Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Finding the Red Hills:
The Most Beautiful Scenic Drive in Florida


The scenic, landscaped corridor linking historic districts in Monticello and Tallahassee is best known as Fred Mahan Drive. Easily the most beautiful twenty-five miles in Florida—it started as a tribal path—became the Old Spanish Trail and is now Route 90, once the main east-west route across Florida.
In 1935, at the height of the depression in our area, Mahan’s nursery of Monticello, then one of the largest plant and tree nurseries in the Southeast, donated thousands of shrubs and trees to beautify the right-of-way along this drive. With federal funds, Jefferson County Highway Department employed thirty-five men at 30 cents an hour to plant the donated shrubs, providing desperately needed jobs at what was a fair rate of pay for the height of the great depression.
The highway right-of-way background, middle and foreground plantings consisted of pyracantha, arbor vitae, flowering crape myrtle, ligustrum and some palm trees. Recent additions of smaller crape myrtles, planted every 100 feet, from the intersection of I-10 and US 90 east of Tallahassee, for twenty plus miles to the edge of Monticello present a spectacular range of brilliant colors throughout the early summer months.
For most of the year the shrubs are lush and green. In winter, bare of leaves and flowers, their cinnamon branches are still attractive. In late April crape myrtles are covered in deep green leaves. In mid-May many of the shrubs begin to produce large clumps of conical white flowers followed by old-fashioned “watermelon pinks” and a few days later the gorgeous dark reds. When the crape myrtles are blossoming this two-lane road running east from Tallahassee to the historic City of Monticello, Florida is a never to be forgotten treat, easily the most beautiful drive in Florida.
This beauty is worth seeing and preserving. Some Florida citizens demonstrated their appreciation in the 1990’s when early one Monday morning a Florida Department of Transportation crew discovered vandals had attacked and all but destroyed an expensive, high-tech wood chipping device. Apparently tired of mowing around bushes, the crew started to use this machine to “clear” the shrubbery from both sides of Highway 90 east late that Friday afternoon. After cutting down and chewing up a few crape myrtles and other shrubs they cut the machine off and left for the weekend.
Luckily, a reporter saw the big machine devouring the crape myrtles on Friday and submitted a story to the local paper. The outcry was almost unbelievable. Telephone lines seemed to catch fire from Monticello to Tallahassee to Washington, DC. Angry people called to demand help from Jefferson and Leon County elected representatives to stop the destruction.
Sometime Saturday or Sunday evening, someone—a nature lover I assume, cut the hydraulic lines, rendering the valuable machine useless. This action and subsequent news stories and the frantic, angry telephone calls stopped the desecration and saved the beauty for us to enjoy today.
If you slow down a little so you can enjoy the wonderful view, you can see an occasional sturdy-looking palm tree tucked in behind the crape myrtles. The Ligustrum blossoms just before the Crape Myrtles, the large rounded shrubs appear dusted with snow and smell as sweet as honeysuckle. You will even see a few overgrown and badly misshapen arbor vitae, but not a single pyracantha.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Monticello's Beautiful and Mysterious Setting

The Jefferson County Florida Flatwoods

The Flat Woods of Jefferson County Florida are a world out of time. This remote and mysterious area is almost impenetrable and unknown except by a few hunters, fishermen, and scientists. The Flat Woods are located in South-central Florida, at the edge of the Apalachee Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

These remote tangled woods and swamps are bordered on the east by the Suwanee River and on the west by the Wakulla. The area is split by the mysterious, disappearing Aucilla River and graced by the spring-fed Wacissa and the lost Pinhook.

These woods and swamps boast as diverse a collection of botanical specimens as any place in the world not a rain forest. Sinkholes pierce the porous limestone underlying the jungle-like growth of oak, pine and palm, adding to the ancient mystery.

The treasures of this vast crescent, reaching almost 100,000 acres, lie deep. They are hidden from all but scientists, trained divers and special equipment. The knowledge hidden here is covered by a blanket of rotted plant life to a remarkable depth; a covering that provides anaerobic security for the remains of humans and animals waiting through centuries to tell the story of the settlement of North America.

This area has been of great interest to anthropologists, archaeologists and other scientists for many years. The evidence they have gathered through several “digs” suggests eons of settlement by humans, possibly some of the earliest settlement in North America.

The pressing question developing as all of this evidence accumulates is whether or not the first settlement in North America came from the east or from the northwest. Could the first North American settlers have come across the ice from Europe? The answer lies waiting in the Flat Woods under a deep blanket of plant waste, protected by a lack of oxygen and waiting to be uncovered.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas Dinner on the Monticello Food Trail
Anne Haw Holt

I’m so thankful I was born in the South. If I hadn’t been I would hire someone to teach me to speak with a Tidewater accent then I would lie. Yes, I would just plain-out lie. I’d swear I was born in Richmond Virginia or Monticello Florida. I’d have dozens of cousins and at least one eccentric uncle. My father would be handsome and my mother would be a true lady, educated somewhere like Mary Baldwin or Radford College. Southerners just know how to live.

Christmas dinner at the restored 1833 Wirick-Simmons House in Monticello was like taking a trip back in time—a house full of people, happy and interested, where even newcomers are treated as old friends. The lighting was a soft glow on the pale walls and high ceilings, showing off the museum quality furniture. It made the women more beautiful and the men more interesting.

The men and women of the Jefferson County Historical Association dressed the tables in white linen with crisp cloth napkins folded at each place. Polished silver utensils, a tall crystal wineglass and a stemmed silver water cup graced every plate. The candles flickered in soft breezes from the open doorways. Someone with artistic handwriting created name cards.

We talked—oh, how we talked—between each course of the delicious meal. We ate beef tenderloin done to a turn, served with potatoes, vegetables and tiny, delicious Parker House rolls. Our dessert was a piece of chocolate pie with a cherry sauce and steaming coffee. It was obvious no one wanted the evening to end.

The Wirick-Simmons House Christmas Dinner showcased our southern tradition of good food, perfectly prepared and elegantly presented to a house full of friends. Nothing could be better—it is the South at its best.




Sunday, December 1, 2013


Florida Frontier: The Aucilla, Pinhook and Wacissa Rivers
We drove south out of Monticello at dawn. At Mandalay we slid an open boat into the Aucilla. Our guide Charlie Ward sat in the back at the tiller with Jack Carswell beside him. I sat amidships to take pictures.
A smoky look hung over the Aucilla. After only a few hundred yards the sun came out to throw sparkles over the rippling water. Charlie picked out his route along the curved riverbanks.
“There are sharp rocks hidden under the surface of this water. One of those things can rip the boat to pieces.”
We entered a maze of channels between curving stretches of marsh grasses dotted with palms, twisted cedars and willows. At Apalachee Bay Charlie pointed out Saint Marks Lighthouse and the almost hidden mouth of the Pinhook.
Charlie said the whole Pinhook area is mostly limestone under the reeds and grass. Trees rooted directly into slabs of moss-covered limestone hung over the water, closing out the sun. The river narrowed and banks came closer until our boat stopped, the keel caught on a tree stretched across the water.
Grabbing a nearby limb in one hand, Charlie yanked on the side of the boat and gunned the motor, sliding us across the log. The water became shallower and the river narrower.
We turned to head back through the tunnel of trees. When we came out in the open again the sky was dark. As soon as we ran clear of the narrow part of the river we sped up, ignoring the danger of hidden rocks. We were unsure whether to head back to the Aucilla or make for Saint Marks by open water where we would be safe.
The sky turned purple and black, and a strong wind picked up. Jack and I argued we wouldn’t melt in rain and a case protected my camera. After a few miles of wind blowing in our faces the clouds moved over us and on to our west. The sun came back out.
As we turned north back into the Aucilla, we saw a gathering of Wood Storks resting on the limbs of a dead tree. One stork turned his back and spread his wings, appearing to pose for me.
As we headed up the river reflections of overhanging tree limbs cast patterns on the water. We turned left at Ward Island where Charlie stopped at a floating dock. Pointing to a path up a hill, he said, “Climb up there and you’ll see a real family fishing cabin. Those folks hauled every stick of lumber in here on a boat.”
Gray and weathered, the large structure looked shabby but sturdy. A covered porch ran across one side with a line of chairs backed up to the wall. I could picture a family enjoying the solitude--adults resting on the porch and children yelling and playing in the woods nearby.
Leaving the river, we followed the same route back to Monticello until Charlie turned onto a narrow lane to show us the headwaters of the Wacissa River.
The river is pristine—as clear as the springs that feed it. Narrow and twisted, it is land-bound and finally disappears into the earth. Its waters connect with the Aucilla through a “Slave Canal,” cut by hand in antebellum times.
A large part of Jefferson County is like these rivers, still unchanged in hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Much of the route we covered on this trip is a land and waterscape untouched and undamaged, rare and beautiful.



Saturday, November 16, 2013


Monticello to Tallahassee on Route 90:
The Most Beautiful Drive in Florida

The scenic, landscaped corridor linking historic districts in Monticello and Tallahassee is Washington Street in Monticello to Tennessee and Mahan Streets in downtown Tallahassee. That part of Route 90 is best known as Fred Mahan Drive. Easily the most beautiful twenty-three miles in Florida—it started as a tribal path—became the Old Spanish Trail and is now Route 90, once the main east-west route across Florida.

In 1935, at the height of the great depression in our area, Mahan’s nursery of Monticello, then one of the largest plant and tree nurseries in the Southeast, donated thousands of shrubs and trees to beautify the right-of-way along this drive. Jefferson County Highway Department employed thirty-five men at 30 cents an hour to plant them, providing desperately needed jobs at what was a fair rate of pay for the depression years.

The highway right-of-way background, middle and foreground plantings consisted of pyracantha, arbor vitae, flowering crape myrtle, ligustrum and some palm trees. Recent additions of crape myrtles, planted every 100 feet, from the intersection of I-10 and US 90 east of Tallahassee, for twenty odd miles to the edge of Monticello present a spectacular range of brilliant colors throughout the summer months.

For most of the year the shrubs are lush and green. In winter, bare of leaves and flowers, their cinnamon branches are still attractive. In late April crape myrtles are covered in deep green leaves. In mid-May many of the shrubs begin to produce large clumps of conical white flowers followed by old-fashioned “watermelon pinks” and a few days later the gorgeous dark reds. When the crape myrtles are blossoming this two-lane road running east from Tallahassee to the historic City of Monticello, Florida is a never to be forgotten treat, easily the most beautiful drive in Florida.

This beauty is worth seeing and preserving. Some Florida citizens demonstrated their appreciation in the 1990’s when early one Monday morning a Florida Department of Transportation crew discovered vandals had attacked and all but destroyed an expensive, high-tech wood chipping device. Apparently tired of mowing around bushes, the crew started to use this machine to “clear” the shrubbery from both sides of Highway 90 east late that Friday afternoon. After cutting down and chewing up a few crape myrtles and other shrubs they cut the machine off and left for the weekend.

Luckily, a reporter saw the big machine devouring the crape myrtles on Friday and submitted a story to the local paper. The outcry was almost unbelievable. Telephone lines seemed to catch fire from Monticello to Tallahassee to Washington, DC. Angry people called to demand help from Jefferson and Leon County elected representatives to stop the destruction.

Sometime Saturday or Sunday evening, someone—a nature lover I assume, cut the hydraulic lines, rendering the valuable machine useless. This action and subsequent news stories and the frantic, angry telephone calls stopped the desecration and saved the beauty for us to enjoy.

If you slow down a little so you can enjoy the wonderful view, you can see an occasional sturdy-looking palm tree tucked in behind the crape myrtles. The ligustrum blossoms just before the crape myrtles, the large rounded shrubs appear dusted with snow and smell as sweet as honeysuckle. You will even see a few overgrown and badly misshapen arbor vitae, but not a single pyracantha.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Monticello is the county seat of Jefferson County Florida. Some of the treasures of our county are clean rivers and unsullied wilderness. Here is my description of our "Flatwoods"

The Flat Woods of Jefferson County Florida are a world out of time. This remote and mysterious area is almost impenetrable and unknown except by a few hunters, fishermen, and scientists. The Flat Woods are located in South-central Florida, at the edge of the Apalachee Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

These remote tangled woods and swamps are bordered on the east by the Suwanee River and on the west by the Wakulla. The area is split by the mysterious, disappearing Aucilla River and graced by the spring-fed Wacissa and the lost Pinhook.

These woods and swamps boast as diverse a collection of botanical specimens as any place in the world not a rain forest. Sinkholes pierce the porous limestone underlying the jungle-like growth of oak, pine and palm, adding to the ancient mystery.

The treasures of this vast crescent, reaching almost 100,000 acres, lie deep. They are hidden from all but scientists, trained divers and special equipment. The knowledge hidden here is covered by a blanket of rotted plant life to a remarkable depth; a covering that provides anaerobic security for the remains of humans and animals waiting through centuries to tell the story of the settlement of North America.

This area has been of great interest to anthropologists, archaeologists and other scientists for many years. The evidence they have gathered through several “digs” suggests eons of settlement by humans, probably some of the earliest settlement in North America.

The pressing question developing as all of this evidence accumulates is whether or not the first settlement in North America came from the east or from the northwest. Could the first North American settlers have come across the ice from Europe? The answer lies waiting in the Flat Woods under a deep blanket of plant waste, protected by a lack of oxygen and waiting to be uncovered.


Sunday, July 28, 2013


Jefferson County’s Artisans and Growers Market is close to completing its second full year of operation. We will soon be qualified to accept SNAP cards.
The Artisans and Growers Market is sponsored by Main Street Monticello. Our primary goal is to provide a place where creative people and small growers in our area can afford to sell their products. Our strict rule is – you must MAKE IT, BAKE IT, SEW IT, or GROW IT to sell an item in this market.”
Establishing a market such as this takes a long time. We expect that to happen and are determined to stick to our goal until we succeed. We hope to build a customer base that truly appreciates things handmade and home grown. We sell a great variety of items, from t-shirts, free-range eggs to vegetables and beautiful flowering plants. Sellers offer such interesting and varied things as Mayhaw jelly, brownies and peacock feathers.
Main Street has struggled to find the perfect place to hold the market. The first few months we met in the yard of the old Jefferson County Jail on west Dogwood Street. That was tough, with no shade, no bathroom and few customers. Hal Bennett was kind enough to allow us to use his porch at Johnston’s Market last year. That was much better, we were at least on the main highway and found more customers.
This spring, the Jefferson County Historical Association offered Main Street the use of their beautiful garden behind the Wirick-Simmons house. Located at the corner of Cherry and Pearl Streets, we now erect our green tents behind their beautiful white picket fence around the garden before 9:00 AM every first Saturday.
Our next market will be Saturday August 3, 2013. We hope the weather will cooperate. If it does, we will have interesting sellers offering their products for sale. What we need now are buyers. We need you and a crowd of other interested Monticello and Jefferson County buyers to support and encourage us.

Anne