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Historical Places in Florida: History and Culture

Fraser Hannah

Most tourists seem to gravitate towards the crowded, expensive theme parks or the teeming hot beaches, but if you're looking to get off the beaten path when traveling to Florida, history and some of the more cultural offerings of the Sunshine State should be considered. From northern Florida, with the Southern hospitality of the Panhandle, to the exciting cultural influences at the bottom tip of the state, a vacation in Florida offers endless possibilities of unusual places to visit.

Each coast, in fact, from the Atlantic to the Pacific with the Gulf Coast included, exudes history relating not only to America, but globally, as well. From the Keys to Tallahassee, the importance of the dynamic story of Florida and the history of the state is immediately evident and the locals hope to share its countless cultural assets with you.

Where to Go and What to Do During Your Vacation in Florida

Tropical Treasures in the Keys

Key West, slightly off the coast of Florida and connected by a bridge, is a continuously sunny destination that has entranced everyone from President Harry Truman and Tennessee Williams to Ernest Hemingway and the U. S. Navy. The famed author Hemingway, after a vacation to Florida, subsequently decided to live in Key West, and his home has now been turned into a museum with the descendants of his polydactyl cat still roaming the grounds.

With the close proximity of the ocean, the locals and tourists alike enjoy activities that incorporate the blue water of the sea, including ship salvaging and diving for ancient sunken treasures. Many U. S. presidents, including Harry Truman and Franklin Roosevelt, bolstered local lore and Florida history by calling Key West home in the winter months at the Southernmost House Grand Hotel and Museum.

Early Industrialists in Fort Myers

Both Thomas Edison and Henry Ford decided to call Fort Myers home in the winter months after taking a vacation to Florida. Edison's home, called "Seminole Lodge," has been accurately renovated to reflect the time period in which it was built and resided in. It includes one of the first modern swimming pools in Florida history and his laboratory much as he would have had it, remaining a fine example of one of the best historical places in Florida.

Located adjacent to Edison's graciously designed house is "The Mangoes," Henry Ford's recently refurbished winter home. After a vacation to Florida, Ford decided that Fort Myers would be better than the Michigan cold. A garage full of restored antique Ford automobiles rounds out the serene atmosphere. Both historical homes have lush gardens along the Caloosahatchee River.

The Contrasts of Palm Beach

From industrial influences to charming gardens, Palm Beach is a sun-lit city of contrasts. Henry Flagler linked the cities of Florida after realizing that a sophisticated system of transportation could help revitalize the state and bring more tourists to vacation in Florida. Starting in the late 1880s, Flagler began purchasing railroads, combining the routes, and installing more tracks up and down the coastlines and eventually well in between. The Henry Flagler Museum, located in his grand winter home called "Whitehall," heralds his accomplishments and his idea of bringing the first vacationers to the state for profit, a first in Florida history.

Located outside of the city limits in Delray Beach, the sweeping and serene Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens brings Japan to the coast of Florida. Exhibits include galleries highlighting ancient and modern Japanese art and culture, tea ceremonies, festival celebrations, tasting events, and special displays in the gardens. While on your vacation in Florida, the Morikami is a must see.

Family Fun in Sunny Sarasota

Sarasota is another hotbed of historical places in Florida. The city has a detailed cultural history complete with Native American and Spanish influences. Historic Spanish Point, highlighting 5,000 years of Florida history, features prehistoric Indian mounds, living history performances, archaeological tours, a butterfly garden, and pioneer-era buildings. Cruises in historically inspired vessels sail Sarasota Bay for an entertaining finale to your vacation in Florida.

The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and the Ringling Museum of the American Circus are centered on the home of the museum's namesakes who designed their sprawling mansion to mimic European architecture, a fine example of one of the more elaborate historical places in Florida. Ca d'Zan, completed in 1926, saw the biggest and most expensive parties of the early 20th century in Sarasota. The art museum, from the Ringling's collection, displays both old and new American, European, and Asian works of art. The circus museum, which was opened to the public in 1948 and has since become a popular stop during a vacation to Florida, has a large collection of handbills, posters, costumes, and props from the early days of the circus. Also on the grounds is a miniature circus constructed by Howard Tibbals, who was integral to designing the tiny circus set that is now a part of Florida history.

Military Origins in Pensacola

Home of the Blue Angels, Pensacola, a must-see on a vacation to Florida, is proud to be the home of naval aviation. More than 150 restored aircraft from the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard are displayed at the National Museum of Naval Aviation where visitors can experience the flight simulator or learn more about naval aviation in Florida history and the rest of world in the Memorial Theatre. In addition, the museum features an IMAX screen, a tour of the restoration hangar, cockpit trainers, and Blue Angels events on select days.

Located nearby is historic Fort Pickens, which was constructed in 1834 and used well into the 1940s. The Fort, significant in Florida history, had been influential during the Civil War, and in the mid-1880s, the famous Apache warrior, Geronimo, was incarcerated at the Fort, where he became a sideshow for the tourists on vacation in Florida. A Visitor Center showcases memorabilia, art, and books enhancing the history of the Fort.

The Panhandle's Gorgeous Gulf

Surprisingly, Apalachicola, the secluded, charming town on the Gulf Coast that is mired in Florida history, offers many options of things to see and do. The Camp Gordon Johnston Museum provides a glimpse into the life of World War II soldiers and their intensive training. Opened in 1942, the camp, a permanent reminder of the military's impact on Florida history, trained America's amphibious soldiers before they left for war, and remnants of the training grounds and camp still survive. Exhibits include photographs, articles, and knick-knacks from the camp's heyday.

In the town's center, the historic old district features over 900 buildings, constructed as far back as the early 1800s, that are listed on the National Register. Walking tours allow visitors to explore each location in depth and include an old cotton warehouse, three parks, and rows of live oak trees and magnolias. A Visitors Center provides maps, ideas, and directions for experiencing Apalachicola's historic downtown while on your vacation in Florida.

History from Coast to Coast

When on a vacation in Florida, the Sunshine State offers much more than just beautiful beaches and warm weather. From coast to coast, Florida and the history of its people and culture still influence its society and lifestyle. You shouldn't be worried about the endless choices on where to go or what to do if you're looking for history of any kind, Florida has it!

About the Author

Fraser Hannah spent eight years working as a freelance television production manager and researcher before leaving to join his family's business working with the elderly. He founded Traveling2Florida.com in 2003 after purchasing his own vacation home in Florida and being frustrated by the lack of vision shown by many of the existing vacation rental sites.

© Traveling2Florida.com 2008


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