Just steps from where the railroad tracks used to run, this proud tree grows as a collapsed Masonic Lodge sits in ruin beside it. As the two have aged together, I imagine the lives, stories and changes they have seen. As one grows and the other decays in this rural ghost town, I wonder what stories they might have to share.
[Collapsed Corrugated Tin Roof ]
[Original 19th century pine, brick and Spanish Moss. Old Florida at its finest!]
[One of the appliances left inside the collapsed Lodge]
[Rotting boards of the original Masonic Lodge with a view of the newer (and also abandoned) Masonic Lodge c. 1950’s]
[Alachua County, FL c. 1880’s]
I have spent the past few weeks researching and photographing one very special road in Alachua County. Nearing 200 years old, this stretch of (sometimes dirt) road holds incredible tales I could only imagine. Its first path was actually laid by Native Americans who utilized a natural land bridge to cross the Santa Fe River going back hundreds of years. The arrival of Spanish settlers and expansion of missionaries from the Atlantic Coast inland toward (present-day) Tallahassee brought increased traffic of wagons that continued to bore out a more defined trail into the limestone, becoming known as the Old Mission Trail. Much of the mission traffic ended in the early 1700’s as the British led Indians into this area. The British and their Indian allies continued to use this route through the American Revolution.
[Rolling green hills make up the surrounding landscape along most of the drive]
Fast-forward to 1821 and the Spanish have just ceded Florida to the United States. In 1824, the first session of the 18th U.S. Congress decided that a road needed to be developed to connect the capitols of East and West Florida, St. Augustine and Pensacola respectively. It would become Florida’s first federal highway. Congress ordered that this new road would follow the Old Mission Road as closely as possible. The western part of the road was constructed by the U.S. Army and the larger eastern portion was contracted to a plantation owner from Monticello, FL by the name of John Bellamy and was largely built by his own slaves in under 2 years.
[A few Florida Cracker Homesteads like this one still stand along the road- c. 1900]
Early Florida settlers who came from Georgia and the Carolinas in the mid-1800’s developed small communities along the road, some of which still bare markers you can see today.
[Florida Cracker Homestead c.1895]
The growing communities of Newnansville and Traxler built homes, churches, schools and commissaries, until the railroad came through Gainesville many years later, encouraging settlers to move. These are literal ghost towns now, with Newnansville only holding on to it’s cemetery. Traxler on the other hand still shows some of its relics in the form of old Florida Cracker houses that are (barely) still standing.
As time ticked on, the western portions of the road fell in to disuse as settlers moved to other areas, however the eastern portion remained valuable to early settlers and is still functional today. The fantastic rolling hills and varying landscape almost make you forget you’re in Florida, but the wonderful drooping Spanish Moss trees will remind you again. This was designated a Florida Scenic Highway in 1980.
As I plow through 2,000 photos from the past two months of travel, I keep going back to this odd little spot on the map that I encountered in rural California. Just outside the world-renowned wine producing areas in Napa and Sonoma counties lies a long-forgotten town. Once a stop for quicksilver miners, Pope Valley is spotted with historic yet peculiar landmarks from another time. Mostly uninhabited today, much of what I encountered was abandoned and seemed out of place. I am working to find more history on the area while getting the photos ready for a full blog post.
In the meantime, one of the most interesting objects I found was this vehicle at the end of an unpaved dirt mountain road with nothing else nearby. I am almost positive this is a 1950’s (maybe late 1940’s model) but I’m not sure of the make. Anybody out there on the interwebs know what kind of car this is?
(Best viewed in full size by clicking on the photo)
I have so much left to edit from the past 3 weeks of shooting, but I keep finding favorites that I am too anxious to hold on to. While exploring rural Georgia last week, I was testing out some HDR photography. Here is one of the first edits of a roadside swamp that we stopped to shoot.
It is hard for me to believe that in the 4 years I lived in Gainesville, I never saw Paynes Prairie…until I stopped on my way out of town (literally, I was moving away). I moved away to cookie-cutter suburbs and found myself longing for an outdoor place to explore and I kept the prairie in the back of my mind until I found myself living back in Gainesville again 3 years later.
This amazing place almost defies explanation as the expansive prairie (21,000 acres) opens up just miles from the Gainesville swamps. It looks like no other place in Florida and attracts migrating Mustang, Bison and Sandhill Cranes to the area to co-habitate with alligators, wild hogs and rabbits. Equally intriguing is the historical significance of this area. Archaeological evidence shows human activity here as early as 12,000 years ago. Fast forward to the mid-1600’s and Paynes Prairie would find itself home to Rancho de la Chua, the largest cattle ranch in Spanish Florida. The wild horses on the prairie which still remain today are thought to be descendants of the horses brought over from Spain during this period. As early as the 1770’s, naturalists, artists and writers like William Bartram, Marjorie Kinan Rawlings and James Audubon have been drawn to the areas beauty, uniqueness and ecological diversity. The following century found the prairie under water from heavy rains. The drain for the basin, called the La Chua sink, clogged and the basin flooded for nearly a decade creating what was then called Alachua Lake. Steamboats delivered lumber, goods and passengers on the lake until the early 1900’s when the basin dried up.
In 1971, Paynes Prairie became the first state-funded preserve in Florida. It is open year round for hiking, canoeing and limited camping. There are numerous different entry points to the preserve scattered around Alachua county which offer many different vantage points in which to take in the views. I recommend checking out the La Chua sink (where the gators sunbathe) and Sweetwater Branch Overlook (where you can look down over the whole prairie) as first stops and try to make it for sunset which is always spectacular. Both are located here off of the Boulware Spring Trailhead.
“On the first view of such an amazing display of the wisdom and power of the supreme author of nature, the mind for a moment seems suspended, and impressed with awe.”
-William Bartram, Travels (1791)
[On his feelings while gazing at Paynes Prairie for the first time]
There is something undeniably magic about watching the sunset over water. Almost inexplicable colors illuminate rippled patterns across the mirrored surface. The air begins to cool and the clouds seem to dance as the sun bids adieu to another day. Here is a collection of some of my favorite shots from the Florida Gulf Coast: Fort Myers, Steinhatchee and Cedar Key.
Of all the different types of photography I shoot, I must confess that I most enjoy exploring and capturing abandoned structure and decay. It’s partly the adventure, the unknown, the history and the recognition that few others will have the opportunity to see what I am seeing first hand. My search for abandoned and historic architecture is most thrilling when I have the time to meander aimlessly in the rural south looking for remnants of a slower, simpler time.
With a bit of preliminary research, a handy gps and some gut instincts, this stuff isn’t as hard to find as you might think. I headed to Georgia and dirt road after dirt road through cotton field after cotton field led me to this gem. Literally in the middle of nowhere, Youngs Chapel stands abandoned with nothing but cotton as far as the eye can see. There is little information available online in regards to this little beauty, but I know it was built in the 1890s and operated as a Methodist church. I couldn’t help but wonder who attended this church or how they got there so long ago as it seems to be the only structure of its time (or any!) to be in the area.
With the piano still sitting in the chapel and a small (and still maintained) cemetery in the back, you can envision church-goers wandering slowly up the dirt path to Sunday service so long ago.
To see more photos from the set, check out my flickr gallery: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjwmQ4jE
I have always been fascinated with lighthouses and have a dream of traveling up the Eastern U.S. to capture all that I can along the coast. But, until that adventure is a possibility I will take advantage of the lighthouses that Florida has to offer!
The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, completed in 1887, is the tallest standing lighthouse in the state of Florida. Located on Ponce de Leon Inlet (formerly Mosquito Bay) this lighthouse is still in active service with a Third Order Fresnel lens in its tower. The climb to the top was slightly sketchy, but well worth it.
For more photos from the set, check out my flickr gallery: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjv569qm
Hey kids! I finally sat down to try and wrangle a blog (again). This one will be photo-driven with stories and insights as I photograph the world around me.
Thanks for checking in.