Under the surface of its tourism facade, there are ghost towns, echoes of history waiting to be discovered. As you go through these silent witnesses of time, you not only learn about the state's interesting history, but you also engage on an adventure that few have attempted.
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Let's embark on a trip to some of Florida's most intriguing ghost towns:
1. Stiltsville, Biscayne Bay
Located about a mile offshore, Stiltsville is a collection of wooden stilt houses.
Originating in the 1930s, they once numbered over twenty but have dwindled to only seven today. These houses, appearing to float above the clear waters, offer a picturesque view and are an emblem of Florida's mid-century life.
The Journey to Stiltsville
The road to Stiltsville is a one-of-a-kind combination of natural beauty and historical significance. Drive from downtown Miami to Key Biscayne, where the excursion truly becomes an aquatic adventure.
The Rickenbacker Causeway, your time machine, transports you across the glistening waters of Biscayne Bay, offering panoramic views of Miami's cityscape on one side and the great expanse of the Atlantic on the other. The landmark lighthouse serves as a beacon as you approach the Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, directing travelers for almost two centuries.
From here, a short boat journey takes you directly to Stiltsville. The trip, rather than the destination, captures the spirit of South Florida, combining elements of its vibrant urban life with the peacefulness of its beach appeal.
The Route’s Highlights
Travelers can enjoy a range of experiences along the journey. Stop at Virginia Key Historic Beach Park, Miami's first colored beach, which played an important role during the segregation era.
Apart from its historical value, the park features tranquil beaches ideal for a brief bath or a picnic. Consider taking a diversion to the Miami Seaquarium, a 38-acre tropical paradise that provides an insight into marine life and hosts magnificent events and exhibitions.
Whether you want to learn about history, marvel at nature's beauty, or simply enjoy the trip with the windows down and the sea breeze in your hair, the road to Stiltsville promises a plethora of experiences that will leave you with memories to last a lifetime.
2. Fort Dade, Egmont Key
Once a thriving community with over 300 residents, Fort Dade now stands in ruins.
Established during the Spanish-American War, it features abandoned roads, barracks, and gun batteries. Accessible only by boat, Egmont Key offers both a historical journey and a nature adventure.
Navigating to Egmont Key
Sailing to Egmont Key brings you to a time when history and nature coexist in perfect harmony. The majority of visitors begin their journey in Fort De Soto Park, located on St. Petersburg's southern tip. Passengers are treated to a beautiful tapestry of vistas as the boat cruises over the calm waters of Tampa Bay.
The azure waters are frequently dotted with playful dolphins, and a vast assortment of seabirds can be seen flying to and from the island's refuge. The renowned Sunshine Skyway Bridge stands tall as a sentinel of contemporary engineering against the immense expanse of the Gulf of Mexico in the horizon.
The boat voyage, which normally lasts around 30 minutes, is not only a way of getting to Fort Dade but also a scenic adventure in and of itself, offering visitors with an immersive sense of Florida's coastal attractiveness.
Egmont Key's Pathways of the Past
The trails call as soon as you set foot on Egmont Key. Each trail goes through a combination of sun-dappled palm trees and coastal shrubbery, taking visitors to different parts of the island's history.
The ruins of the once-bustling Fort Dade act as silent narrators, telling the stories of soldiers and residents who previously lived on the island. The old brick paths, which have been softened by nature's restoring hand, lead visitors past crumbling houses, gun emplacements, and the historic lighthouse, which has weathered the test of time.
Every step on the island is a dance between the echoes of the past and the undisturbed beauty of the present, resulting in a travel experience that resonates deeply with individuals seeking a connection to both history and nature.
3. Kerr City, Lake County
Purchased in the late 1800s by Calvin Lee, this town once housed 25 families.
Today, a handful of original structures still stand, including the post office and the Lee family home, providing a glimpse into Florida's pioneer life.
The Drive to Kerr City
Traveling to Kerr City is like turning the pages of a history narrative, with the landscape depicting evocative scenes from Florida's past. Beginning in the adjacent town of Ocala, the journey unfolds along the picturesque Highway 315.
This meandering route goes through the center of Florida's oldest national forest, the Ocala National Forest. A canopy of dense green engulfs the road as you drive, with intermittent breaks providing glimpses of glistening lakes and undulating sand pine mountains.
The chirping of birds and the rustle of leaves serve as the soundtrack for this journey back in time. Rustic signs along the path lead to numerous hiking trails and freshwater springs, urging people to stop and explore the region's natural beauties.
Arriving at a Bygone Era
The dense forest thins out as Highway 315 near Kerr City, revealing open fields and relics of a once-thriving settlement. The approach is ambient, with a tangible sense of entering a time capsule.
Old wooden fences ring the roadways, and some of the original buildings can be seen peeking out from behind groves of ancient oak trees coated in Spanish moss.
With its weathered wooden front and large porch, the Lee family home stands out as a notable landmark, evoking thoughts of family reunions and simpler times.
Nearby, one of the town's surviving landmarks, the vintage post office, survives as a testament to the community's once significant position in the region. The silence, broken only by the whispering winds and distant birdcalls, provides visitors with a strong connection to the land and its historic past.
As you venture through these ghost towns, remember to take the necessary precautions:
- Plan Ahead: Some of these towns are remote or require special permissions to access. Research and make necessary arrangements before your visit.
- Stay Safe: Wear appropriate attire, pack essential supplies, and be cautious as some structures can be unstable.
- Tread Lightly: Respect the history. Take only photos and leave only footprints. Disturbing or removing artifacts is not only disrespectful but also illegal.
Plan Your Florida Ghost Town Road Trip
There are so many popular destinations in Florida, and for something totally different a trip to see the old ghost towns is a really unique experience.
These road trips offer a unique chance to witness the state beyond its modern-day allure. As you drive through these remnants of history, each corner whispers stories of a bygone era.
It's an unforgettable journey, marrying the thrill of exploration with the allure of history. So, the next time you think of Florida, look beyond the beaches and theme parks, and delve into its hauntingly beautiful past.