The next posts are all about the Leon County seat and Florida State Capitol, Tallahassee. Most non-residents (and probably quite a few natives) wonder why our state capitol is so far from the middle of the state. Thing is, it is in the middle of the state. At least it was when it was founded.
See, when the Spanish were in charge, the peninsula was divided into two sections. East Florida, the capitol of which was St. Augustine, and West Florida, where Pensacola was the capitol. When Florida became a United States possession, a single capital for the whole territory was needed. So expeditions set out from St. Augustine and Pensacola, heading for each other. The roughly halfway point where they met was where Tallahassee is now.
But what about Orlando and Miami and all the rest? Not there. Draw a line across Florida just below St. Augustine. South of there was forests and swamps and Seminoles. There were a few outposts of non-Indians down there, but not enough to make it worth having the capitol further south.
That’s change, obviously, over the last century and a half. There’ve been attempts to relocate the capitol to Orlando or Ocala. The most recent try was in the 1960s. But the expense of moving the entire state government would be prohibitive. Plus you’d have to set up the infrastructure in the new location, which would take time and additional financing. It’s annoying for those living further south, but with modern transportation, it’s not enough of an inconvenience to generate significant dissatisfaction with the situation. So Tallahassee is likely to remain the state capitol for the foreseeable future.
I like Tallahassee. It’s urban, but not like Tampa or Jacksonville. Apparently there’s an anti-skyscraper ordinance that’s been in place for years, so there’s only a small handful of tall buildings in the city. It’s hilly, a bit like San Francisco, which is atypical for most metropolitan areas in Florida.
On the outskirts are the canopy roads; long stretches of oak-lined avenues dripping with Spanish moss. Some go by surviving antebellum plantation homes. Several roads go up into Georgia, where there are more plantations that have been preserved for posterity. At some point you should visit Thomasville, which is close to the border and filled with a lot of interesting historical buildings and districts. And a gaudy NHL that’s kind of groovy.
Tallahassee itself is hardly lacking in historical sites, including its own National Historic Landmark. About half the sites are in and around the center of town, the rest are scattered around the periphery in all directions. Just driving to them all will take you a couple of days, so either plan an extended stay or several return visits. Tallahassee is also a good jumping off point for exploring the Panhandle. It’s only three hours from Pensacola, so you can spend your first night here and head west the next morning.
I’m going to start on the outlying sites to the north, then spiral in towards the center counter-clockwise. You can look at the map links and decide the travel strategy best for you.
The first section may not take you as long as you’d think, just looking at the map. Several of the places are private, and the historic parts not visible from the road. You can drive by them if you want, since they’re along canopy roads. Or skip them and just go to the ones you can get to.
You can also get to the old Blackwood-Harwood Plantations Cemetery, but it takes a bit of doing. The directions were vague (northeast of Junction FL 263 and I-10, really?), but I did some research and pinned it down. I wasn’t sure, though, until I got to the housing development where I thought it was. Some traipsing through the woods and I found it. Just a small plot surrounded by a rusty gate, with a dozen or so graves. I’m glad it got preserved and not plowed under. (see Google map)
- Tall Timbers Plantation (13093 Henry Beadel Drive) (NRHP)
- Bannerman Plantation (13426 Meridian Road N) (NRHP)
- Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park (Killearn Plantation) (3540 Thomasville Road) (NRHP)
- Rollins House (5456 Rollins Pointe) (NRHP)
- Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park (3600 Indian Mounds Road) (NRHP)
- George Lewis House / Spring House (3117 Okeeheepkee Road) (NRHP) (FL 100)
- Blackwood-Harwood Plantations Cemetery (western side of the Wood Briar subdevelopment, off Golden Rain Drive) (NRHP)
Now get to SR 20, which cuts through Lake Talquin State Forest. You can see the old Fort Braden school, which is now a community center. A bit further east is the Lake Talquin State Park. River Bluff Picnic Site State Park, too, but I think it’s in the other state park. I have a feeling Lake Talquin is popular in the summer. It’s a big lake, perfect for boating and swimming and such. Lots of room to meander in the woods, too. I did cover this bit on the first roadtrip post about SR 20 .
- Old Fort Braden School (16387 Blountstown Highway) (NRHP)
- Lake Talquin State Forest
- Lake Talquin State Park (1022 Desoto Park Dr.)
- River Bluff Picnic Site State Park (Jack Vause Landing Road)
- Bellevue (on the grounds of the Tallahassee Museum) (NRHP)
- Tallahassee Museum (3945 Museum Drive)
Due south of Tallahassee is St. Marks River State Park, one of the newest in the system. Therefore it’s very undeveloped and hard to find, with no signage. Only hiking trails, not even restrooms or picnic areas. Further down is Natural Bridge, which I mentioned in the last post.
San Pedro y San Pablo de Patale only has a historical marker. The Chaires historic district is small. I’d park at the old school and walk up and down the street. Half an hour is more than enough time to see the best parts. The Billingsley Farm is private and fenced and foliated so you can’t see a thing from US 90. (see Google map)
- St. Marks River State Park
- Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park (7502 Natural Bridge Road) (NRHP)
- San Pedro y San Pablo de Patale (Patale Drive) (NRHP)
- Chaires Community Historic District (Roughly along Chaires Cross Road, Road to the Lake, and Hancock Street) (NRHP)
- Billingsley Farm (3640 Oak Hurst Lane) (NRHP)
Last but certainly not least is the eastern fringe. In fact, it’s one of my favorite parts. You’re mostly driving along canopy roads again, so just getting from point to point is pleasant.
First is Pisgah United Methodist Church, which is big wooden block of a church. Roberts Farm is nearby, but not much to see. There’s an old cemetery at the corner of Roberts Road and Centerville Road that’s more scenic.
About where Centerville Road turns into Moccasin Gap Road is the place I liked so much, I visited it both times I was here. It’s Bradley’s Country Store. Yeah, it’s the name, even though they ain’t related. But they make really great smoked sausage. I’ve seriously thought of ordering by mail, or buying a few pounds the next time I’m there. Not a primary reason to visit Tallahassee, but it encourages me to find another excuse so I can make a sidetrip there.
Keep going on Moccasin Gap Road and you’ll come to Miccosukee. There are four NRHPs here; two north of SR 59 and next to each other (Strickland-Herold House and Van Brunt House), and two to the south that are across from each other (Averitt-Winchester House and Miccosukee Methodist Church). (see Google map)
- Pisgah United Methodist Church (7000 Pisgah Church Road) (NRHP)
- Roberts Farm Historic and Archeological District (Roberts Road, 1 mile east of Centerville Road) (NRHP)
- Bradley’s Country Store Complex (10655 Centerville Road) (NRHP)
- Strickland-Herold House (on SR 59, about a block north of Moccasin Gap Road) (NRHP)
- Van Brunt House (Just north of the Strickland-Herold House) (NRHP)
- Averitt-Winchester House (West side of SR 59, south of Moccasin Gap Road) (NRHP)
- Miccosukee Methodist Church (East side of SR 59, just south of Averitt-Winchester House) (NRHP)
That’s it for the outskirts. Next post, Tallahassee proper. See you on the road!