St. Cloud… and Narcoossee

How do YOU pronounce St. Cloud? If you’re used to having lunch in the shadows of the Eiffel Tower, your say Sahn Cloo; otherwise, if you’re like me, you say Saint Cloud. Either way, it’s a long drive from my house, and I’m reminded of it every time I drive Aloma Avenue in Goldenrod, which is where this sign is posted. It used to say NARCOOSSEE and ASHTON, but Ashton has apparently been blanketed over with suburbs. You can find a little bit of Narcoossee, though, on the way down Highway 15.

I decided to do just that the other day after fulfilling my morning obligations. S.R.15 is Goldenrod Road and it wends its way north and south from Belle Glade, down by Lake Okeechobee, all the way up to the Georgia line.  It’s all over the place in the Orlando-Winter Park area, but takes you through some interesting old neighborhoods. I decided to take it to St. Cloud, as I hadn’t been there since 1978. I figure everyone should visit St. Cloud every thirty-three years or so, just to see if anything has changed.

I tell you, the way down is under MUCH construction, being transformed into a major 4-lane highway (six lanes in some areas), which is a far cry from the two-lane road I remember. It’s very developed now– you see CVS Drugstores popping up in the middle of nowhere– and there’s not much green left , though you can see some while driving 60 MPH and taking pictures through the windshield. (I know, I know.)

After many miles– about 20, according to the sign– you arrive in what is very possibly downtown Narcoossee: some stores, a gas station, a fire station, and this odd little building that resembles a church. According to the Osceola County tax records, the county owns it; it’s part of the Old Narcoossee tract. I was dying to go inside, but… you never know. I think the fire department actually uses it for storage, and you know how they get when you trespass. I was being watched from another car while I took pictures– it pulled up a few spaces from me in the lot I parked in– and I wondered if I was going to be brought in to the hoosegow.

There was a short story I read, years ago, about a traveling salesman who drives into a typical small town A big banner stretched across the main street advertises a  town barbecue to be held that night. He gets caught in a speed trap and is brought into the police station, and left in a room until they can process him. While he’s waiting, the room becomes hotter and hotter and hotter… Yes, you guessed it! Spare ribs!

I got back into the safety of my air-conditioned Ford Focus and continued south, and soon encountered more construction. Surprise! They’re widening 15 even down here, but that didn’t stop me from threading my way through Bob’s Barricades in order to explore the little streets that lead west. One of them, Chisholm Park Road, takes you to a recreational area situated on the eastern shore of East Lake Tohopekaliga, and I was the only visitor. Nice!

It’s a Fish Management Area, and a good place to launch boats onto the lake. There are all sorts of signs telling you what you can and can’t do, which sort of litter the shore, but there you have it. Still, it’s really beautiful, and peaceful. You can smell the marsh and the fresh air, and it’s completely silent. Your pulse slows down as you breathe deeply, and you want to stay all day. If you’re reading this at work, stop for a few minutes and look at this picture:

I made my way to St. Cloud by way of Rummell Road, which skirts the old settlement of Runnymede and then connects to Lakeshore Drive via a dog leg at Mississippi Avenue. I love the fact that practically all of the north-south streets in town are named after the states; almost a hundred years ago, when they were establishing St. Cloud as a haven for Civil War veterans, the streets were named for the states from where the veterans hailed. And that’s the feeling I got, even before I read about the veterans: sleepy old folks dozing on benches, exactly who I saw along with the usual 21st. century demographic.  Granted, today’s veterans are most likely from the Korean and Vietnam “adventures.” And we had our own adventures, stateside: poignantly and sadly, the 1939 WPA Guide to Florida says that “Negroes have always been excluded from St. Cloud,” which probably explains why less than ten percent of the current residents are of African-American descent.

Even though a large Crabby Dick’s seafood restaurant has been built on the lake’s shore, there’s still a sense of quiet here that’s even more pronounced along the streets in town. I think the lake absorbs any real noise. The houses and downtown shops all seem to be resting in the sun, waiting for something to happen. And while you’re waiting, you can drive slowly along and look at some very interesting buildings.

A lot of the houses look as though they’d been constructed by a contractor who gor a discount on a large shipment of porch columns– you see these on a lot of houses in St. Cloud. There are also a lot of little Spanish-style stucco cottages.

The house below reminds me af a brooding old dowager, proud of herself for having lived so long, and turning her confident face to the street for everyone to see.  (And notice the porch columns.)

This remarkable little building is in the downtown business district; it’s the Chamber of Commerce and welcome center. I’m surprised I didn’t go inside and bother everyone with questions and introductions, and then coming away with shopping bags filled with brochures and information. The people inside these places are usually so happy for some company, even from strangers like myself, but I dunno… I wasn’t in the mood.

Along the western reaches of Lakeshore Drive you’ll find a slice of property where it’s Good Friday 365 days a year. And why does Jesus get the yellow cross? Is it sort of a nod to the whole yellow ribbon thing?

Also along Lakeshore Drive, this very attractive vernacular house, inexplicably fronted with a modern pink door.

The main street downtown, which leads to a modern city hall; the Hunter Arms Hotel; and two striking homes.

Did they paint the house that bright yellow in order to contrast nicely with the refuse container?

I love this place; it reminds me of the place Joan Crawford lived in during the opening scenes of Mildred Pierce, before she became a restaurant tycoon.

Probably the best way to see the town is to strap a bicycle onto the car and then wend your way slowly up and down along the streets. You don’t even have to go down to U.S. Highway 192, which forms the southern border and leads to the crowds and screams of International Drive. This is definitely a place designed to soothe the soul and put you to slumber– just ask all those veterans dozing along the lake.

4 responses

  1. Since I will be, er, LESS employed at the end of April, I would LOVE to plan an adventure day together to go to one of these lost treasures. Keep me in mind! Remember, Norma, Irving is dead and you have to come up for air from your adventures with your ski instructor SOME TIME…

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