I’m honoured today, to be sharing my blog space with Jack Urquhart, a great Twitter friend and very talented writer, to tell us about his wonderful homeland of Florida:
Thank you, Jane, for allowing me to share something of my Florida.
Although my home state was admitted to the Union in 1845, it was only after the American Civil War that the military opened much of the landmass to settlers, to the detriment of Florida’s native tribes.
Lakeside Inn, Mount Dora
I live in the village of Mount Dora in Lake County—aptly named for its 1400+ named lakes and rivers. Located 40 miles north of Orlando and its world-famous theme parks, this portion of the state, originally inhabited by the native Jororo and Calusa tribes, was pioneered in the 1880s by settlers (of European heritage) who arrived by steamboat on the St. Johns River.
Point of trivia: The 1981 John Schlesinger movie, Honky Tonk Freeway, was filmed in Mount Dora, for which most of the town was painted pink. Also featured in the film: an Indian Elephant shipped in and taught to water ski on Lake Dora. Today, Mount Dora is a popular winter resort and artist community.
Located 200 miles southwest of Mount Dora are the beautiful Gulf Coast barrier islands of Sanibel and Captiva. Originally a single island, the hurricanes of 1921 and 1926 split the island in two. Explorer Juan Ponce de Leon is said to have discovered Sanibel in 1513 while searching for the Fountain of Youth. Throughout much of 16th century, the area was a haven for pirates, including José Gaspar who constructed a prison on “Isle de los Captivas,” where he held prisoners “captive” for ransom.
While the islands’ beaches are spectacular, I am drawn to the J.N. Darling National Wildlife Refuge, 6300 acres of mangrove, bay and estuary, and home to 300+ species of birds.
Another of my favorite Florida destinations, St. Augustine, lies on Florida’s Atlantic coast. St. Augustine was founded in 1565 and is the oldest continuously inhabited European-established city in the continental United States.
One of the city’s star attractions, the Castillo de San Marcos, holds the distinction of being the oldest masonry fort in the United States. Constructed of stone-like coquina, Spanish for “small shells,” the site has never been taken.
Closer to home, and closer to the heart of this writer and native Floridian, is the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park. Located in Cross Creek, between Gainesville and Ocala, Rawlings’ cracker style home and farm—where she wrote her Pulitzer prize-winning novel The Yearling (1939)—has been kept intact. Today, the book—which predates the concept of young-adult fiction by decades—is commonly included in YA lists.
Note to prospective visitors: Florida’s legendary heat/humidity index is no myth. Best months to visit: mid-February through mid-May. After that, you’re likely to find me escaped to cooler climes, or barring that, indoors—with the A/C fully cranked.
Jack A. Urquhart is the author of So They Say Collected Stories. You can learn more about Jack and his writing at his blog, http://www.jaurquhart.com/ Follow him on Twitter @jackaurquhart