Palatka Pride

On the surface, Palatka, FL appears to be an antiquated town that time has left behind. As the county seat of Putnam County, there is legal commerce aplenty,

Putnam County Courthouse1 (2)

but Main Street bears the battle scars of a once-vibrant retail scene.

Offices for Rent

Far too many vacant store and empty sidewalks along St. Johns Avenue suggest that downtown Palatka’s panache has been replaced by big-box retailers like Wal-Mart (only three miles away)–jokingly confirmed by a hand-painted directional crossroads sign beside an empty storefront.

In fact, it would seem that much of Palatka is FOR RENT…

Kiddie Kampus

or simply un-rentable…

Texaco Service Station

Palatka sits on the west bank of St. Johns River offering strategic access into Central Florida, which is what made Palatka a once-thriving pre-Civil War trading post after land-hungry American settlers eliminated the Seminoles, driving them west of the Mississippi.

Bird's-eye_View_of_Palatka,_FL (2)

Equally important to Palatka’s economy at the time was its mild sub-tropical winters–extending farmers’ growing season and making the area a popular tourist destination for the hoi polloi, whose wealthier counterparts enjoyed a luxury haven in nearby, coastal St. Augustine (read The Poshest Campus in America, and Otto’s Collections).

Unfortunately, a historic fire in 1884 and deep-freeze in 1894 sealed Palatka’s fate as a favored destination, as most tourists migrated South. The city rebuilt, and eventually re-emerged as a manufacturing hub, with Georgia Pacific currently holding title to the largest private sector employer.

But what of downtown today for its nearly 11,000 residents, and how can they possibly compete with St. Augustine to the North, Orlando to the West, and Daytona Beach to the South?

The city, when considering its redevelopment needed a gimmick–something to breath new life into it.

Dragon on a roof

It needed a serious makeover, or maybe some divine intervention.

St. Mary's Church

Driving traffic back to the beat of the city was important. The Bingo Palace added some well-deserved blue-collar cache and shabby chic to the area, and preserving Angels Diner for future fans of Guy Fieri has also become a go-to venue.

One look around the interior of Angel Diner, and it defies the gravity of its standing as Florida’s oldest diner.

Angels Diner exterior

By any law of nature, it shouldn’t be standing, but this tin-skin dive is a testament to the wire and glue that seemingly holds its walls from caving. Stepping through its Hobbit-like entrance is like being transported back to a time when shiny greasy spoons offered up Happy Day burgers and shakes, while we listened to the jukebox soundtrack of our Growing Pains.

Angels Diner interior

Leah and I shared a hefty order of Fish and Chips. The check came to eight bucks, and it was tasty! 

fish and chips.jpg

A walk around downtown after our meal left the impression that Palatka is much like a collection of rusty charm pieces; although it boasts a historic district with a melange of classic architectural styles, it’s still fighting to remain relevant.

While there is ample nostalgia here, and a story to tell of old Florida, perhaps all that’s really needed is a broom and a fresh coat of paint.

Enter the Conlee-Snyder Mural Committee in 1998, which has opted to:

…accurately depict the historical, cultural, and natural riches of Palatka and Putnam County in larger-than-life murals.  In sharing these pictorial renderings with visitors and citizens, appreciation of the heritage of the community will be enhanced and developed.

The city’s plan of commissioning a plethora of tribute murals over the past twenty years has given rise to a tourism rebirth, notwithstanding the city’s longstanding and dedicated art scene and attention to local culture.

Arts Center

Self-described as the City of Murals,

City of Murals legend (2)

Palatka now boasts a swath of bright colors depicting lively time capsule markers, and always helping to defib drab building back to life.

What follows is a photo essay of just a few of them in no particular order:

William Bartram
William Bartram, c. 1774
on South Third Street at St. Johns Avenue

Wildlife
Putnam Treasures 
on South Seventh Street at St. Johns Avenue

Tightrope Walker
High Time in Palatka, c. 1872 
on South Seventh Street at St. Johns Avenue

Those Who Have Served
War Veterans Memorial
on North Eighth Street at St. Johns Avenue

Palatka Station
Old J T & K Railway Station, c. 1886
on City Hall, Reid Street at North Second Street

Native Flowers
Putnam County Wildflowers
on South Third Street at St. Johns Avenue

Mary Lawson Hospital
Mary Lawson Hospital
on Ninth and St. Johns Avenue

Hiawatha
Night Passage, c. 1884
on North Fourth Street at St. Johns Avenue

Harlem Nights
Harlem Nights in Palatka
on North Seventh Street at St. Johns Avenue

French Balcony
Bygone Days, c. 1880
on South Fifth Street at St. Johns Avenue

Cowboys on the River
Cattle Drive to Paynes Prairie, c. 1930

on North Tenth Street at St. Johns Avenue

Columbine
Battle at Horse Landing, May 23, 1864
on South Third Street at St. Johns Avenue

Billy Graham
To God Be the Glory, 1937-38
on South Fourth Street at St. Johns Avenue

Bill Pearce Highway
Senator B.C. Pearce
 on St. Johns Avenue between North Tenth and Eleventh Streets

Annie Oakley
Annie Oakley
on South Eleventh Street at St. Johns Avenue

All Hotels Depots
The Putnam House, c. 1891
 on North Second Street at St. Johns Avenue

Other merchants have joined in, beautifying the exteriors of their retail establishments…

Peace mosaic

with mixed messages.

Pizza Boyz

After canvassing the town with my camera for the afternoon, I dropped my work façade,

3-D Saloon.jpg

knowing it was definitely time for a drink!

 

When It Rains, It Pours

Leah and I were about to step out to take care of an outdoor errand, when a graying sky turned into a routine Florida downpour, putting a damper on our schedule until the storm abated. We were watching the rain from my office window, just as the city sanitation truck arrived, chugging towards our cul de sac for the weekly trash pickup. But this time around, something went terribly wrong.

The driver of the truck entered the cul de sac by driving down the center of the road instead of staying right and following the full curve of the road. Perhaps, the driver thought the truck’s turning radius could negotiate a tight 180° turn out of our dead end from his middle-of-the-road position without jumping the opposite curb…but he was wrong. The vehicle rolled over the curb–its right wheel catching a water supply cover that split under the weight of the cab–which crushed the water valve and sheared the 3-inch supply line underneath.

Suddenly, we were looking at an impropmtu geiser eruption in our front yard, rising 60 feet or more.

gusher1.jpg

It was enough for me to grab my camera and photograph the ensuing drama, as if I was part of a crime scene investigation.

police arrival

The police were called–filing a report and issuing a summons to the driver–but stuck around for a while to gawk at the local man-made attraction.

Thirty minutes passed before a Water Department maintenance crew eventually arrived on the scene to figure out their next step.

service truck and geiser

With water being such a precious commodity (see Well Done!), Leah and I wondered how much had been wasted.

“They better not be charging us for that,” she asserted.

“How could they,” I reassured, “It’s not like it was our mistake.”

First order of business…

checking the break

…inspect the damage…

water pressure

…then locate the water shut-off…

turning off the water

…and stop the flow…

water recovery.jpg

to enable repairs.

geiser containment

digging out

tools of the trade

pumping water

excavating the pipe head

After an hour of tinkering, the damaged fitting was finally replaced…

cracked pipe

…with something shiny and new.

new cap installed

I asked the crew chief how much water he thought had been lost.

crew chief

“Y’know, I have to fill out an EPA report that accounts for missing water,” he explained, “So, if I was to go with a 1000 GPM flow-rate over 45 minutes, I’d be looking at approximately 45000 gallons (or 170,000 liters) lost.”

According to city water rates, that’s equivalent to a $500 water bill, making this accident one very expensive car wash.

 

 

 

Fortuitous

The Spanish crown was ambitious in its exploration of the New World, establishing the first permanent European settlement at St. Augustine in 1565, and equally as keen on protecting its investment from marauding pirates, subversive Native American neighbors, and the French and British Empires by establishing a trio of forts along New Florida’s northern Atlantic coastline.

Spanish Defensive Network

Aside Fort Mose to the north and Fort Matanzas to the south, Castillo de San Marcos was the first and largest of the three, standing 33 feet high, with 14 feet thick walls of coquina blocks–

outside the walls (3)

–a bonded composite of crushed seashells quarried from nearby Anastasia Island–and able to withstand a cannon shot from an enemy vessel.

Lions Bridge passage

Completed 323 years ago, Castillo de San Marcos still stands as the oldest masonry and best preserved fortress in the continental United States, and a symbol of the colonial struggles that shaped the history of a nation.

cannon casting (3)

Protecting St. Augustine was an interwoven fabric of fort design,

moat

view from above

soldier readiness,

reenactor

and black powder weaponry.

interior (2)

The Castillo’s advanced architecture showcases the bastion system, named for the diamond-shaped spears jutting from the four corners of the fort walls–

fort exterior

each point armed with an array of cross-firing guns intended to sweep across a wide swath of defensible coverage.

guns and turret

Additionally, the coquina stone offered fortunate benefits to fortress defenses if fired upon, as soldiers quickly realized that the porous properties of its shell walls could absorb the impact of cannon balls, rather than the walls shattering into shards if built with brick or granite.

A soldier’s life of active duty at the fortress usually consisted of drills, repair, and sentry watch,

sentry turret

with little time ever devoted to battles. Otherwise, their time was spent protecting the larder…

provisions locker

practicing their faith, which guided all aspects of colonial life…

First mass

and working second jobs as carpenters, cobblers, and coopers to support their families when away from the barracks.

soldier bunk

Officer barricks

But when confronted by the enemy, cannon crews were so effective at discharging projectiles from a variety of guns when repelling an attack or seige,

Artillery and Amusettes

cannon defenses

cannon crest

Shot Locker loaded

that Castillo de San Marcos was never breached in its history.

ramparts (3)

The fort has been the centerpiece of a historic city that has changed flags six times, but always by treaty–never surrender or defeat.

Spanish flag.jpg

Legions of soldiers through the ages have passed through its chambers leaving behind their marks…

ship grafitti (2)

grafitti1

graffiti (2)

But the treachery of Renaissance politics that sparked an amazing race of New World discovery, launched a new nation forged in conflict, and a new world order that defies all labels.

 

 

 

Smoke on the Water

sand play

It was warm enough to sunbathe,

and frolic in the sand,

yet, I could not see the sun rays.

It was not what I had planned.

 

A walk along the shoreline

left dewdrops on my neck,

and I wondered whether sunshine

would be breaking on my trek.

 

But the coastal air was chilling

with a sea breeze ‘cross the grass.

And I was more than willing

to allow the fog to pass.

 

Yet Anastasia’s sea smoke,

like other-worldly stew,

it hangs on like a heavy cloak

so dense, it blocks my view.

 

However, if I’m patient,

the fog may one day lift.

The sun renewed and nascent,

is proof of nature’s gift.

Anastasia Beach fog (2)

It Takes a Village of the Arts

A neighborhood of kaleidoscopic colors awaits the visitor who ventures from Sarasota to back-yard Bradenton for some down-home art…

Vota sign

on the other side of the fence.

Gecko fence

A cluster of artists-in-residence studios and workshops…

Art Junkies

SLOW

closed Gallery

located within early 20th century cottages and bungalows…

painted house

share the narrow city streets…

street art

with colorful galleries…

Fun Girl Art

Village mystic

Happy Valentines Day

amusing gardens…

garden panorama

odd garden

imaginative beasties…

Alien seat

Bits and Pieces

Stego beads

and popular eateries…

Arts and Eats

covering thirty-six acres of mixed-use development,

map

and creating the largest artists’ haven amidst the palms of sunny Florida.

metal palm (2)

Originating in 1999 as a non-profit guild representing local Manatee County artists, theirs is a mission to build a community where artists live and work while enhancing quality of life and creating a harmonious environment.

Notably refreshing, Divine Access Gallery specializes in contemporary folk art,

Divine Excess1

filling each room of the house with whimsy, kitsch, and funky artwork…

Ying Yang mantle

Freida shrine

voodoo kitchen

wall art

Bathroom

that captures an aesthetic worthy of eclectic and uncustomary collections.

trash cans

Centrally located, it’s a short stroll from the Riverwalk, the ballpark, and downtown Bradenton.

VOTA map

Get there by bike…

adorned bicycle

or by car.

Art car

But by all means, just get there.

Top of the World

While much of the country is enjoying a refreshing blast of Arctic air to put them in the holiday mood, southeastern Floridians are currently languishing under fair winds and sunny skies, and wondering how they’ll ever manage with temperatures climbing to 80 degrees.

“Look, we’re gonna be in Florida for a few months. As tempting as it is to stay inside and hunker down for the winter, we can’t allow the weather to dictate our lives. We’ve got to get out and stay active. Maybe we should go for a hike,” stated Leah.

“Agreed! In nine months of traveling, we’ve never let the weather interfere with our outdoor plans. So if you’re up for it, we could hike to the observation tower atop Hobe Mountain in Jonathan Dickinson State Park,” I suggested.

“Are you sure?” Leah posited. “It’s been a while since we’ve done anything that strenuous. We could be setting ourselves up for a painful tomorrow.”

While it’s true that we’ve been sedentary lately, and maybe gained a pound or two from Thanksgiving overeating, I thought we could use a legitimate challenge to clear the cobwebs and get the blood pumping in ways when we were performing at our peak.

“C’mon! It’ll be fun. And if it’s too tough to the top, we’ll go as far as we can, and we’ll turn back,” I persuaded.

As a warm-up to our hike, we rode our bicycles to the trailhead parking lot, passing the Loxahatchee River,

Lexahachee River

and two camouflaged sandhill cranes along the way.

sandhill cranes

Apparently, resident Floridians were already deep into their hibernation cycle, as there wasn’t a single car in the lot, or maybe this was the hike that everyone avoids, for fear of over-exertion.

We spotted our destination from a distance,

palm and tower

and checked our water supply to ensure we were carrying enough to stay hydrated.

When we approached the trailhead, we stopped at the sign to get better acquainted with our surroundings.

Hobe Mountain Tower sign

“Are you sure you wanna go through with this?” I queried. “There’s no shame in pedaling away.”

“As long as we’ve made it this far, we should at least try,” Leah opined.

We set out along the boardwalk, traversing the planks, as we ascended the dune.

boardwalk1

We trudged up the risers,

risers2

and caught a glimpse of our target.

boardwalk3

We were nearing the halfway point of our trek, and I couldn’t help but notice Leah’s shallow breathing. Thus far, she had been a real trooper; five minutes had passed since we’d started out, and she hadn’t once complained about her neck and feet. Although, I had to admit, my back and knee were beginning to throb.

tower in the distance4

Fortunately, the park mavens had wisely provided a bench just when we needed it,

bench

giving us a chance to recover, and consider a different strategy for attacking the steeper second half of the hike.

getting closer5

We managed our steps more carefully,

closer still6

pacing ourselves as we approached the tower. From a distance, it seemed so small, but now that we were standing so close, it towered over us. We paused for a moment to appreciate its pine leg supports, the efficiency of its screened porch,

observation tower

and the sophisticated intricacy of its frame lumber construction.

landing

Leah and I took a long look back to see how far we’d come, and we couldn’t help but feel proud of our accomplishment. But it was too soon to gloat.

looking back7

We still had to contend with the tower ascent.

“I’ll bet they have seats up there,” I predicted.

“That would be a good idea, because you never know when you might want to sit,” Leah exclaimed.

“Exactly!” I stated precisely.

tower (2)

Climbing the stairs was faster than I expected; the adrenalin was coursing through our veins in eager anticipation of the view. Once at the top of the tower, the thin air and the expansive vista made us giddy with excitement. At 86 feet above sea level, we were on top of the world.

panorana

All that remained was retracing our steps back to the parking lot. But that would be easy, now that we were riding a Florida high. Although the naysayers would argue that it’s downhill from here.