Archive for October, 2012

Photo: Kayaking off St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, Cape San Blas

Minutes from downtown Port St. Joe, kayakers ply the clear waters along Cape San Blas.

Continue reading Photo: Kayaking off St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, Cape San Blas »

Mala Compra Plantation: History From the Ground Up

Palm Coast – When Flagler County purchased an old waterfront fish camp 20-plus years ago, it had big plans for the site. The eyesore property, with its dilapidated trailers, primitive plumbing and electrical wiring, would be cleared out to make way for a picturesque county park with a boat ramp and nature trails.

But while county workers were removing trash, they discovered an unexpected archaeological treasure: the remnants of Mala Compra Plantation, once owned by Florida's first voice in the U.S. Congress and its first Hispanic member.

"The crews, of course, went in with the express purpose of demolishing and removing all the stuff that was there," recalls Al Hadeed, the Flagler County attorney. "One day the road and bridge superintendent called me and said, 'There is something here that you've got to see.' It was an old coquina well. And as we began to clear out stuff, we began to see other outcroppings of cut coquina."
{pullquote}
In the early 19th century, the plantation was home to Joseph Hernandez, who served as everything from a brigadier general in the U.S. Army to a committee member who helped select Tallahassee as the state capital. The site is part of Bing's Landing, an eight-acre county park that also includes a boat launch, fishing pier, and picnic and playground facilities.

Flagler County pursued archaeological grants to study the physical evidence of Hernandez' plantation, and then more grants to create a permanent display at the site.

"Normally when archaeologists dig, they take the artifacts and then cover the site back up," says Sisco Deen, the archive curator for the Flagler County Historical Society. "With this one, we got the artifacts, but they left the dig."

Today, visitors can walk on an elevated boardwalk around the perimeter of the plantation remains and read interpretive displays that explain the site's historical and cultural value.

"Typically, with these kind of sites, they bury them to preserve them because it's very expensive to preserve them in the open," Hadeed says.

In 2010, Mala Compra Plantation received two notable awards: One, an international recognition from the Society for Historic Archaeology, singled out the county for promoting historical archaeology. Another, from the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, rewarded the county's "Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Historic Landscape/Archaeology."

Additionally, artifacts from the dig – and others donated by descendants of Hernandez – are on display at sites around Flagler County, such as the Flagler Beach Museum and the county government services building, which houses more-valuable items that require a higher level of security.

Flagler County, of course, didn't know what it was getting when it purchased this small portion of Hernandez' old spread. But officials were surprised and delighted as they pieced together the history.

The son of Spanish immigrants who came to Florida from Minorca, an island off the coast of Spain, Hernandez was born in St. Augustine in 1788, when Florida was controlled by the Spanish. Much of his family moved to Cuba when Florida became part of the United States in 1821, but Hernandez stayed behind and launched a political career in his home state.

In 1822, he was selected to represent the new Florida Territory in Congress, where he served until 1823.

His plantation, which produced cotton and oranges and once consisted of nearly 800 acres, is also notable because Hernandez hosted John James Audubon there during Christmas of 1831, and one of the naturalist's paintings in Birds of America depicts a water bird at Mala Compra.

Seminole Indians burned the plantation in 1836 during the Second Seminole Indian War.

The plantation's name, Mala Compra, translates to "bad bargain," but who gave it that name and who got the short end of whatever bargain is not clear. Today, for those who treasure history, Mala Compra is a great deal.

If You Go

What: Mala Compra Plantation ruins
Where: Bing's Landing County Park, 5862 N. Oceanshore Blvd., Palm Coast
Phone: 386-313-4020
Web: flaglercounty.org
Hours: Sunrise to sunset
Cost: Free

In the Area

To round out a visit to the remains of Hernandez' plantation, consider these other Palm Coast destinations:

The Hammock Beach Resort (200 Ocean Crest Dr., Palm Coast, 386-246-5500, hammockbeach.com), located just off Florida's scenic Highway A1A, is an oceanfront resort that offers myriad activities for golfers, anglers, families and relaxation seekers. The family-friendly resort includes a 91,000-square-foot water pavilion, complete with water park and lazy river. An onsite spa, two golf courses, nine-hole putting course, bicycle and kayak rentals and beachside bonfires complete the Hammock Beach experience.

Just north of Palm Coast, Marineland (9600 Oceanshore Blvd., St. Augustine, 904-471-1111, marineland.net) started the Florida tradition of bringing marine life to landlubbers. Opened in 1938 as Marine Studios, this Old Florida attraction was originally intended to satiate film and television studios' appetites for underwater footage, and Johnny Weismuller filmed here for his Tarzan movies. Most of the facility's original structures were retired after 2004, and today, dolphin encounters are offered at a modern 1.3 million-gallon facility.

Continue reading Mala Compra Plantation: History From the Ground Up »

Don’t Miss Refuge Day at Three Sisters Springs This Saturday, Oct. 20

Manatee season is nearly upon us, and here's a great way to ring it in this weekend: Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge's annual Refuge Day celebration.

Refuge Day takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, at Three Sisters Springs. Visitors can expect to see raptor exhibits, and you can even talk to a mermaid! Fun activities will be available for children, including games and crafts. Plus, there will be live music and refreshments available.

There's no charge for admission, and free shuttles will take visitors from the parking lot at Kings Bay Plaza on U.S. 19 in Crystal River to the nearby Three Sisters Springs property. Shuttles run from 9:45 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.

If you want to bring the family to an entertaining and educational event, don't miss this. Special events like this are a great opportunity to see the gorgeous Three Sisters Springs by land, which
has not yet been developed to accommodate visitors on a daily basis, and therefore is usually not open to the public.

For more information, call the refuge office at 352-563-2088.

Continue reading Don’t Miss Refuge Day at Three Sisters Springs This Saturday, Oct. 20 »

Florida Finders Fest Geocaching Event Oct. 25-28

I know, I know – the weather's great, and you're looking for something cool to do outside. Look no further, my friends, I've got something to share that will have you grabbing your camping gear, gassing up your car and heading to the woods. 

It's time again for one of Florida's signature geocaching events, so juice up those GPS devices and head to the Ocala National Forest. Florida Finders Fest happens Oct. 25-28, with FWC's Ocala Conservation Center and Youth Camp on Lake Eaton serving as the event hub.

This isn't an event where it's just a couple of people standing around a geocache. Last year, the Florida Finders Fest was a mega event, which means over 500 people in attendance. This year it's expected to draw an even larger crowd. 

There will several outings and contests throughout Florida Finders Fest (check out the Night Gauntlet), with the main event happening Oct. 27 at 8 a.m. For a complete guide, directions and registration information, visit www.floridafindersfest.com. Last year, I happened to be passing through the area and hung out at the event for a few minutes. For a glimpse into what goes on at Florida Finder's Fest, make sure to check out the video above.

Have fun!

Continue reading Florida Finders Fest Geocaching Event Oct. 25-28 »

Florida Finders Fest Geocaching Event Takes Place Oct. 25-28

I know, I know – the weather's great, and you're looking for something cool to do outside. Look no further, my friends, I've got something to share that will have you grabbing your camping gear, gassing up your car and heading to the woods. 

It's time again for one of Florida's signature geocaching events, so juice up those GPS devices and head to the Ocala National Forest. Florida Finders Fest happens Oct. 25-28, with FWC's Ocala Conservation Center and Youth Camp on Lake Eaton serving as the event hub.

This isn't an event where it's just a couple of people standing around a geocache. Last year, the Florida Finders Fest was a mega event, which means over 500 people in attendance. This year it's expected to draw an even larger crowd. 

There will several outings and contests throughout Florida Finders Fest (check out the Night Gauntlet), with the main event happening Oct. 27 at 8 a.m. For a complete guide, directions and registration information, visit www.floridafindersfest.com. Last year, I happened to be passing through the area and hung out at the event for a few minutes. For a glimpse into what goes on at Florida Finder's Fest, make sure to check out the video above.

Have fun!

Continue reading Florida Finders Fest Geocaching Event Takes Place Oct. 25-28 »

Photo: Swimming pool at Princess Place Preserve, Palm Coast

Florida’s first in-ground swimming pool was served by a rustic bathhouse at Princess Place Preserve in Palm Coast.

Continue reading Photo: Swimming pool at Princess Place Preserve, Palm Coast »

Old Florida Still Lives at Princess Place Preserve

Visitors tour the house where the princess lived. The trails where she rode her horses are now favorites for equestrians, amblers, primitive campers and extreme mountain bikers.

At Princess Place Preserve in Palm Coast, it's easy to focus on the scenic locale at the confluence of Pellicer Creek and the Matanzas River, the activities available and the natural and manmade beauty.

But the Preserve's history was rich, even before its purchase in 1886 as a hunting lodge by 24-year-old Henry Cutting, wealthy descendent of the Dutch who bought Manhattan for beads.

Before then, in 1788, a 1,105-acre plot was given as a Spanish land grant to Minorca-born Francisco Pellicer, part of a group that arrived as indentured servants in 1768 and thrived in the New World. Pellicer and his family lived here for 38 years, growing corn, cane and cotton until they were burned out during the Indian Wars, 1814-1819 and 1835-1842.

The plot became known as Cherokee Grove when H. C. Sloggett established one of Florida's first orange groves here in the early 1800s, according to Ranger George O'Dell.

After Cutting bought Cherokee Grove and several adjacent  parcels to grow his holdings to 1,500 acres, he enlisted artisans already brought to St. Augustine by his friend, railroad magnate Henry Flagler, to construct his Adirondacks-style lodge between 1886 and 1888.

The artisans' use of indigenous materials – cabbage palm and cedar trunks to support the wraparound porch and tabby (a mixture coquina shells and cement) and pink coquina mined from the nearby beach for its exterior – produced an excellent feat of adaptation.

The line of paired palm trees planted to welcome guests in 1888 now blends seamlessly with mammoth, centuries old and vine-draped live oaks.

Florida's first in-ground pool, where the rich and royal frolicked in spring-fed 72-degree water, is a shadow of its former innovative glory, but O'Dell hopes that someday funds will be available to restore it.

Place for a Princess

Cutting brought his bride Angela here – they married in 1888, the year the lodge was finished – and along with a home in St. Augustine, this place became their winter escape. She loved it and relished hosting their New York friends. After Cutting's sudden death four years later and her remarriage to New York stockbroker J. Lorimer Worden in 1901, she continued coming to Cherokee Grove.

After a rancorous divorce from Worden in 1922, Angela met and married an exiled Russian prince, Boris Sherbatow, in 1924, gaining the title of Princess. Cherokee Grove was their home for 25 years, and as Angela became more royal than the prince, it soon became known as Princess Place.

"Boris didn't like it," O'Dell said. "He spent his time in St. Augustine."

No one seems to know what difference he thought such a minor change would make, but Prince Boris, feeling endangered by his claims to the Russian throne, transformed his name to Sherbatov. Meanwhile, he and Angela entertained other royals and the international society set in St. Augustine and at Princess Place.

He died in 1949 of natural causes, but the princess didn't sell her beloved Princess Place until 1954. She died in St Augustine two years later at the age of 87.

Two subsequent Princess Place owners – first Angela and Lewis Wadsworth, a pair of the state's first and most ardent environmentalists, then another pair of environmentalists, Conway and Polly Kittredge – preserved the property, making it the only Spanish land grant in the state with its original acreage still together.

Both owners offered Princess Place to the state for acquisition, but it wasn't until 1993 that Flagler County was able to purchase 435 acres. Princess Place Preserve was formally dedicated in 1994, and a year later, an additional 1,100 acres were added. It now consists of more than 2,200 acres.

Ironically, after so many years of overnight visitors from high society, the only overnighters here now are primitive tents-only campers. Each of the seven family campsites comes with a view of the water.

Equestrian groups take advantage of the equestrian and group campsite by night, and access to miles of trails, including the land bridge over I-95, by day.

Each year Pangea Adventure Racing attracts 130 teams for a month of three-event competition – kayaking, mountain biking and orienteering.

Overnighter or day tripper, take the time to wander the trails and you're likely to encounter the real residents of Princess Place – herds of white-tailed deer, red fox, bobcats, opossums, raccoons, barred owls, armadillos and Florida panthers among them.

"It's pristine land; you never know what you're going to see," said Katrina Austin, Flagler County administrative assistant. "In the spring we have a pair of nesting eagles."

A large piece of old Florida, fit for a princess.

If You Go

What: Princess Place Preserve
Where: 2500 Princess Place Rd., Palm Coast
Phone: 386-313-4020
Web: flaglercounty.org
Hours: 7 a.m. – 6 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas days. Tours of the lodge are avaiable at 2 p.m., weather permitting, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Cost: Free

Continue reading Old Florida Still Lives at Princess Place Preserve »

Photo: The prince and princess of Princess Place Preserve, Palm Coast

Photographs of the Princess and her Russian Prince set off the tabby fireplace in the great room at Princess Place Preserve in Palm Coast.

Continue reading Photo: The prince and princess of Princess Place Preserve, Palm Coast »

Photo: Scenic driveway at Princess Place Preserve, Palm Coast

Leaving Princess Place Preserve in Palm Coast is like leaving the past behind, but its beauty will remain with you.

Continue reading Photo: Scenic driveway at Princess Place Preserve, Palm Coast »

Photo: Homestead at Princess Place Preserve, Palm Coast

Its Adirondacks style and use of local materials help the homestead blend well with the environment at Princess Place Preserve.

Continue reading Photo: Homestead at Princess Place Preserve, Palm Coast »