Nine Hours to Havana
That’s Havana, Florida, a tiny town just 16 miles north of Tallahassee. It was named for the Cuban capital city in honor of the Little Cubie shade tobacco grown there until the 1960s, when the tobacco business disappeared.
Havana floundered for a couple of decades, but antique vendors, galleries and cafes moved into its historic buildings and sparked a revival. An article I read 20 years ago remained with me and so I headed north to check it out.
Only a few miles from the Georgia border, this part of Florida looks like the classic South, with red brick buildings, wide front porches and rambling oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. The Shade Tobacco Museum, just opened in tiny downtown Havana, features exhibits on cigar making and local history. Antique stores and knicknack shops fill the two-block area, and The English Rose Cafe serves tea and scones with clotted cream, bangers and mash and other British specialties. Havana is best visited on weekends, and hosts a variety of events, including a bead show in April and Springtime Havana in May.
On to Quincy
Drive west on SR 12, a scenic country road that winds through the hills past decrepit, dreamy wooden houses and beautifully restored plantation homes. About halfway to Quincy is the very dog-friendly White Dog Plantation, a village of historical buildings, including the circa 1828 Nicholson farmhouse, on the National Historic Register. You can rent the cottages – one was a 1916 country store/post office/gas station. The 60-acre property has nature trails, a ravine with a large spring, and a dog park, pretty much perfect in my mind.
A few miles away is Quincy, known as the Coca-Cola town, after many of the town residents took the advice of the local banker during the Depression and bought stock in the soft drink company. This made Quincy the richest town per capita in the nation at the time. Several descendants still live there, and there’s a walking tour through the 36-block nationally registered historic district. The courthouse square is home to the Gadsden Arts Center, in a restored hardware store, and the Leaf Theater. While the square still has a lot of empty storefronts, Damfinos Cafe and Market sells fresh produce from the local Red Hills Farm Alliance, and serves great breakfasts and lunch.
Just south of Tallahassee, I stopped at Wakulla Springs State Park. At this 6,000-acre wildlife sanctuary, on the National Register of Historic Places, the spring basin creates the Wakulla River, a favorite swimming hole. The River Tour is a relaxing way to see alligators, turtles, manatees and birds. A stay at the Wakulla Springs Lodge recalls leisurely days gone by – rooms are huge, with vintage bathrooms and no TVs. Cocktails in front of the fireplace in the lobby are perfect on cool north Florida nights and the handpainted ceiling is filled with Florida scenes. Several movies have been filmed here, including “Tarzan’s Secret Treasure” and “Creature from the Black Lagoon.”