Arts and the internationally-acclaimed Norton Museum of Art. Or one can go a little farther to the $30 million waterfront  and Clematis Street, with its nightly entertainment, restaurants, boutiques and a free trolley that circles the area. Another place to visit is the highly-acclaimed Antique Row district. And if you tire of walking, hail a bicycle chariot to transport you on a unique experience with a different view.

Grandview Gardens Bed and Breakfast is simultaneously luxurious and homey: Five guest rooms with French-door private entrances and terraces face the pool and gardens of cascading bougainvillea. Adjacent to the property are two additional historic homes—ideal for families wanting the tranquility of spacious, fully-furnished rentals with self-catering kitchens.

The multi-lingual (German, Spanish, French and English) innkeepers’ special touches make this a memorable vacation primarily because you’re treated as a special guest in their home. Peter Emmerich, born in Bolivia and raised in Germany, graduated from world-renowned Lausanne Hotel School in Switzerland and was Vice President at SRS-WORLDHOTELs in Frankfurt. Rick Rose has a Florida State University degree in Hospitality Management and was Regional Director of Sales for Central and Eastern Europe at InterContinental Hotels Group. Jan Weimar, a first-generation American and South Florida native has had a successful career managing real estate and retail businesses.

It’s an intimately charming, private and relaxing ambiance at Grandview Gardens Bed and Breakfast. Of course you’ll receive a sumptuous breakfast, but they extend other conveniences: There’s airport pickup and drop off; a romantic honeymoon/anniversary package (with a full picnic basket for 2 to enjoy at the beach, etc.) For theater goers they provide VIP amenities to the Kravis Center (an 8-minute walk.) Rick even conducts 90-minute guided tours emphasizing local history, architectural landmarks and influence of West Palm Beach and Palm Beach (including a Worth Avenue walk.)

Free use of their bicycles allow you to access the Palm Beach Lake Trail. These 18 miles along the water of Lake Worth Lagoon offer panoramic views of Palm Beach Island and its fabulous mansions.

Two rooms are set aside that are pet friendly. For pet lovers, another perk is the dog park located 200 feet away at Howard Park. Or you can take advantage of Grandview Gardens' partnership with VIP-Very Important Paws—located 2 blocks away, where your pet can be checked into their very own Deluxe Suite with all the pampered amenities.

Grandview Gardens Bed and Breakfast is located at 1608 Lake Avenue in West Palm Beach. Call 561-833-9023 or go to www.grandview-gardens.com.

Whitehall - The Flagler Museum-Palm Beach

In your travels around Florida if you do not visit Whitehall you have deprived yourself of witnessing a rare icon of American culture.

In the middle of one of the nation’s most flourishing eras, Henry Flagler built this marvelous representation, as a wedding gift no less, to his third and much younger wife.

Spun into the lexicon by Mark Twain, it was known as the Gilded Age—that period between the Civil War and the great stock market crash—an unparalleled time of growth when everything was acceptable and anything seemed possible.

Whitehall is one of a scant number of mansions often described as “American Castles.” But, more than architectural extravagance, they speak of an age and its influential men that have not been equaled. Some, like Vanderbilt’s Biltmore were designed to be self-sustaining estates, but a few were like Whitehall—presented as a home for works of the Greek Muses of arts and literature—literally museum-like from the beginning.

Henry Flagler, co-founder of Standard Oil, in the late nineteenth century gradually shifted his business interests to a different type of refinement—some claim he was the man who actually invented modern Florida. His railroad linked the east coast from Jacksonville to Key West which hastened his development of two million acres of land and a series of luxury hotels along Florida’s Atlantic coast.

By the turn of the century Flagler’s business ventures had drawn him down the seaboard from St. Augustine where he began, and with his new wife, he decided his winter settlement should be in Palm Beach.

He built Whitehall in the shadow of the Royal Poinciana Hotel, which he had put up a short time before. The Poinciana, totally of wooden construction, was the largest building of its kind in the world—1,150 rooms and nearly a third of a mile long. Yet Whitehall would not appear dwarfed in size, and certainly not in appointment.

Henry Flagler was not known to be pretentious, although he did believe that a man’s home should be no less grand than he had the ability to make it, and he possessed financial capability equaled by few.

Flagler was a man in a hurry. He had overseen the eighteen-month construction of this mammoth 55-room (now 75) estate by employing large crews to work day and night. But he had reason. When it was finished in 1902 he was seventy-two years old—way past life expectancy at the time, and he had many more projects planned.

Upon completion, the New York Herald declared Whitehall to be “more wonderful than any palace in Europe, grander and more magnificent than any other private dwelling in the world.” If that seems like an exaggeration you have the opportunity to judge for yourself, because today Whitehall stands restored and looking as fresh as it must have been on the day Henry and Mary Lily Flagler moved in.

The condition, however, has not always been peerless. Flagler lived eleven more years—his faculties in the end, betraying him. No longer sure of foot, sight, or hearing, he took a tumble down one of the staircases in Whitehall breaking a hip. At his age, and at the time, it was a death sentence. Mary Lily died five years later leaving Whitehall to a niece.

In following years, administrators invoked as many missteps as triumphs. Hideously expensive to maintain, the niece, in 1925, sold the estate to investors who added a ten-story, 300-room tower to the west side and operated the property as a hotel until 1959.  Then, in dire straights, the entire complex faced the wrecking ball, as had the Poinciana years earlier, but for a different reason. While the wooden structure had succumbed to hurricanes and the relentless salt air, the Whitehall Hotel, inexplicably never successful, simply lacked the finances to continue. 

Fortunately Flagler’s granddaughter, Jean Flagler Matthews, came to the rescue, purchasing the property and forming a nonprofit corporation, which opened Whitehall as a museum in 1961. Although appreciated as a museum, in those early years much was missing and the refinement roughened by use. Horrifying to conservators, most rooms of the mansion had been used as ancillary space to the hotel and were often shown disrespect by the uninformed.

A restoration project of such magnitude took not years, but decades to return structure and contents to the near-original state seen today.

Entering through the huge colonnades into the grand hall, you’re facing the staircase and endless marble—seven varieties that create the designs of walls and floor—covering 5,000 square feet. The area of this room alone would currently be considered a very large house.  The room is adorned with stately furniture and artifacts standing and hanging on the walls.  As with the rest of the house, much of the furnishings had been removed during the hotel era—mostly held by family, and returned over the decades—some as recently as the present year.

Ceilings and chandeliers are among the most ornate décor.  Some ceilings have rounded concave displays, several yards across, into which original Italian canvases were pasted. Parquet floors varying in pattern from room to room glisten. Carpets and fabrics covering walls and windows have been reproduced from photos and samples to match the originals.

Much of the furniture was one-of-a-kind, made specifically for a certain room.  The Steinway upright art-case piano in the music room was one such piece. Missing since the hotel days it was feared destroyed, but a search of Steinway records showed a duplicate had been made. In 2002 the copy was traced down, restored, and moved to its rightful place nest to the original Odell organ.

Of course, antiques abound, and are restored with the same attention to detail. An example is the Louis XVI-style fall front desk in the Drawing Room. In 1988 it was acquired from the children of Louise Clisby Wise Lewis who inherited Whitehall. It took a full year of restoration on this piece alone to bring it back to credible condition.

Some things though, were nearly impossible to return to originality. In 1963 the atrocious hotel was razed to the mezzanine floor, below which the structure had been integrated into the west wall of the mansion, so the ground floor of the hotel remains and is sometimes used for special occasions.

There is an addition to the grounds as well. On the south side is the Flagler Kenan Pavilion, an 8,100 square foot Beaux Arts-style building replicating Whitehall architecture, which shelters Flagler’s private 1886 railroad car and holds the Café Des Beaux-Arts that serves lunch daily.
Throughout the season there are several special events. With the holidays at hand, this month offers the best opportunities to combine tours of the mansion with great entertainment: December 4 at 2 pm is a special holiday lecture on Twas The Night Before Christmas followed by the annual Christmas tree lighting events from 3-5 pm. With historically accurate trimmings and holiday music played on the original 1,249- pipe Odell organ and the 1902 Steinway art-case piano—the only occasion to hear these majestic instruments. Special choir performances, refreshments and Santa’s visit complete these activities. From December 17-24 are the holiday evening tours—a rare opportunity to see Whitehall by the regal glow of the original 1902 light fixtures.

Flagler Museum, at One Whitehall Way in Palm Beach is open year round, Tue-Sat, 10 am to 5 pm and Sunday noon-5 pm. Cost: $18; $10-ages 13-18; $3 (ages 6-12.) Call 561-655-2833 or go to www.FlaglerMuseum.us.