Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León arrived on the north east coast of Florida in April 1513. He called the area la Florida, in honour of Pascua florida (the feast of the flowers),  Spain’s Easter celebrations. Conquistadores who followed him found plenty of swamp but no gold. Apart from a short lived settlement near Penscola, there was no rush to colonise until in 1564 the French built Fort Caroline at the mouth of the St. Johns River. Spain responded in 1565 by founding San Augustín (St. Augustine) and expelling the French. Tension between Spanish Florida and the British Colonies was resolved in 1763 when Britain exchanged Cuba for Florida. Spain regained Florida under the 1783 Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War, but could not stem the tide of America settlement. In 1821 Spain formally ceded Florida to the United States. Statehood was achieved  on March 3, 1845.

The beach at Miami Beach by the Eden Roc Hotel, FL, USA

The beach at Miami Beach

Miami Beach is great for beach lovers, but there isn’t much else to do other than visit bars, restaurants, clubs and the Art Deco area at the south of the beach. This photograph was taken way back inn 1982 when the Art Deco area was still a little run down, but it has since been spruced up. Please don’t get the impression that the beach is always this empty. We were woken early by jet lag and took the photograph before most visitors would have managed to crawl out of bed.

Annie Pfeiffer Chapel (Frank Lloyd Wright), Florida Southern College, Lakeland

In 1936 Florida Southern College (FSC) President Ludd M. Spivey had a vision of a new Methodist college campus which he regarded as the ‘college of tomorrow’. He travelled to Wisconsin to to meet up with renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright at his home. Wright shared his vision and immediately began work on the design of a new campus. In 1938 construction of the first building commenced, the  Annie Pfeiffer Chapel. Wright personally supervised the construction, some of which was done by FSC students. Situated in the centre of the campus to to emphasise the religious affiliation of the college, the chapel was dedicated in 1941. Wright had added nine more buildings to the campus by the time he died in 1959, the largest concentration of Wright designed structures anywhere in the world. After Wright’s death his protégée Nils Schweizer designed more buildings for the campus through to the mid 1980s.


Boca Grande Lighthouse, Gasparilla Island, FL, USA

Boca Grande Lighthouse, Gasparilla Island

Along the west coast of Florida can be found a series of barrier islands, many of which are accessible by road. Gasparilla Island was allegedly named after an 18th century pirate, a certain Jose Gaspar. On the island can be found Boca Grande lighthouse which was built in 1890 to mark the entrance to Port Boca Grande and Charlotte Harbor. Closed in 1966, it is now part of a State Park.

Lanier House, Pioneer Museum, Kissimmee, FL, USA

Fort Matanzas from Visitor Center

Florida? It’s just beaches and theme parks, isn’t it? Not entirely. There parts of Florida  that have historical buildings from the Spanish, British  and US eras, plus also a major National Park. Fort Matanzas is a Spanish fort that dates back to 1740. The Matanzas Inlet runs behind barrier islands right the way up to St Augustine, so the fort was built to protect the city from being attacked via the inlet. The fort saw action only once, firing on British ships that approached Matanzas Inlet in 1742.  During the second Spanish era the fort deteriorated and when the US took over Florida it was completely abandoned. Restoration work began in 1916 and in 1924 Fort Matanzas became a National Monument.

Old & new State Capitols, Tallahassee

It is always nice to see a state capitol that does not conform to the ‘standard’ design based on the US capitol in Washington DC. The first Florida State Capitol was completed in 1845, just before Florida became a state. It replaced three log cabins that had been used by the Territorial government. The capitol was enlarged in 1902 by architect Frank Millburn, and he also added the dome. Wings were added at the north and south ends in 1936 and 1949 to provide new House and Senate chambers, respectively.  By the 1970s the capital was again too small, so a new capital was built behind it, opening in 1977. In 1978 the old capitol was threatened with demolition, but a local outcry saved it. The Old State Capitol was restored to its 1902 appearance and is now  a museum.  In this picture the new capitol is just visible in the top left, looming over the old capitol.

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 Old State Capitol with new Capitol, Tallahassee, FL, USA


 Fort Matanzas from Visitor Center, FL, USA




Lanier House, Pioneer Museum, Kissimmee

The Pioneer Museum in Kissimmee has preserved a number of historic buildings from across Osceola County. The historic buildings have been augmented with a few replica buildings to create a complete pioneer village. The house in the picture was built in 1889 by the Lanier family who were ranchers in Osceola County. It is an early American design of house known as a Cracker House, which has a central breezeway running through it to increase air circulation. Alongside the house are other features essential for pioneer life including a wash house, a smokehouse, and a productive garden. The Pioneer Village is open daily year round excluding major holidays. Click on Tab 2 to see the Living Room of Lanier House.

Annie Pfeiffer Chapel (Frank Lloyd Wright), Florida Southern College, Lakeland, FL, USA


- The Florida Keys, so different from the rest of the USA, plus the spectacular road and relics of the old railroad
- St Augustine with its unique mix of Spanish, British and American heritage
- For anyone who once aspired to run away to the circus, the John Ringling Circus Museum
- The dreadful, over-developed sprawl that runs up the east coast between Miami Beach and Palm Beach.
- Theme Park alley near Orlando. We don’t mind theme parks indeed we have been to quite a few of them, but was it really necessary to build so many close together that they dominate the local economy?
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Gamble Plantation, Ellenton, FL, USA
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Gamble Plantation, Ellenton

While Louisiana has many antebellum (pre Civil War) plantation buildings, in Florida only one remains standing.  When Major Robert Gamble arrived here in 1845 he concluded that the land was ideal for a sugar plantation so he and his slaves began building a plantation house and clearing land for growing sugar cane. This part of Florida was largely undeveloped, the transport links were poor and Seminole Indians were still fighting attempts to move them to reservations. Brick was difficult to obtain, so the house was built using tabby, a substitute for concrete made using oyster shells. The Gamble Plantation was completed in 1850 but the cost left Major Gamble in a considerable amount of debt and in 1865 a downturn in the sugar market forced him to sell the plantation. During the Civil war sea captain Archibald McNeill lived in the house and he helped Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin to escape to England at the end of the war. By the 20th century the house had fallen into disrepair. In 1925 the United Daughters of the Confederacy bought the house and 6.5 hectares (16 acres) of land which they donated to the state of Florida. The house was restored and furnished in the style of the mid 19th century. It is open to the public Thursday to Monday excluding major holidays as a State Historic Park. Click Tab 2 to see  Gamble's Bedroom in the Mansion.

K W Wiggins General Store (1903), Manatee Village Historical Park, Bradenton, FL, USA

K W Wiggins General Store (1903), Manatee Village Historical Park, Bradenton

Bradentown was established in 1842. It was named after Dr Joseph Braden who owned a nearby fortified home in which the settlers took refuge during attacks by Seminole Indians. Bradentown grew into a city and became Bradenton in 1943 when it was merged with the city of Manatee.  The city is home to a small open air museum called Manatee Village Historical Park. The 1903 K.W. ‘King’ Wiggins General Store was one of the first brick structures built in Manatee and it  now serves as the museum gift shop. Other exhibits include a 1913 Baldwin Steam Locomotive known as ‘Old Cabbage Head’, the Captain ‘Bat’ Fogarty Boatworks, Manatee County’s 1860 Courthouse,  an 1887 Meeting House and a 1908 Schoolhouse. The historical park is open year round Monday to Friday and alternate Saturdays. There is no admission charge.

Mel Fisher's Treasure Museum, Sebastian, FL, USA
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Mel Fisher's Treasure Museum

Since the 1960s the east coast of Florida in the counties of Indian River, St. Lucie, and Martin has been known as the Treasure Coast. The inspiration for this name comes from a hurricane way back in 1715. A Spanish Treasure Fleet of twelve ships heading from Havana to Spain encountered the hurricane and eleven ships were lost near modern day Vero Beach. Salvage teams began work in 1961 to search for wrecks and recover their treasure.  In 1963 Mel Fisher arrived to join the search. Born in Indiana and originally a chicken farmer he had moved to California where he owned a diving shop. He spent the next seven years working on the 1715 Treasure Fleet. From 1969 he led a team searching the waters off the Florida Keys for Nuestra Señora de Atocha which sank with its load of treasure in a 1622 hurricane. In July 1985 they found the main part of the wreck. The treasure recovered from the Atocha is the most valuable find ever made, yet only about half of her treasure has been found. The State of Florida attempted to claim a share of the treasure leading to a lengthy legal battle that they finally lost in the Supreme Court. In 1992 Mel Fisher’s daughter Taffi opened Mel Fisher’s Treasure Museum in Sebastian on the Treasure Coast. The museum displays a selection of treasure recovered from various wrecks. Mel Fisher died in 1998 but his family continue to search for treasure including the sterncastle of the Atocha where the most valuable items are likely to be found. Click Tab 2 to see an item of treasure on show in the museum - a  bar of silver from the Atocha .

Mary's Chapel & Pioneer Cemetery, Historic Spanish Point, Osprey

At Osprey the coast is separated from the Gulf of Mexico by a chain of barrier islands and Sarasota Bay. A promontory  projecting into the bay has a lot of history. Archaeologists have found evidence of human habitation as far back as the Late Archaic period (5900-3200 years ago). By 1100 AD the site was abandoned and it remained so until 1867 when the Webb family moved in. John Webb had encountered a Spanish trader in Key West who recommended the elevated promontory as a good place to settle, so Webb named the homestead that he built ‘Spanish Point’. The Webb family planted citrus, sugar cane and vegetables and they also took in boarders over the winter season. Webb’s Winter Resort became so successful that a separate dormitory was built in 1885, now known as White Cottage. In 1881 a Post Office was set up, but the USPS required a single word name, so Webb chose the name Osprey. At the turn of the century Webb began to sell parcels of land to settlers, then in 1910 the homestead was sold to wealthy Chicago widow Bertha Palmer. She purchased land for cattle ranching and citrus, creating an estate called ‘Osprey Point’, but she preserved the original homestead. Bertha died in 1918 but her family continued to maintain the estate. In 1980 the historic part of the estate was donated to the Gulf Coast Heritage Association who have preserved it and opened it to the public as Historic Spanish Point. The picture shows St Mary’s Chapel which was rebuilt in 1986 with 6 stained-glass windows from the original chapel. Most of the Webb family ar buried in the cemetery.

Mary's Chapel & Pioneer Cemetery, Historic Spanish Point, Osprey, FL, USA
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