Posts Tagged ‘Monticello’

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This time we’ll be looking at US 90 from Tallahassee to Wellborn, which is east of Live Oak. We’ll be covering three counties. Two are named for presidents (Jefferson and Madison), the other after the state’s best known river (Suwannee). There’s rather more to see than the last section I covered, between Lake City and Jacksonville. Most of the sights are concentrated in three towns along the way, though there are a few offshoots that will take you almost to the state line. There’s enough that I’m going to break this section of US 90 into three posts; one for each county.

I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned before, and if I have it’s been a while, so here goes. Every county that US 90 goes through in Florida, it goes through that county’s seat. And in most cases, right by the county courthouse. If you’re an old courthouse lover, this road will have you doing the happy dance.

A word about I-10. Much as I prefer backroads, I don’t mind I-10 so much. It’s a very pleasant drive through most of Florida. The only places where it gets hairy are the endpoints (Jacksonville and Pensacola) and the midpoint (Tallahassee). So if you want to start a roadtrip at some point along US 90, you can take I-10 and enjoy getting there. Rest stops every 30 or 40 miles, where you can stretch your logs if you’re doing a long haul. Watch out if you’re driving when it’s dark, since there are sometimes deer on the highway. Which shows you how much rural territory I-10 goes through.

It’ll take a bit to get away from Tallahassee, since it rather sprawls all over. There was a ton of construction along the eastern part of US 90 when I was there last year. I think they’re widening it, but until it’s finished, it’s two lanes of no fun. You’ll get past the worst of it after you pass under I-10.

The road the rest of the way reminds me of SR A1A on Amelia Island. No, there aren’t any beaches. But there’s a similar tranquil ambience. It’s a combination of the lack of traffic, the low rise and fall of the hills, and shallow curves. There are buildings here and there, with larger towns every 10 miles or so. Speed limit is 55 to 65 mph between towns, but try not to be in a hurry. Wherever you’re going, it’ll still be there.

I remember reading about a beautification project done between Tallahassee and Monticello, but no details. I decided to investigate further for this post, which is another reason I’m glad I’m doing them. I tend to just visit places on the NRHP or in AGFHA just to visit them. What history I learn about them is almost a side effect. Now that I’ve visited most of the places in Florida I’d intended, I can spend the time I would be travelling to discover more about the places I’ve been. Neat, since when I visit again, I’ll be able to appreciate them with a different and more informed point of view. And I can spend more time, since I’m no longer in such a mad dash to get to all the places.

So, I found out there were two scenic road beautification projects done back in the 1930s. One was headed by Fred Mahan, a local pecan grower, and the other by the Coastal Roads Company of Miami. Thousands of attractive trees and flowers were planted along the road for about 25 miles. In the spring and summer it’s supposed to be beautiful, but I’m only ever in the area in the winter. Now that I know all that, I’ll have to visit in the middle of the year for a change, to see the road bursting with bloomery.

When you get to SR 59, take it south. You’ll go under I-10, and in a mile or so you’ll arrive in the tiny hamlet of Lloyd. The historic district and all the sites of interest are within a half-mile of the SR 59/CR 158 intersection. West on CR 158 are the two historic houses listed below, then the woman’s club. Some other old houses along the way too. Don’t go past the woman’s club, but head back east. Past the intersection is the old railroad depot, which is now used as the local post office. The rest of the historic district is north of CR 158.

When I was there, I met an owner of one of the older houses. They told me someone wrote a book set in the area, called “Dream Street”. I’ve been unable to find anything about it online. Perhaps it was only published locally. (see Google map)

Return the way you came and continue east on US 90. Before you get to Sunray Road, you should see signs for Letchworth Mounds. Follow them to get to the state park. There are only a few mounds left, though one is pretty big. It’s right next to a small neighborhood. I think it’s probably used more by the locals, since there’s not much to attract faraway visitors. It did recently get added to the NRHP, but I’d already visited before that. I love when things work out like that. (see Google map)

When you get closer to Monticello, you can loop south to see the Turnbull-Ritter House. You can’t get too close, so you’ll need binoculars to see it, and a good zoom lens to photograph it. I don’t think it’s going to be around too many more years, with the condition it’s in.

North on US 19, and look for the winery road signs. They’ll lead you to Monticello Vineyards & Winery, one of the ones I have visited. You’ll need to honk your horn after parking to notify the owners of your arrival. It’s a very small operation, but worth the detour. There’s a short wine tasting, and they do have some good stuff. I bought a bottle, which I’m still holding on to. I usually use wine for cooking, not drinking. The bottle I got should help me make some good stuff. (see Google map)

Getting back on US 19 and heading north, you’ll see perhaps my favorite courthouse approach in the state. US 19 is straight and gradually slopes upward. So you can see the domed Jefferson County Courthouse (Florida) from over a mile away. If you can get there around sunrise, the reflection of the sun off the dome is a sight. It’s also unique in the state, because it’s in the middle of a traffic circle, which is where US 19 and US 90 meet. Welcome to Monticello. Pronounced around these parts as Monti-sell-o, not Monti-chel-o. ‘Cause you’re in Florida, y’all.

Remember Fred Mahan? Well, the office for his nursery still exists, and is in use as a local library on the west side of town.

The historic district is extensive, and you can get a walking tour map at the Chamber of Commerce. It’s 4 blocks west on US 90, in a former church on the right. Lots of well-preserved fancy old houses around and about, and some neat old churches. There was a great place to eat downtown which I would’ve recommended you try, but it closed a year or so after I was there. Another victim of the crappy economy. (see Google map)

After taking your fill of Monticello, go north on US 19. At the split, veer to the right to get on CR 149. In 4 and a half miles is the old Bethel School on the right. It’s very overgrown so it’s easy to miss, keep your eyes peeled. It’d be nice to get close, but it’s fenced around. The NRHP plaque is closer to the fence, so you can at least get a decent photo of that.

Return to Monticello and take CR 146 (Asheville Highway) east out of town. More rolling hills, and some farms. After about 15 miles you’ll reach Gum Swamp Road. Turn right. Down the dirt road is the Lyndhurst Plantation. I think the mansion home still exists, but I didn’t see it. Must be too far back. Actually, it’s rather far to go to just see some outbuildings. Maybe there are tours available. I think there’s another old plantation nearby that does. (see Google map)

That’s Jefferson County done. Next is Madison. Nothing to do with that book; different county. Until next time, see you on the road!

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Christ Episcopal Church is in Monticello, in the eastern part of the Panhandle. The Carpenter Gothic church was built in 1885, and is part of the Monticello Historic District. The church is included in “A Guide to Florida’s Historic Architecture”. See more photos here.

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Some of the pictures I took on various NRHP roadtrips around the state. This was the first year I had a digital camera.

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