TORREYA TAXIFOLA - NORTH FLORIDA

Left from Rock Bluff on a dirt road to TORREYA STATE PARK, 15.5 m. on the Apalachicola River. This 520-acre park was named for the evergreen Torreya taxifola, rarest species of the genus Torreya, found here and for 10 miles south along the eastern bank of the river. Because of the unpleasant odor when bruised, the tree is known as ‘stinking cedar.’ Two other varieties grow in Japan and California, but both differ in size, leaves and color of fruit from the Florida tree, which rises in pyramidal form to a height of 40 feet.

Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State (WPA, 1939) [Find it at a library near you.]

Torreya State Park is about an hour west of Tallahassee, the state’s capital in northwest Florida, where I currently live. The park opened in 1935, a project of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal, public work relief program. Its namesake, the Torreya taxifolia, or “gopher wood,” is a small coniferous tree that is currently listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN). The numbers are staggering: “Before the start of the decline in the early 1950s, the population was estimated to have been more than 600,000 […] The current population is estimated to be between 500 and 600 trees.” Efforts to preserve and maintain the tree range from academic studies from conservation biologists [PDF] to a citizen biodiversity protection group who are “rewilding” the tree in and around Asheville, NC and other select locations.

The Florida Torreya is one of the many native Florida plants that are indigenous to the Big Bend—one of the the nation’s most biodiverse ecosystems. Many of the indigenous flora and fauna are endangered due to overdevelopment.

Guide Note: This dispatch was inspired by a personal project: an experiential auditory piece meant to invoke the physical and aural sensation of observing the T. taxifolia in its native landscape, the limestone hills of the Apalachicola River Basin, while it slowly disintegrates as a species. The author is collaborating with Josh Mason (Jacksonville) and Michael Diaz (Tallahassee). Photographs by Michael Diaz, images courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory project.

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Micah Vandegrift is a Floridian who has not once been to Miami. He fell into academic librarianship after finishing a degree in American and Florida Studies wherein he wrote a thesis on Gainesville’s post-punk music scene. His dream vacation is to take an airboat ride through the Everglades, stop off in Gibsonton, catch a show at Weeki Wachee Springs, camp in the Dry Tortugas National Park, hang out with the bison on Paynes Prairie, catch a flick at the Silver Moon Drive In,  walk the trees at the Myakka River Canopy, and finish the trip with an Dipped Cone at Del’s Freez in his hometown of Melbourne, FL. Micah can be discovered all around the web, mostly rousing rabble about librarianship in the digital age. Find him on Twitter, Tumblr, and Flickr.

OCALA, FLORIDA

When I think of Ocala, Florida two things come to mind: thoroughbred horses (Ocala is one of the major thoroughbred centers in the world) and John Travolta (he has a home there, complete with a 747 air strip). Now, given that there are no photographs of horses or Mr. Travolta, I’m questioning the practicality of my Ocala guide; however, what I do experience every time I take the trip up there from South Florida is a beautiful, traditionally southern topography. Located in Marion County, the northernmost county in central Florida, Ocala is where the old southern oaks begin to give way to the tropical palms.

To be honest, I don’t know much about the history of Ocala besides what I just read on its Wikipedia page, but I’ve been taking the trip up there twice a year for the past five years and it’s always a welcome break from the resort-filled beaches of South Florida. It’s a pretty rural area, although the town seems to be sprawling more and more every year. I think I even saw a Chipotle when I was up there this past October.

Ocala’s downtown is quaint and comfortable—what you’d expect from an old Southern town. Around the outskirts of the city is where I like to go. Old motels, service stations, drive-in theaters, and the Ocala National Forest line much of the area’s highways. The rural landscapes of the Ocala National Forest could be explored for weeks. The mildly hilly terrain is covered by dense pine forests and you’re liable to come across an orange grove, or a local farmer selling fruit or boiled peanuts out the back of their old Chevy. The rivers, lakes and natural springs scattered throughout the forest make for an oasis during the hot summer months. 

Maybe next time I take the trip to Ocala, I’ll try to arrange a flight with Mr. Travolta and mingle with the thoroughbred elite, but I have a feeling I’ll keep revisiting those old country roads.

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Brian McSwain was born and raised in New Orleans, but currently resides in South Florida. While a psychology graduate student, he spends the time he should be using to study on photography. Find him on Tumblr at brianmcswainphotographs.tumblr.com, follow him on Instagram and see his work on Flickr.

SOUTH FLORIDA, LIFE ON THE GULF COAST
Dispatch for Field Assignment #7: Ethnography & Demographics from Noelle McCleaf on the borderline of backcountry and far out on Florida’s Gulf Coast:

Florida is at once a continuation of the Deep South and the beginning of a new realm.
—Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State (WPA, 1939)

* * *
Noelle McCleaf, was born and raised in Virginia and spent her childhood camping in Shenandoah and swimming naked in cold Pennsylvania Creeks. She has spent most of her adult life very far south in Southern Florida, where she works as a Professor of Photography and exhibiting photographer. In her spare time she photographs her mother and those close to her, who hold a deep respect for the landscape and how it sustains us. More of her work can be viewed at noellemccleaf.com. Find her on Tumblr at noellemccleaf.
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SOUTH FLORIDA, LIFE ON THE GULF COAST
Dispatch for Field Assignment #7: Ethnography & Demographics from Noelle McCleaf on the borderline of backcountry and far out on Florida’s Gulf Coast:

Florida is at once a continuation of the Deep South and the beginning of a new realm.
—Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State (WPA, 1939)

* * *
Noelle McCleaf, was born and raised in Virginia and spent her childhood camping in Shenandoah and swimming naked in cold Pennsylvania Creeks. She has spent most of her adult life very far south in Southern Florida, where she works as a Professor of Photography and exhibiting photographer. In her spare time she photographs her mother and those close to her, who hold a deep respect for the landscape and how it sustains us. More of her work can be viewed at noellemccleaf.com. Find her on Tumblr at noellemccleaf.
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SOUTH FLORIDA, LIFE ON THE GULF COAST
Dispatch for Field Assignment #7: Ethnography & Demographics from Noelle McCleaf on the borderline of backcountry and far out on Florida’s Gulf Coast:

Florida is at once a continuation of the Deep South and the beginning of a new realm.
—Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State (WPA, 1939)

* * *
Noelle McCleaf, was born and raised in Virginia and spent her childhood camping in Shenandoah and swimming naked in cold Pennsylvania Creeks. She has spent most of her adult life very far south in Southern Florida, where she works as a Professor of Photography and exhibiting photographer. In her spare time she photographs her mother and those close to her, who hold a deep respect for the landscape and how it sustains us. More of her work can be viewed at noellemccleaf.com. Find her on Tumblr at noellemccleaf.
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SOUTH FLORIDA, LIFE ON THE GULF COAST

Dispatch for Field Assignment #7: Ethnography & Demographics from Noelle McCleaf on the borderline of backcountry and far out on Florida’s Gulf Coast:

Florida is at once a continuation of the Deep South and the beginning of a new realm.

—Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State (WPA, 1939)

* * *

Noelle McCleaf, was born and raised in Virginia and spent her childhood camping in Shenandoah and swimming naked in cold Pennsylvania Creeks. She has spent most of her adult life very far south in Southern Florida, where she works as a Professor of Photography and exhibiting photographer. In her spare time she photographs her mother and those close to her, who hold a deep respect for the landscape and how it sustains us. More of her work can be viewed at noellemccleaf.com. Find her on Tumblr at noellemccleaf.

THREE TO SHOW / PALM BEACH KENNEL CLUB - WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA

Owners, trainers, touts and hangers-on fill hotels and rooming houses, and throng the sunny streets, their patter concerned with odds, entries, and past performances. Paddocks and stands swarm with eager humanity each afternoon and evening. The playboy and plowboy, the dowager in pearls and the sylph in shorts, the banker on vacation and the grifter on prowl keep turnstiles clicking and feed staggering sums to the pari-mutuels. More than $34,000,000 was wagered at the horse tracks during the 1938-39 season, and nearly $10,000,000 at the dog tracks. … Gambling is both legal and illegal, for while it is quite within the law to buck pari-mutuels at the tracks, the same business with bookies is strictly illicit. 

Florida, A Guide To the Southernmost State (WPA, 1939)

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Brian McSwain was born and raised in New Orleans, but currently resides in South Florida. Lately he’s been driving out to photograph the Florida Heartland where the skies are incredible and there’s not much to get in the way of the sun. Find him on Tumblr at brianmcswainphotographs.tumblr.com, follow him on Instagram and see his work on Flickr.

ST. PETERSBURG, FLORIDA 

Florida’s fourth-largest city and the second in importance as a winter resort, occupies a semi-isolated area of 58 square miles on the southern tip of the Pinellas peninsula, a 25-mile projection between Tampa Bay and Boca Ciega Bay. US 19, entering from the North, is its only free trunk highway.

St. Petersburg’s front yard is a series of landscaped parks and driveways paralleling Tampa Bay, a filled-in stretch of two miles embracing the city’s harbor, yacht basin, municipal pier, and major recreational attractions.

* * *

Jordan Smith is the guide to ephemeral America for The American Guide. He currently works for the University of Notre Dame during the day and scans at night. He lives in South Bend, Indiana and you can find him on Flickr, his blog, or one of several Tumblr sites.

SILVER SPRINGS, FLORIDA 

Timucuan Indians settled around Silver Springs in the early 1500s. They were soon invaded by the Spaniards and eventually succeeded by Seminole Indians. In turn, the Seminoles, led by Chief Osceola, then retreated to southern swamps when pressed by the US Government in 1835. By the 1850s, barges carried cotton, lumber and nonperishables up the river to the growing community of Ocala. 

Paddlewheel steamboats made their way up the Silver River to the main spring and in the 1880s railroad cars began bringing even 
more tourists. Silver Springs and the Silver River have been tourist attractions ever since. In addition, the spring’s crystalline water has provided the perfect underwater backdrop for many Hollywood films and television programs including six Tarzan films, Sea Hunt, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, and many others.

Silver Springs, will become a state park in October, following $4 million in renovation that includes the removal of exotic animals and amusement rides. Its famous glass-bottom boat tours, which started there in 1878, and the popular concert series will remain, but several exhibits and structures will be dismantled to convert the attraction into a more natural park. The park will remain open during the transition.

Sources: 1, 2, 3

* * *

Jordan Smith is the guide to ephemeral America for The American Guide. He currently works for the University of Notre Dame during the day and scans at night. He lives in South Bend, Indiana and you can find him on Flickr, his blog, or one of several Tumblr sites.

PANAMA CITY BEACH, FLORIDA

Florida is at once a continuation of the Deep South and the beginning of a new realm.
* * *
PANAMA CITY BEACH is a bathing and fishing resort. Gay-colored summer cottages line the dunes west of Panama Beach; hard-surfaced parking places enable motorists to stop at intervals for a swim or picnic along the smooth beach. Salt marshes, with clusters of cabbage palms, border quiet bayous; sand dunes are cloaked with wild myrtle, dwarf magnolia, and rosemary. Tradition has it that the rosemary was brought here by the English during their occupation of the region in 1763-83. English soldiers were given grants of land in St. Andrews Bay territory; the open fields along the shore, sites of old plantations, are now overgrown with rosemary.
—Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State (WPA, 1939)

Guide Note: My wife and I spent a week in Panama City Beach, Florida, fondly introduced to us as the “Redneck Riviera.” I couldn’t have dreamt of a more beautiful place to people watch.
* * *
Raised in a military family, Midwest Guide Rob Walters has lived in South Carolina, Georgia, California, New York, Nebraska, New Hampshire and Illinois. Always looking for an excuse to hit the road, he spends most of his creative energy on long drives, exploring the Midwest and beyond. He lives with his wife and soon to arrive son in Omaha, Nebraska, and chairs the Art Department at Iowa Western Community College across the river in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Follow on Tumblr at fromthemiddle.tumblr.com.
This dispatch arrived care of THE AMERICAN GUIDE submission page. Be a guide yourself and send a post from your state: theamericanguide.org/submit.
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PANAMA CITY BEACH, FLORIDA

Florida is at once a continuation of the Deep South and the beginning of a new realm.

* * *

PANAMA CITY BEACH is a bathing and fishing resort. Gay-colored summer cottages line the dunes west of Panama Beach; hard-surfaced parking places enable motorists to stop at intervals for a swim or picnic along the smooth beach. Salt marshes, with clusters of cabbage palms, border quiet bayous; sand dunes are cloaked with wild myrtle, dwarf magnolia, and rosemary. Tradition has it that the rosemary was brought here by the English during their occupation of the region in 1763-83. English soldiers were given grants of land in St. Andrews Bay territory; the open fields along the shore, sites of old plantations, are now overgrown with rosemary.

Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State (WPA, 1939)

Guide Note: My wife and I spent a week in Panama City Beach, Florida, fondly introduced to us as the “Redneck Riviera.” I couldn’t have dreamt of a more beautiful place to people watch.

* * *

Raised in a military family, Midwest Guide Rob Walters has lived in South Carolina, Georgia, California, New York, Nebraska, New Hampshire and Illinois. Always looking for an excuse to hit the road, he spends most of his creative energy on long drives, exploring the Midwest and beyond. He lives with his wife and soon to arrive son in Omaha, Nebraska, and chairs the Art Department at Iowa Western Community College across the river in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Follow on Tumblr at fromthemiddle.tumblr.com.

This dispatch arrived care of THE AMERICAN GUIDE submission page. Be a guide yourself and send a post from your state: theamericanguide.org/submit.

LAWLESS: LOVING IT AND NOT IN SOUTH FLORIDA
For the traveler—and the local, too—there’s a sort of lawlessness—a coast-to-coast sensation—when you’re in South Florida, below the Lake Okeechobee shoreline.
Our guide—Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State, published by the WPA in 1939—says it in plain words: “Florida is at once a continuation of the Deep South and the beginning of a new realm.”
And in that new realm, you do whatever the hell it is you want to do. You see it in the faces of those just passing through to the faces of the snowbird, the country cracker, the Miccosukee, the Cuban, the black American—anyone and everyone.
But, it’s not that you’re up to no good if you’re in these parts. No, because down here you’ve either been left to yourself or abandoned outright—something you either fought for and won or fought against and lost. That’s the prettiness and the ugliness of the place.
Just ask our guide: “Throughout more than four centuries, from Ponce de Leon in his caravels to the latest Pennsylvanian in his Buick”—You can throw in Walt Disney, HMO-barons, spring-break bros and hoes, and sub-prime mortgage lenders—”Florida has been invaded by seekers of gold or of sunshine. The result of all of this is a material and immaterial pattern of infinite variety, replete with contrasts, paradoxes, confusions, and inconsistencies.”
"Seekers of gold or of sunshine"—that’s a damn fine line to walk: between the Freedom—with a capital F—that we all seek and the temptations and trappings of its pursuit.
It’s all the “seekers of gold or of sunshine” where that lawless feeling comes from.
* * *
Tom McNamara is the co-editor of THE AMERICAN GUIDE. 
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LAWLESS: LOVING IT AND NOT IN SOUTH FLORIDA
For the traveler—and the local, too—there’s a sort of lawlessness—a coast-to-coast sensation—when you’re in South Florida, below the Lake Okeechobee shoreline.
Our guide—Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State, published by the WPA in 1939—says it in plain words: “Florida is at once a continuation of the Deep South and the beginning of a new realm.”
And in that new realm, you do whatever the hell it is you want to do. You see it in the faces of those just passing through to the faces of the snowbird, the country cracker, the Miccosukee, the Cuban, the black American—anyone and everyone.
But, it’s not that you’re up to no good if you’re in these parts. No, because down here you’ve either been left to yourself or abandoned outright—something you either fought for and won or fought against and lost. That’s the prettiness and the ugliness of the place.
Just ask our guide: “Throughout more than four centuries, from Ponce de Leon in his caravels to the latest Pennsylvanian in his Buick”—You can throw in Walt Disney, HMO-barons, spring-break bros and hoes, and sub-prime mortgage lenders—”Florida has been invaded by seekers of gold or of sunshine. The result of all of this is a material and immaterial pattern of infinite variety, replete with contrasts, paradoxes, confusions, and inconsistencies.”
"Seekers of gold or of sunshine"—that’s a damn fine line to walk: between the Freedom—with a capital F—that we all seek and the temptations and trappings of its pursuit.
It’s all the “seekers of gold or of sunshine” where that lawless feeling comes from.
* * *
Tom McNamara is the co-editor of THE AMERICAN GUIDE. 
Zoom Info
LAWLESS: LOVING IT AND NOT IN SOUTH FLORIDA
For the traveler—and the local, too—there’s a sort of lawlessness—a coast-to-coast sensation—when you’re in South Florida, below the Lake Okeechobee shoreline.
Our guide—Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State, published by the WPA in 1939—says it in plain words: “Florida is at once a continuation of the Deep South and the beginning of a new realm.”
And in that new realm, you do whatever the hell it is you want to do. You see it in the faces of those just passing through to the faces of the snowbird, the country cracker, the Miccosukee, the Cuban, the black American—anyone and everyone.
But, it’s not that you’re up to no good if you’re in these parts. No, because down here you’ve either been left to yourself or abandoned outright—something you either fought for and won or fought against and lost. That’s the prettiness and the ugliness of the place.
Just ask our guide: “Throughout more than four centuries, from Ponce de Leon in his caravels to the latest Pennsylvanian in his Buick”—You can throw in Walt Disney, HMO-barons, spring-break bros and hoes, and sub-prime mortgage lenders—”Florida has been invaded by seekers of gold or of sunshine. The result of all of this is a material and immaterial pattern of infinite variety, replete with contrasts, paradoxes, confusions, and inconsistencies.”
"Seekers of gold or of sunshine"—that’s a damn fine line to walk: between the Freedom—with a capital F—that we all seek and the temptations and trappings of its pursuit.
It’s all the “seekers of gold or of sunshine” where that lawless feeling comes from.
* * *
Tom McNamara is the co-editor of THE AMERICAN GUIDE. 
Zoom Info

LAWLESS: LOVING IT AND NOT IN SOUTH FLORIDA

For the traveler—and the local, too—there’s a sort of lawlessness—a coast-to-coast sensation—when you’re in South Florida, below the Lake Okeechobee shoreline.

Our guide—Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State, published by the WPA in 1939—says it in plain words: “Florida is at once a continuation of the Deep South and the beginning of a new realm.”

And in that new realm, you do whatever the hell it is you want to do. You see it in the faces of those just passing through to the faces of the snowbird, the country cracker, the Miccosukee, the Cuban, the black American—anyone and everyone.

But, it’s not that you’re up to no good if you’re in these parts. No, because down here you’ve either been left to yourself or abandoned outright—something you either fought for and won or fought against and lost. That’s the prettiness and the ugliness of the place.

Just ask our guide: “Throughout more than four centuries, from Ponce de Leon in his caravels to the latest Pennsylvanian in his Buick”—You can throw in Walt Disney, HMO-barons, spring-break bros and hoes, and sub-prime mortgage lenders—”Florida has been invaded by seekers of gold or of sunshine. The result of all of this is a material and immaterial pattern of infinite variety, replete with contrasts, paradoxes, confusions, and inconsistencies.”

"Seekers of gold or of sunshine"—that’s a damn fine line to walk: between the Freedom—with a capital F—that we all seek and the temptations and trappings of its pursuit.

It’s all the “seekers of gold or of sunshine” where that lawless feeling comes from.

* * *

Tom McNamara is the co-editor of THE AMERICAN GUIDE

SUGARLAND

A guide to Harlem, Florida, using Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State (WPA, 1939) as your map. 

You see the sign — Harlemand turn off the Sugarland Highway just past Clewiston. Unless you lived in it, you wouldn’t know Harlem, Florida. You drive up and are introduced by a white church outlined in yellow abutting a graveyard. So many of the structures are white: from the blindingly-so church to the faded, off-white houses up and down the streets. In the cemetery, white cattle egrets strut among the headstones, skittering off when you get too close. 

Your WPA Florida guidebook says Harlem was a settlement established by the transient blacks that worked in the U.S. Sugar Corporation fields. And, in the square-mile wide Harlem skyline, the U.S. Sugar plant is still there. It is the Harlem skyline. You get the feeling it always will be.

Today, the town remains almost all black, half live below the poverty line, and half still work in agriculture.

Florida-born Zora Neale Hurston, in her 1937 book, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is quoted by your guide; describing the scene of itinerant pickers in and around Lake Okeechobee, not far from Harlem:

Day by day now, the hordes of workers poured in. Some came limping in with their shoes and sore feet from walking. It’s hard trying to follow your shoe instead of your shoe following you. They came in wagons from way up in Georgia and they came in truck loads from east, west, north and south. Permanent transients with no attachments and tired looking men with their families and dogs in flivvers. All night, all day, hurrying in to pick beans. Skillets, beds, patched up spare inner tubes all hanging and dangling from the ancient cars on the outside and hopeful humanity, herded and hovered on the inside, chugging on to the muck. People ugly from ignorance and broken from being poor.

In Harlem, take out the black glossy SUVs and beat-up pick-ups, imagine half the number of headstones in the church graveyard: sometimes years gone by can still leave things in stasis, just more of the same and the same.

Words - Tom McNamara; Images - Tom McNamara & Erin Chapman

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Tom McNamara and Erin Chapman are co-editors of The American Guide.

CHARLES DEERING ESTATE

James and Charles Deering, businessmen and philanthropists, have been deceased for almost 90 years. But in the ensuing decades, their lavish Miami properties have carried on a certain form of sibling rivalry.

Younger brother James’ Vizcaya, plushly located in Coconut Grove, is flashier, better known, and so large that its roofing tile once covered an entire Cuban village. Its manicured gardens have had numerous film cameos. But farther south, in the Palmetto Bay neighborhood, is Charles’ own Deering Estate, composed of a stone mansion and the Richmond Cottage, an inn that served the Cutler area in the early 20th century. Much of the property was laid to waste by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, but it’s since been restored and opened to the public by the Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation, and Open Space Department.

The homestead is massive but sparse (especially in comparison to the sprawling antique collections of Vizcaya), but the Deering Estate embraces its natural surroundings. A boardwalk path leads visitors through the salty mangrove, or they can take a guided tour to a Tequesta Indian burial mound. But the estate has also embraced modernity, with fireworks booming through the night whenever there’s a wedding or other fancy event. And Charles’ estate has its own IMDb credits—albeit on the smaller screen—having been featured on Miami Vice and a season of the Amazing Race. 

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Susan Cohen—a State Guide to South Carolina—sent this dispatch from a recent venture to southern Florida. A staff writer for the Charleston City Paper, she’s visited strip clubs, played quidditch and homebrewed for the award-winning alternative weekly. Follow her on Tumblr at SusanJCohen.com.