Thursday, May 31, 2007

Florida Hurricane Blogs

I know hurricane season doesn't start until tomorrow, but it's never too early to get ready!

Here's three Florida hurricane blogs I found -- feel free to add comments if you know of others.

Eye on the Storm

Hurricane Headquarters

Central Florida Hurricane Center

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

New Florida Books

Michael Gannon's History of Florida in 40 Minutes (hardcover + cd, University Press of Florida, $24.95)

If you like to judge books by their cover, you'll be glad to know this one is exactly what it claims. Eminent Florida historian Michael Gannon summarizes Florida's past into ten key populations, ~70 widely spaced pages of text, and a 40-minute CD (included with the book). Good for commuters, a quick refresher for long-time residents, or an introduction for people who just moved here.

Florida's Living Beaches: A Guide for the Curious Beachcomber (Blair and Dawn Witherington, softcover, 326 pages with index, Pineapple Press, $21.95)

There you are at the beach, looking for shells, and you find them, along with lots of other neat (or gross) things. But what exactly are your treasures? Even if you do remember to pack the nature guides in the beach bag, how many different books would you need to lug out there to identify the shells, the birds, the fish, the everything. Now it's all in one tidy book, with clear color photos and text, from chicken liver sponges to sea purse beans.

Faces on the Frontier: Florida Surveyors and Developers in the 19th Century (Joe Knetsch, softcover, 214 pages with index, The Florida Historical Society Press, $23.95)

This book is a collection of 15 essays and articles about the men who mapped the Florida wilderness. In it you will meet Robert Butler (who married Andrew Jackson's wife's niece, and was the first Surveyor General of Florida), John Wescott (who fought to have money from sales of state lands -- every Section 16 -- put into a school fund), John Jackson (who put Tampa on a map), and Albert W. Gilchrist (who struggled to survey the mangove coast of Sanibel Island years before he became Governor).

Southern Comforts: Rooted in a Florida Place (Sudye Cauthen, hardcover, 192 pages, Center for American Places, $29.95)

Blending memoir, local history, family stories, and ancient cultures, Sudye Cauthen shows us the Alachua as she experiences the place. This book isn't in the stores yet, but you can order it online. Last week at the Florida Historical Society meeting, I heard her read a selection from the book, in which she wove memories of a beloved aunt with a description of archaeologists unearthing burials at a long-forgotten Spanish mission. I'm very much looking forward to reading Southern Comforts from cover to cover.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sweden House Smorgasbord

Here's a postcard I found. It's of the Sweden House Smorgasbord, which was at 2720 North Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa. It's not there anymore, but that address puts it near Columbus and Dale Mabry, generally where the Dodge dealer is now.

The back of the postcard says:

Every Day - Hot Dishes - Cool Sparkling Salads
Tampa's Finest Smorgasbord Service
Fine Food and Gracious Dining
Without Extravagance

Other Florida locations were in Fort Lauderdale and St. Petersburg, with others in Illinois.

I don't know anything else about this restaurant (I'm guessing it dates to the 1960s or 1970s?), but perhaps some of you do!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Largo Feed Store

Yesterday I visited the Largo Area Historical Society with a tour group from the Florida Historical Society meeting. Largo's historical society is housed in the historic Largo Feed Store, a 1910 building moved to its current site in 1992.

In 1910 John Gainey built a feed store out of rusticated concrete block he manufactured himself. The store was run by Francis Marion Campbell, who had moved to Largo in 1867 and also owed and operated the Hotel Largo. Campell died in 1912, and from that year until the 1980s, a succession of owners ran a feed store in this building at this location.

When in the 1980s the Florida Department of Transportation began planning to widen Bay Drive, the Largo Area Historical Society worked to have the old Largo Feed Store moved to Largo Central Park. After it reached its current home, the historical society, the city, and the Florida Department of State worked together to have the building refurbished. Now, in addition to housing historical exhibits, it serves as a multipurpose building across the street from the Largo Public Library, and near the city's cultural center.

Rusticated concrete block, also called rockfaced concrete block, was made in a mold to create a surface texture that resembles stone. Its popularity as a building material peaked between 1905 and 1930. Concrete and concrete block were popular building materials well before then, but it took two technological advances to make mass production of rusticated concrete block possible. First, Harmon S. Palmer patented a hollow concrete block manufacturing machine. Second, the method of making Portland cement was improved and standarized. With a easy manufacturing method and reliable materials, rusticated concrete block became a widely popular building material, the ideal being that with nonskilled labor, the blocks could be made at the construction site. Block machines were even sold through the Sears catalog. Advantages of the blocks included that they were less expensive to lay than brick, they imitated the appearance of a more expensive material (quarried stone), and they were fire resistant.

In 1917, F. J. Straub patented a method of making cinder blocks. Cinder blocks used aggregates to make a lighter block, and they had smooth surfaces rather than the rough surface of rock-faced blocks. By the 1930s, cinderblock had replaced rusticated concrete blocks in popularity as a building material.


"Historic of the Historic Largo Feed Store," pamphlet produced by the Largo Historical Society, Largo, Florida.

Pamela H. Simpson, "Cheap, Quick, and Easy: The Early History of Rockfaced Concrete Block Building," Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture, 1989.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A. Santaella Cigar Factory

Yesterday's mystery photo was of the front steps of the A. Santaella factory on Armenia Avenue in West Tampa. The former cigar factory is being transformed into the West Tampa Center for the Arts.

Cigar factories are simple, yet elegant in their functionality and detail. The architectural design is quite deliberate -- large open rooms with space for workers, walls of windows for light and ventilation. Each factory had its own water tower -- some were separate, others were concealed in fancy towers. ("Anatomy of a Cigar Factory Building")

Marilyn Esperante Figueredo told the history of this factory in Cigar City Magazine: "The Best of the Best: The Story of the A. Santaella Cigar Factory."

It's a different factory, but this video tour of the J.C. Newman Cigar Factory is interesting, too.

The Gonzalez Habano Cigar Company's map of surviving cigar factories in Tampa, with photographs

Monday, May 21, 2007

What's This?

Anyone recognize this building? (Answer coming later)

Saturday, May 19, 2007

This Week in Florida Blogs

Instead of my usual weekend roundup of news stories, here are some recent blogs about Florida I enjoyed.

"Spotlight On: Collins Avenue Shopping District" (Boom or Bust Miami) Photographs, maps, and discussion of Miami Beach's trendy yet historic Art Deco shopping district.

"Exploring Downtown's Cathedral District" (MetroJacksonville) Lots of photos with discussion of buildings and parking lots in a historic area of Jacksonville.

"Amorous Alligator Trapped at KSC Shop" (The Flame Trench) It's Florida. These things happen.

"Another Loss of a Beach Institution" (Blurbex) 60-year-old beach bar closes -- "Nothing is historic down here"

"Concert Under the Stars at Bok Tower" (Empirical Polk)


Blogging with Rob
The (Big Square) Money Pit

Friday, May 18, 2007

Artificial Reefs: You Might Be Surprised What's Down There

One year ago the USS Oriskany became the world's largest artificial reef, intentionally sunk in the Gulf of Mexico near Pensacola. The Oriskany, the "Mighty O," was an aircraft carrier that saw action in the Korean and Vietnam wars. Veterans who served onboard and went on to become well known include astronaut Alan Shepard, Admiral James Stockdale, and Senator John McCain. Also, if you've watched "The Bridges of Toko-Ri" or "The Men of the Fighting Lady," you've seen the Oriskany. The hope is that the ship will be a good fishing and diving spot, and be an economic asset for Pensacola.

Another artificial reef is under construction near Pensacola, from the remains of the old I-10 bridge over Escambia Bay, which was badly damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. These are just two of the over two thousand artificial reefs that can be found in Florida's offshore waters.

An artificial reef is a man-made object that is deliberately sunk in the ocean to provide habitat for marine life or stabilize erosion. The "U.S. Customs Reef" was created east of Key Biscayne in 2001 by scuttling four ships seized from drug smugglers. Four Florida reefs incorporate parts of old oil rigs. Reef Balls are man-made objects made specifically to create artifical reefs. Eternal Reefs are reef balls that incorporate the cremated remains of the dearly departed, a different sort of burial at sea.

Unfortunately, not all artificial reefs are successful. In 1972, two million tires were placed offshore of Fort Lauderdale. The tires were meant to attract marine life and keep the land fills from overflowing. However, marine critters were not attracted. Some of the tires have broken loose and washed ashore. Others have broken loose and actually damaged natural reefs. Hopefully, the tires will be cleaned up this year (here's the plan).

(Additional Resource for Teachers: National Geographic Lesson Plan "The Pros and Cons of Artificial Reefs" for Grades 9-12. )

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

One of Florida's Very Own, The Limpkin

I became acquainted with "my" limpkin a couple of years ago. I couldn't figure out why I kept waking up 12 minutes before the alarm clock went off. I heard some repetitive noise that sounded like something electronic with dying batteries, but I couldn't match it up with anything in the house. Then one morning I was weeding the flowerbed when a loud scratchy honk startled me. I looked down and around and up, and there perched on the gable of the neighbor's house was a limpkin. Sure surprised me. I thought they were shy -- what was this crazy bird doing in the 'burbs?

Off and on since then I sometimes see a limpkin, sometimes a pair, hanging out at the retention pond down the street. They've been there most days, lately. It's a pretty good retention pond for bird watching -- anhingas, osprey, hawks, ducks, moorhens, ibis, several types of herons and egrets, seagulls -- and for watching other critters like turtles, rabbits, and fish. I keep my distance from the alligator.

Limpkins frequent pond banks and wetlands, since this is where they find their favorite foods -- apple snails, mussels, lizards, fish, and such. They are attractive birds, in an understated way, with dark brown bodies and white spots on the neck and shoulders. They have knobby knees and a crooked grin. The limpkin's beak has a gap, and sometimes a twist, which helps it separate snail bodies from snail shells. Limpkins can be found in the Caribbean and Central America, but in the United States, they are pretty much only in Florida.

Another apple-snail-eating-gotta-come-to-Florida-to-see-it bird is the Snail Kite, which looks rather like a hawk. The snail kite also has a special beak, with a big hook at the end, to get at its dinner. Florida's human population also used to eat apple snails, the remains of which are found in prehistoric shell middens and mounds. Apple snails are big freshwater snails found in the wetlands, where they in turn eat grass, duckweed, and algae.

Limpkins were nearly hunted to extinction in Florida a hundred years ago, but have since made a comeback, although they are still a species of concern. The snail kite is not faring as well, and is an endangered species. Habitat loss is a contributing factor -- both bird and snail habitat. Figuring out what water levels should be to encourage snails is an important part of Everglades restoration.

It's a good day when I see a limpkin. It's my son's favorite bird -- he's impressed by things that are "rare" or "only" -- and having limpkins nearby makes him think that Florida is a pretty special place. Of course he's right.

Monday, May 14, 2007

How Doth the Little Crocodile

"American Voices" on The Onion today is "Florida Crocs Make Nuclear Comeback." (The Onion is a satirical parody of American news publications -- you can read more about it in general, and about its American Voices feature in particular in Wikipedia's The Onion entry.)

Satire and parody require some basis in reality. So. There really are crocodiles at FPL's Turkey Point nuclear power plant south of Miami. Since it began operation in 1972, the plant's cooling water canals have proven to be good homes for American crocodiles.

In March 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Commission reclassified the American crocodile as a threatened rather than endangered species, at least it the crocodile's South Florida range. (You can read the official final rule here).

Crocodile fact sheet (pdf) from FPL-Turkey Point Plant.

April 21, 2007, story on NPR's All Things Considered -- "American Crocodiles Make a Comeback"

(and Thanks to Lewis Carroll.)

Conceptual Kiley Gardens

Next Sunday, May 20, The Urban Charrette is sponsoring Conceptual Kiley Garden. They have invited students, artists, and organizations to create artistic, freestanding trees to display where the trees used to be in this downtown Tampa landscape. Later, the trees will be auctioned, with the money going to the Friends of Kiley Gardens, a non-profit organization working to restore the park.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Multimodal Transportation and Touring Historic Florida

From time to time on this blog, I have discussed heritage tourism and scenic byways, and the topic of one-tank trips has even come up. But with so much public attention turning to gas prices, climate change, and mass transit, I wondered if too much emphasis is being placed on automotive travel. My first step towards an answer is a quick survey of existing modes of transportation available for exploration of this state.

In the category of engine-powered transportation, I found driving tours, boat tours, trolley tours, bus tours, amphibious duck boat tours, seaplane, and even conch train tours.

In the category of self-propelled transporation, I found walking tours, canoe trails, hiking trails, and bike tours.

In the category of animal-propelled transporation, I found horse trails. Ostrich and alligator-drawn carriages seem to have fallen out of favor.

Florida's economy relies heavily on tourism, but Florida is also a large and growing state with complex transportation needs. The two issues intersect -- how will tourists get to Florida, and how will they move around once they are here? If it is also a goal to promote heritage tourism, how should tourists best travel to historic and cultural sites?

(Oddly, looking at this list, I see that although I have traveled Florida by car, foot, boat, canoe, bicycle, and horseback, I have never personally been on any of the tours or trails I linked to. My subconscious mind must be muttering about vacations again.)

Circa 1901-1905 photograph of Governor W. S. Jennings by the St. Augustine city gates in an alligator cart, courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Photographic Collection.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


On November 15, 1965, Walt Disney, Roy Disney, and Governor Haydon Burns shared the stage at a press conference in Orlando, announcing Disney's plan to build a new theme park in Orlando. Until shortly before this announcement, Disney's real estate agents had worked secretly for 18 months to buy land before word got out and prices rose accordingly. Learning from prior experience in California, Disney wanted enough land for the park to be completely self-contained, and to have a sizeable buffer from the outside world.

In 1996, as part of the ceremonies for Walt Disney World's 25th anniversary, Disney held a reunion of sorts marking the occassion of that press conference, which took at the Cherry Plaza Hotel in Orlando, overlooking Lake Eola. The Cherry Plaza is now the Post Parkside apartments. Its restaurant has changed hands several times over the years, and may or may not reopen as Stottler's.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Sunday Visit to Animal Kingdom

Sunday I spent the day at Animal Kingdom -- the newest of the Walt Disney World parks, built in the 1990s. Disney is a major econmoic and cultural force in Florida.

The pictures are a little dark --wouldn't you know I'd pick the one day in the middle of a drought that it actually poured down rain? The bottom photo has a "hidden mickey."

Some books about Disney (not tour guides!):

Married to the Mouse: Walt Disney World and Orlando, by Richard Foglesong

Building the Dream: The Art of Disney Architecture, by Beth Dunlop

Team Rodent, by Carl Hiaasen

Some Disney Blogs:

The Disney Blog

Disney History

Passport to Dreams Old and New

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Florida Historic Buildings in the News

"Local classics fell, but condos fail to rise" (Palm Beach Post, 5/5/07)

"Razing of Sheraton Bal harbour rescheduled for fall" (Miami Today, week of 5/3/07)

"Hialeah track could reopen for racing, slots" (Miami Today, week of 5/3/07)

"Expect some changes at Marek's" (Marco Island Sun Times, 5/3/07)

"Kitschy, maybe, but sights say home" (Spring Hill, St. Petersburg Times, 5/3/07)

"Marking their place in history" (Eglin Air Force Base,, 5/4/07)

"Couple restore historic home" (Titusville, Florida Today, 5/5/07)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

My Google Map of Hillsborough River Bridges

Here is my first attempt at using Google's My Maps. I've marked each bridge over the Hillsborough River, with a little information about most of them. I intend to add more information and images as I figure out how, but for now, I'd like to know what you think and what you would like to see added.

Bridges of the Hillsborough River

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Florida Coloring Books

Lots of organizations and government agencies put together children's coloring books as part of public education and outreach programs. Many of these are available online as free downloadable and printable .pdf files. Just in time for summer vacation and family trips!

The Florida Scrub Coloring Book
(Archbold Biological Station)

Florida's Animated Alphabet
(Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commision)

Florida Wildflowers and Florida Insects
(Florida Department of Agriculture)

(Florida Forestry Association)

Indian River Lagoon Coloring Book
(South Florida Water Management District and St. Johns River Water Management District)

Manatee Coloring Book and Marine Alphabet Coloring Book
(Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute)

The St. Johns River Coloring Book
(St. Johns River Water Management District)

Take a Trip to Clean Air
(Florida Solar Energy Center)

Clean Water Cadets
(City of Hollywood Public Utilities)

Color Me Tampa
(City of Tampa Art Programs)

Manatees: A Coloring and Activity Book
(Northeast Florida Regional Planning Council)

The Estuary Neighborhood
(Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


"Time's fun when you're having flies." -- Kermit the Frog

In a state closely associated with with reptiles, the amphibians are sometimes overlooked. However, organizations such as the Southwest Florida Amphibian Monitoring Network and the Hillsborough River Watershed Alliance's Frog Listening Network are keeping their eyes - and definitely their ears - open. It's important work, since amphibians can be indicators of the health or decline of our environment.

But for those of you who aren't the type to be convinced by gentle green throat-clearings, there is the movie Frogs!, starring 1970s vintage Sam Elliot, Ray Milland, and Joan Van Ark. Filmed in part at Eden Gardens State Park and Panama City Beach, Frogs! shows what happens when you spray too many chemicals on the hoppy creatures. That's right, nature gets even. The film's poster is a bullfrog with a severed hand in its mouth.

Perhaps those amphibians are just upset because they just read Ralph Stoutamire's 1952 publication, Bullfrog Farming and Frogging in Florida. Florida's frog industry was but a tadpole, but Stoutamire gave advice on the design and management of commercial frog farms. The best chapter is the "Statement of F. B. Cramer, Sr., President of the Southern Industries, Inc., Frog Farm Located Just North of Tampa, Florida." Page 35 shows Mr. Cramer himself, a respectible looking man wearing a tie, with his spectacles tucked into his shirt pocket as he holds a large spotted dangly-legged frog. To feed his frogs, he relies heavily on fiddler crabs found on bay beaches (Page 37 shows his special crab-catching apparatus). He sells the legs and arms to canners, and tans frog skins to be made into leather "ladies shoes, belts, purses, key rings, the covering of artificial bait for fishing and other novelties." The photos are great -- to illustrate how big the frogs are, a lovely lipsticked young lady holds two enormous amphibians by the feet. On the next page, four grim frog hunters pose with headlamps and gigs. Evidently Wauchula was the centrepointe for catching wild frogs, with 29,000 pounds shipped out in just 5 months of 1941. Stoutamire: "As a wild bullfrog seldom weighs more than 2 pounds, even the pessimistic must admit that is a lot of frogs."

Stoutamire's pièce de résistance is 16 pages of "Famous Ways to Serve Giant Frogs." Yes, 16 pages of 1950s frog recipes such as "Giant Frog Sandwich Spread," "Jellied Great Bullfrog Creamed Salad," and "Giant Bullfrog Fondue." I kid you not.