It didn’t take me long the find the Punta Gorda Atlantic Coast Line Depot (photos), at about 2. It’s a historical museum now. The weather was sunny, toasty and breezy. Great light for photo-taking, as you can see above.
My next stop, Charlotte High School was the first school I encountered the whole trip that was in session. Perhaps appropriate, since it was the last school on my list. Thing is, there was an ambulance and police cars on the street in front. It may have been an accident, I couldn’t tell for sure. They were putting someone on a stretcher, and I could only hope things would work out. My access to the historic school building on campus wasn’t restricted by the hubbub, fortunately. I remembered that it had gotten severe damage in the ’04 and ’05 hurricane seasons, but you couldn’t tell. Whoever fixed it up did an outstanding job.
I headed west in search of the A. C. Freeman House, but could find no sign of it. Moved, I hoped. I was happily right on that, as I discovered later.
Going along La Villa Road, I saw a number of understated historic looking houses, enough for a historic district. Then it was some windy roads until I got to Shore Drive, where I easily found the Clarence L. Babcock House.
After that, back to Punta Gorda proper, and the old ice plant. Got front and back shots, including a brick building in back which was likely where the ice was stored. That building is now a pub, open at 3 in the afternoon. Hmm.
It wasn’t far to the historic district (street view). It’s referred to as residential, but the boundaries encompass most of downtown. I parked near a corner of the district and walked around the downtown area. Not all, but enough so I saw the H. W. Smith Building and the old First National Bank . The courthouse I liked especially, what a surprise. Back to the car by 4, and hunger struck. I staved it off with the ever-reliable Altoids.
Heading for the Punta Gorda Woman’s Club, I drove right by the A. C. Freeman House. It must have been moved. Very nice condition, which figures since it’s now the home of the Chamber of Commerce. The women’s club parking lot was full. I was lucky to find a parking space, so I got out and took pictures as quickly as possible.
Then I drove around the residential part of the district. Reminds me of the main historic district here in Ocala, but with fewer trees. I stopped at a city park on the edge of the district next to the Peace River. Did a recce for the next stage of travel. It was almost 4:30, and I knew I had only a few hours of good daylight left, and I did want to get home at something of a reasonable time. Options in mind, I departed, unlikely to return. I only missed a museum, and the city doesn’t entice me enough to draw me back.
Over the Peace River bridge, I was in Port Charlotte almost immediately. I turned off the Trail, and reached the Charlotte County Historical Center. It was almost 5, which is when they close, but I got in and talked to a nice lady inside. She confirmed that the A. C. Freeman House was moved, as I thought. Also, the Mott Willis Store, which should have been across the street, had been demolished only a year after getting on the NRHP. Which just goes to show, being on the Register is no guarantee of permanent preservation. Got a pamphlet about the historical society for future reference, and was off.
Once back on the Trail, I was in the thick of rush hour. It wasn’t completely horrible, but it did slow me down. My travel options were narrowing.
I got off and headed towards El Jobean, which didn’t take too long to reach. I missed the road to get off at which would get me to the historic stuff. I u-turned and found the road. Yeah, I do a lot of u-turning. I get a workout when I travel, even while I’m driving.
Two places on my list in El Jobean. An old hotel, about the size of a house, abandoned and surrounded by scrub bushes. Couldn’t really get a good shot of it, but took a couple anyway. More accessible was the former post office and general store (street view), which is now a museum and restaurant. It’s where I found out the origin of the town’s name. It’s not, as one might think, Spanish. No, the town’s founder, Joel Bean, created it by making an anagram of his name. I’d wanted to get to Boca Grande, but was too far, especially this late in the day (almost 6 PM). And even though sundown wasn’t until 8, the light was now not as ideal as I liked.
Before I left, I got my third meal in an NRHP site. I ordered it to-go, though. Got a bacon cheeseburger, and I think the bacon was applewood, ‘cause it was sweet, with fries. About 7 bucks, and really good. I’ll have to go this way when I do make it to Boca Grande, and will have to remember this place for future reference. Good food, lots of it, decent prices, historic building, they’ve got it all.
For me, this was the beginning of the end of the excursion, since I knew I wasn’t going to get many more photos.
I went through Englewood and the since there was still OK light, I stopped at the Lemon Bay Woman’s Club. It looks like a few of the other
woman’s clubs throughout the state. I wonder if one architect designed several of them?
I wondered if I’d ever reach Venice, but I finally got there about 6:45. I drove under a bridge to get to the Venice Depot. This was one of those occasions where late photo-taking worked out nice, since the near-sunset light gave a lovely golden glow to the depot. It’s also in very nice condition, thank goodness. There was an awful smell in the area, though. It wasn’t industrial. Maybe fishy? I had to hold my nose, it was so bad. I backtracked and drove over the bridge into downtown Venice, and no more smell.
Downtown Venice was busy, and on a Tuesday night. I drove around a bit, but couldn’t easily find any of the stuff in the area I wanted to get pictures of. Since it was less than an hour to sunset, it wasn’t worth expending too much more effort, so I officially ended the photo-taking portion of the trip. After this, it was just heading home.
I have to say, I like SR 681. It’s a 4-mile-long or so connecter between US 41 and I-75. It also has a nice long on-ramp that gives you plenty of time to get to speed to get onto the interstate. None of this 0-to-65 in no time like most of them.
Heading north, it was smooth sailing. Not much traffic at all. I got to the Sarasota area by about 8, just around sunset. There was another half-hour of civil twilight and not long after that I was on familiar territory; I-75 around Tampa. The traffic was light, which was great. I thought about getting off to US 301, but figured that I was through what’s usually the worst part of the interstate around here, so I didn’t.
Which turned out to be a big mistake, as the first theme of this trip reared it’s ugly head in a big way. I’d just got past the I-75/I-275 split, when suddenly the traffic slowed to a crawl. Fortunately, there was a rest stop coming up, so I pulled off. I accidentally went into the truck parking area, and since there’s no connection between it and the regular car area, I parked between two trucks. I got out and found the security guys, who told me there was a stretch of I-75 that had only one lane open. I don’t know if they were widening or repaving or what. Thing is, there shouldn’t have been enough traffic to make it a problem. I mean, why were all these people driving on a Tuesday night at quarter-‘til-9 going north out of Tampa, huh? They should be all home watching Dancing with the Stars.
I called my cousin Paul and filled him in, then figured, what the hell. I was going to get a cup of coffee to wake me up anyway, why not a nap instead? So I got back to the car and let the seat back, cracked open the windows, and conked out about 9. When I felt better rested I looked at my watch and, lo-and-behold, it was 10:30. Yes, I’d napped for an hour and a half. The traffic looked immensely better, so I gave it a shot. It looked like it was thickening up as I got on the interstate, but it wasn’t too bad. Turned out the one lane portion was only about a mile, had to drive around 30 mph but was through it quick.
Much clearer from then on, even though I ran into another one-lane stretch about a half hour later. There there was so little traffic, though, that I could go through at 50 mph and get past it in no time. I got off at the Lake Panasoffkee exit, as it was close to US 301. I was a little disoriented, since I’d never driven this part at night, but once I found US 301, I was on very familiar territory from that point on. I forgot about the construction of the bridge over the railroad tracks in Wildwood, and more in Oxford near the Villages. Dang, it’s not gonna be much fun at the begiinning of any southbound roadtrip for months.
Finally, blessedly, I got home. At a quarter-after-midnight. Which should have been more like 10:30. Oh well, I got home safe, and had a good time (mostly), and that’s what counts. The whole trip was more than 850 miles, and I took over 1213 photos. Exactly one more than I took on my Easter trip in 2008. But that one was only three days long. So, not a record for me, but sort of one anyway.
More travelogues to come. Not nearly as compendious, ‘cause they’ll only be for my usual day-long trips.