The Eastern indigo snake hasn’t slithered down a gopher tortoise burrow along the bluffs of North Florida’s Apalachicola River in more than 35 years. All that changed Monday when seven of the large snakes were released into The Nature Conservancy’s Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve in Liberty County. The effort is the start of a 10-year project to reintroduce 30 snakes into the wild in a restored longleaf pine habitat that has taken decades to bring back. In the U.S., only 5 percent of the historic longleaf pine habitat remains. “There’s less and less of it,” said The Nature Conservancy in Florida Executive Director Temperince Morgan. “But it’s an incredibly important habitat with a lot of biodiversity. Among those species, the indigo snake is one of the most important. “It is a massive undertaking.” The more than 6,000-acre preserve was once clear cut for timber and then replanted with slash pine. The densely planted managed forest changed the habitat and food supply for animals like the indigo snake, pushing the apex predator out of its home range.
Historic Ybor City has a past defined by entrepreneurship. Located in the northeastern corner of Tampa, Florida, this 19th-century neighborhood dotted with Spanish-influenced brick buildings became known for producing hand-rolled cigars that were once considered the highest quality cigars in the world. Founded in the 1880s, Ybor City was home to thousands of Spanish, Cuban and Italian immigrants who ran the town and its flourishing businesses. “It was essentially an immigrant company town,” says Chris J. Castañeda, Professor of History at California State University in Sacramento. Hundreds of millions of cigars were rolled there each year. Nine of the neighborhood’s brick cigar factories survive today, alongside period houses with iron balconies. “This is where many Cuban cigars were made,” says Castañeda. While the tobacco was often grown in Cuba, many of the cigars were actually rolled in Ybor City. The thousands of workers on the line were entertained by factory lectors reading news stories, political tracts and more as they rolled their product.
One of Cortez’s oldest structures is continuing its legacy as a community gathering place. The Burton Store (also known as the Bratton Store) is in the process of transforming into The Folk School at Florida Maritime Museum. The Burton Store was the center around which Cortez grew. It is the oldest commercial building in the village of Cortez. It started as a small shed out on the Bratton Dock and grew from there. Residents would check their mail there, as well as stock up on simple groceries for meals. It was a place where neighbors shared stories and the community connected daily. The first radio and telephone in Cortez was also at the Burton Store where people would go to gather and hear the daily news. During the time that the store was in operation, there was also a barber shop, machine shop and a storage room for fish that were on ice waiting to be transported to outside markets. Later, the Albion Inn was built around the Burton Store. The Inn used gas lighting until electricity was brought to the village. There was a fireplace in the dining area and also a large wood-burning cooking stove in the kitchen. The first artesian well was installed at the inn, and during droughts residents were able to come down and fill their buckets. The inn thrived as a popular destination for winter residents. One notable visitor to the Albion Inn was Al Capone in 1928.
Forget slimy June grass and sandy feet. Forget your eyes stinging from the saltwater or searching desperately for a parking spot. Instead of heading to the beach, head north and take a refreshing dip in the crystal clear springs. Just 5 miles apart, Morrison Springs and Ponce de Leon Springs each are unique. Both provide a cool alternative to crowded beaches during the summer. In Walton County, Morrison Springs is one of the most popular diving spots in Northwest Florida. The sandy-bottomed spring discharges an average of 70-million gallons of water every day — 48 million of which is crystal clear. You can dive into the 250-feet diameter spring pool from the diving platform or take a paddleboard onto the water. Morrison Springs once was a privately-owned swimming hole, according to the University of Florida Sea Grant Extension. In 2004, the state of Florida purchased the land and springs as part of the Choctawhatchee River floodplain.
What makes a city, a city? You’ll get a wide variety of answers depending on whom you ask, but there’s one that many may leave out — the architecture. Every design aspect of a building is thoroughly considered and reflective of the architect’s style, the area, and even the time that it was built. The varying aspects of architecture itself can be seen as a physical representation of the city and its residents. As a measure to help educate residents of Winter Park on the importance of architecture, Casa Feliz is putting on its annual “Parlor Series” starting this month. “I really think you have to look at our mission, and part of that is educating people about historic preservation and doing those kind of activities,” said Susan Omoto, the new executive director at Casa Feliz. “It fits our educational perspective in terms of architecture design, preservation, and all the pieces that fit into what we are here for.”
While we fight over whether Pensacola Beach can be “owned,” a national travel magazine has listed Pensacola Beach/Gulf Islands National Seashore as the most beautiful place in Florida. It’s more of a photo essay than a story, with a photo of a lifeguard stand and white sand and that emerald Gulf water. There was no photo of condominiums or beach homes in the image of what makes us most beautiful. Because nothing we did made the beach beautiful. The beauty was there long before us. In fact, there was more beauty a century ago before we decided to cover up the beauty with buildings, homes, restaurants and places to buy “Pensacola Beach” refrigerator magnets. But still, it’s a great honor. And we should thank our lucky stars for former Pensacola News Journal Editor Emeritus J. Earle Bowden and the other local, state and federal hotshots who led the fight to establish Gulf Islands National Seashore in 1971, preserving thousands of acres of beach shores from development. And, of course, our designation as “most beautiful” by Conde Nast Traveler magazine made sure to include “Gulf Islands National Seashore,” because without it, we’re just another crowded beach more concerned with covering up beach beauty than preserving it.
One of the many gems found in the history museum at the Imogene is an orange-painted megaphone that features the words, “Milton High School” in black letters. It harks back to when the school was the home of the “Swamp Angels.” History buffs likely will feel right at home amid all of the architectural eye-candy that fills downtown Milton. The city, after all, was incorporated in 1844 and is one of the oldest cities in Florida. Its historic district, which includes more than two dozen sites, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. An illuminating way to start a tour of the old mill town is by visiting the Imogene Theatre on Caroline Street. With walls that are four bricks thick, the building is the only three-story structure in Milton and houses the nonprofit Santa Rosa Historical Society and its Museum of Local History. The Imogene opened in October 1913, almost five years after the great Milton fire destroyed most of the downtown commercial district on Jan. 11, 1909. That blaze followed three fires that wreaked havoc in the commercial area in 1885 and 1892.
James Gibson, of Fort Pierce, one of the Treasure Coast’s famed “highwaymen” painters, known for taking to the road to sell their dramatic landscapes and pastoral scenes of a disappearing Florida, has died at 79. Gibson suffered a heart attack Tuesday, his sister, Shirley Ann Gibson, said Wednesday morning. James Gibson is believed to be among about a dozen surviving Highwaymen from the original 26, whom galleries might have shortchanged because their art was the work of black people. The artist has said he believed he’d created more than 10,000 paintings. But it’s only in recent years that the Highwaymen’s art has gained fame. Works by the Highwaymen now hang in the White House and at the Florida Capitol. “I didn’t know we’d get this kind of respect,” Gibson said in February 2015 during a showing in West Palm Beach. “I just painted. That’s what I loved to do.”