Wound up waking up at 7, ‘cause I didn’t notice there was a window in the kitchenette area, so failed to cover it. Live and learn. Got cleaned up and some coffee in me, which pepped me up. Loading the car helped too, since it was a bit brisk and breezy outside. Not a cloud in the sky either. The weather proved to be spectacular the whole day.
Got out by 8:30, and found my first photo op easily, the Clewiston Historic Schools (photos). This was the beginning of second theme of the trip. The first, lest we forget, was construction. Number 2 was schools. I saw more historic schools all over the place than I have on any other trip. Usually for me it’s churches that I run across. The school theme, though, will become obvious as I recount my journey. The sub-theme of this was that almost all the schools I ran across were closed, even the ones I hit on Monday and Tuesday. I guess it was spring break in southwest Florida. Lucky me.
Next I got three historic houses that were fairly close together. And theme number 1 reared its ugly head, as the street they were on was tore up. Not so much that I couldn’t get close enough to take pictures, but still.
Then I went back to the Clewiston Inn and parked. From there I was able to walk and get the rest of the stuff in town I needed (the Inn, the Dixie Crystal Theatre, the local history local history museum, and city hall). As a bonus, I stumbled across the offices of US Sugar, so I snapped a couple of that.
I headed west about 10 and stopped at the local Super Wal-Mart before I completely left town. Mostly it was because of a minor recurring car issue. I picked something up that corrected the problem for the rest of the trip and a few weeks after, hurrah. Also picked up some trail mix to snack on if need be, and these cool individual powdered coffee creamer tubes that Mom found out about and liked. Didn’t take too terribly long and was back on the road soon after.
I kept an eye out, and still no mile markers. It must be something they’re doing in Palm Beach County only. The US 27 and SR 80 intersection (street view) is jazzed up. I can remember on my numerous trips to Miami how basic it was. Stop sign from the SR 78 side and that was it. Now there’s lights and nice road paving and everything.
Yes, I would go down US 27 to Miami, not the Turnpike. Back in the 80s I hated being a hostage to it. The tolls, the expensive food and gas at the toll plazas, it was a racket. It’s better now, but I hardly ever need to use the Turnpike anyway, ‘cause it’s not usually convenient to the way I travel. The day before was probably the third time I’ve used it in 10 years. US 27 was so much more scenic, and only took an hour longer. The only bad part was south of Lake Okeechobee, and that’s finally been four laned, so it’s all good. Mind you, there’s been a crapload of development on some stretches, especially around the main routes to Orlando. Still, I prefer my good old US 27. A friend of Mom’s still goes that way to visit her family in south Florida, so I’m not the only one.
Heading north on US 27, it’s only a few miles before you see the bridge over the Moore Haven Canal (above), bigger than life (street view). It’s the biggest thing in Moore Haven, really. It’s strange seeing it this way, since as much as I hate the Turnpike, I’d usually drive it on the way back from Miami. Driving US 27 at night was scary. There was so much nothing, and being way before cell phones, God help you if you had a car problem.
So there’s the bridge and what’s the first thing I see after I’m over it? The Glades County Courthouse (above). It was getting well after 11, and the midday light (the couple of hours before and after the sun hits its zenith) is the best for photos, I think. Though near sunset has its advantages at times. While photographing, I looked and looked, and couldn’t see the waterline. When the area was flooded in 1926, the first floor of the courthouse was totally submerged. There’s still a faint line where the water rose to, but I couldn’t see it. Something to think about, though.
I backtracked to hit the downtown historic district (photos and street view) first, since it’s only a block long. The dilapidated state of the old buildings is sad, and an odd contrast to the new park across the street from them. My favorite part of the district, though, is on the canal which was dredged years ago to connect Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee River. Right there at the end of Avenue J is the Lone Cypress Park (street view), one of the smallest parks I’ve seen. I don’t think it’s even half an acre. At the center is the Lone Cypress, used as a navigational aid way back when. It really stands out, as you hardly ever see cypress trees like this in Florida. And this one looks like, I know this sounds like an oxymoron, but it looks like a giant bonsai. It looks very sculpted and stately. Peaceful, too. It’s the kind of tree you could sit under and read a book for hours.
After that I drove around the residential historic district (photos) and took pictures. The houses are all very old frame vernacular style buildings, quite a few on the ramshackley side. I’m not sure if any of them were survivors of 1926 flood, but if not they were probably built not much later.
I stopped at the larger city park and called my friend Richard. I used to call Mom around 11 when I was at work, and did the same when I was on a roadtrip. Then I’d call her every two to three hours after, so in case anything happened to either of us, the other could notify authorities and that sort of thing. Now that she’s gone, I thought it would be a smart idea to still continue that, for safety reasons. Even though it was nearing noon, it was still cool in the shade. I love spring in Florida.
As I headed west out of town, I thought of all the people who’ve driven through Moore Haven over the years. Passing through, with little thought of where they were, only where they were going. A few minutes, a half-hour, just a little time taken out of their travels and they could have discovered a little gem like the Lone Cypress Park. I’ve said for the longest time that you should enjoy the journey as much as the destination. So many are in such a hurry, how much better our lives would be if we slowed down every so often to enjoy the scenery.
I thought there weren’t any BP gas stations for a ways, but before I got out of Moore Haven, whoomp, there one was.
To explain. I got gas cards for BP for this trip. That way I wouldn’t need to carry as much cash. They’re much more convenient, and BP gas is often the cheapest. This was all before the spill, mind, but I may still use them in future, since it takes some of the worry out of travelling.
Ah, the Cypress Knee Museum. So sad it closed back in 2000. There’s not much left of it, I gather. I always looked forward to it on my trips down to Miami. I never actually stopped there, but it was a comforting landmark. And all the Burma-Shave style signs the owner put up along US 27 to let people know about it. The place was everything I love about kitschy tacky touristy Florida. Some may not like that aspect of our fair state, but to me, that’s part of its charm. I finally did stop there a couple years after it closed, and I can only imagine what it was like in its heyday. If I’d taken half-an-hour whilst it was still in business… Ah, regrets.
Just about when I decided to skip the museum, I saw one of the familiar brown signs for a Florida Heritage Site. One that I never knew about. It wasn’t much of a detour, so I took a turn and headed down SR 78. Which went through major cattle country. I really hadn’t realized how extensive the industry was. It looks like it’s in every county around Lake Okeechobee, and the counties next to them.
I reached Ortona, but you couldn’t prove it by me. Drove by the local cemetery, where Billy Bowlegs III is buried. Just past it is a dirt road which leads to the heritage site, a park behind the cemetery. Ortona Indian Mounds Park, that is (street view of entry road). I didn’t see much in the way of mounds, as they appeared to be overgrown. Nice little park, however. Had a small portable building that was a police station. The park was right on the shores of Lake Wobegon too. No, not that one.
Onward after that to SR 29 south. I soaked in the isolation of it all. Hardly any signs of civilization. This is what Florida must have looked like back in the 19th century and before. An air conditioned car stocked with Altoids, the open road, what more could you ask for?