Wandering Small Town Florida– Webster, Center Hill, Lacoochee, Linden, St. Leo, San Antonio, St. Joseph, Dade City

For a new art project, I decided to drive out to the Webster Flea Market complex on Monday to look for some mirrors. This is one of the most interesting parts of Florida–it’s rural, inland, and very “old.” It’s also very conservative, judging by the plethora of political signs. (One billboard condemned President Obama’s incorrectly perceived  “socialism,” the “c” in “socialism” replaced with a hammer and sickle.)

I took a lot of photos while seeing just how much of it is abandoned. Like the desolate, empty towns along Highway 98 in northwest Florida’s Big Bend area, west central Florida has its share of ruin. It’s picturesque and intriguing on one hand– an amateur historian’s dreamscape– but also sort of melancholy.

The Citrus Tower in Clermont tells you that you’ve driven WAY too far west in Central Florida, and that you will soon need to refill your gas tank. Years ago, while driving through an orange grove to reach Skytop Ranch, my car got mired in sand. I could see the Tower nearby, and imagined people riding up and down the elevator, wondering just what the hell that guy was doing far below in his beige Plymouth Volare.

Here’s The Speckled Butterbean eatery at the Webster Flew Market. I didn’t ask any of these folks for releases; I’m sure they were all too high from eating funnel cakes to even notice me. Besides, I can make myself invisible now that I’m almost 55. Right near here is an ATM machine built into the side of a van. You can’t find it without first having to go into the information center to ask the bored woman behind the counter just WHERE the giant ATM sign was pointing to.

Close to Webster is Center Hill; this picture is of downtown Center Hill, and not one business remains open. Kirk filmed a movie right here years ago called Jacarando Joe, directed by George Romero ; he was in a few crowd scenes.

The opposite side of downtown Center Hill. Don’t be depressed! I am sure there’s a Wal-Mart within a few miles, where you can stock up on all sorts of stuff you may even need.

Dade City is a cool little town. Here’s the courthouse on the square. There are also streets filled with local businesses, and I stopped into the hardware store. In it I found vintage cartons of Corelle dinnerware from the 1970’s ! I didn’t buy any though, and you know why. The store smelled just like the hardware store I labored in as a kid, from 1970 through most of 1978. We sold bags of asbestos, stored along the wooden staircase leading to the cellar,  and they puffed out little clouds of poison every time we went up and down.

Check it out! It smells like Contac brand paper, wood, and turpentine.

Just off the main drag in Dade City. I see houses like this and I picture myself living in them, no doubt slowly turning into the local version of Boo Radley.

The African Methodist Episcopal Church in Dade City

This is located in a tucked away rural area between Dade City and Highway 50. It’s in a place called Lacoochee. I wonder what it once was? Look at the large window holes: maybe it was a furniture store? Or a farm machinery parts store? Who knows? There’s nothing open in Lacoochee that I could see except for a rundown convenience store. West of here is Trilby, and the area between Trilby and Lacoochee they’ve christened Trilacoochee. It’s right near the Withlacoochee State Trail. UPDATE: a reader wrote in that Pasco County has yet to demolish this, and cars keep running into it.

More of shuttered Lacoochee.

West of Dade City is an area that was colonized by Irish Catholics and Benedictine monks. This is in an area near Saint Joseph– a Georgian Colonial in an orange grove.

Also near Saint Joseph; I think it’s blurry because I was standing on a soft shoulder next to my car. Can’t you just picture Big Daddy waiting on the front porch for Emmy Lou to come back home from the dance… with a shotgun across his lap?

The Abbey church at St.Leo Abbey and University.

The Mary Chapel inside the Abbey church. The altar stone she stood on now supports the tabernacle, which seems oddly inscribed AVE GRATIA PLENA– Hail, full of grace– which traditionally refers to Mary.

Facing the main altar from the choir (where the monks assemble). It is SO beautiful and quiet in here. It’s worth the drive to be able to experience the absolute calm I find inside this building.

San Antonio, to the west of Saint Leo, is a thriving little village. The San Ann Market makes great sandwiches. The woman who runs it is from Manchester, England. Along the nearby streets are lots of wood frame vernacular houses, quietly sleeping in the sun.

The church at San Antonio.

The Catholic school next door.

Back on Highway 50 heading home there is this Cracker relic sitting along the road. Beautiful lines and porches… imagine how this could be preserved!

Here’s the tiny Linden Methodist Church, across the road from the house above. I parked on the soft shoulder and walked across the grass to get to this; it’s all so quiet, and some streets lead further south into the village. There’s a cemetery near here, too, which I’ll have to explore one of these days.

And then I am pointed towards home. Highway 50 rolls and pitches as it approaches Orlando, and at a few points you can see the towers of downtown Orlando in the distance, clustered like the Emerald City.

Where to next? Maybe McIntosh and Micanopy and Evinston, way up there south of Gainesville. I think the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings house is near there, too; I wonder if she’s home?

14 responses

  1. There’s a guy, Steve Rajtar, that leads historical hikes through the Central Florida Chapter of the Florida Trail association. He’s led some historical hikes in Micanopy the last 2 or 3 years, but always on Saturdays when I’ve had to staff an event. If I find his website, I’ll let you know where it is because he’s typed up all of his hikes….I’ve gone on several of them and they’re incredibly interesting.

  2. Wow Jimmy, I remember back in the 80’s when we all would take occasional driving days around central Florida backroads. (I’d pretty much forgotten it.) It’s nice to see you not only still practice doing so, but you’ve taken it to such a great, sharing level as a photographer/publisher. It brings back so many fond memories in these trying times. Thank you.

  3. When you head up Marjorie’s way, let me and Brad go with you. Seriously, I know a gal who knows all about her, and can take us to her grave. It’s notoriously hard to find without help. Grab Kirk and let’s roll.

  4. Pingback: Tweets that mention Wandering Small Town Florida « What Can I Say ? -- Topsy.com

  5. Speckled Butterbean – my favorite. If you did not eat there you missed some good food.

    Downtown Lacoochee storefront- building is condemned and while Pasco County drags its feet demolishing it cars keep running into it taking it down little by little
    Nice photos,

  6. Wonderful travelogue, once again, Jimmy Boi. I have noticed, like you, the massive number of closed businesses and ghost towns when driving from place to place. Is it a reflection of the loss to small business? or the general overall flux of people moving and repositioning to growth? I liked your comment about the Wal Mart around the corner. The loss of small business and the feeling of community it offered has changed my perspective so much that I actually seek out quaint places to shop and dine out so I can recapture some of the feeling of community I had while growing up. Guess I’m getting old.

  7. At St. Leo College Private school for the rich kids in Dade City (parents have double wides)… there were 9 kids arrested for drug trafficing and possession of drugs. So much for the christian education.

  8. The old furniture store in Lacoochee was demolished in April, 2011. All that remains is the concrete slab. It used to be one of ten or 15 stores comprising the “downtown” part of Lacoochee, FL

  9. I grew up in Ridge Manor and then moved to Dade City as a young adult.. I have lived in Michigan for the past dozen years and this made me yearn for home. There is nothing like small town central Florida. Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

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