For the Love of Florida…Early Tourist Attractions

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For the Love of Florida Early Attractions #WildFlorida #FPEA #PodcastFor the Love of Florida…Early Tourist Attractions

Podcast #65

We thought it would be fun to have a love theme for our February podcasts… today the topic is……FOR the LOVE of Florida!

Yes, Florida is beautiful……and I could just camp out right here. We live in a fabulous place. You know, since we’ve been doing these podcasts, one of the things that we have seen over and over again, is that some of the most popular episodes are the ones that focus on field trips or just great excursions to take around the state. So, I don’t think I’m alone in my admiration for all things Florida…the wild side, the history, the small town, the big, the famous….whatever it is….we Floridians enjoy sharing and experiencing it, apparently together.

So we’ve picked a couple of new places to explore together. With an underlying focus on the development of tourism in our state too. For you and for me it is hard to imagine a Florida that wasn’t a tourist destination. I mean now it is a challenge to find any small place in Florida that hasn’t been touched by tourism and/or the imprint of people who have vacation homes or retirement homes here. But….there was a time that Florida was a wild frontier and not heavily populated or developed….and then paradise was found. So I wanted to just share some fun facts about some of those places that began to draw visitors and vacationers in….and what those places were like then AND what they look like now.

First…..I should state what may appear to be the obvious…..but Florida was originally a destination that drew wealthy and famous people, people who could afford the time to travel and vacation here. This was, of course, before the invention of some of our common modes of transportation but one man who had discovered Florida and the virtual paradise that it is, was Henry Flagler.  Flagler loved Florida so much that he decided, in the 1880s, to begin investing in building he built railroads and hotels, and hotels along the railroads. With the expansion of the railroad systems, more people could travel to the sunshine state. By the early 1900s, thousands of tourists came to visit. Those tourists were drawn, of course, to the natural beauty, the warmth and sunshine, the salt air and a climate that would bring healing from illness and disease…..soon, there were winter homes being built by those who could afford it….and they would live here for months at a time.

The invention of the automobile opened the opportunity for more affordable travel and people continued to come.

During these years, the attractions were simply natural…..the white sand beaches, the Wild of the Everglades, the coral reefs, the Florida Keys……boating, swimming, fishing, hiking….relaxing, sunbathing…..

It wasn’t long before Flagler started investing in building Florida, that a man by the name of Hullam Jones, invented the glass bottom boat. In the bottom of a row boat, jones installed a pane of glass and charged people 5 cents a piece to ferry them above the crystal clear Silver Springs. Voila…our first tourist attraction is born. Silver Springs features one of the largest artesian springs in the world. It became famous for its glass bottom boat rides which you can still enjoy today. In 1971, Silver Springs as a National Natural Landmark. Definitely worth a visit.

So it is, we begin to move into a season of building attractions that embrace wild Florida…..the springs, the alligators and the flora….as people begin to build beautiful gardens that will become some of the most famous Florida roadside attractions.

Bok Tower Gardens is a prime example. Dedicated in 1929 in Lake Wales, it was one of Florida’s first major attractions during that era. People would drive long distances to see the gardens, the tower and to hear the tower sing. Edward Bok, editor of Ladies Home Journal, built the gardens. The tower was actually built to cover the irrigation system that would water the gardens. There is a 200 bell carillon that plays music in the gardens each afternoon. This is honestly one of the most beautiful and peaceful places.

Weeki Wachee Springs…this old Florida attraction brought international attention…..why?? Well, because of the live, underwater mermaid shows, of course……believe it or not….you can still visit the original attraction where the mermaids are still swimming along with other shows, entertainment and activities. It has now been designated a state park. Sounds like a good day of fun….right?

Cypress Gardens is one of my all time favorites. It was in Winter Haven. It was really the states first theme park (1936). It’s well known for a couple of things…..first of all, an amazing array of flowers and gardens. Girls that wore antebellum-style dresses and walked around, you know, southern belles, we called them, who would pose for pictures. Cypress Gardens was also the birthplace of performance water skiing. The man who opened it, Dick Pope, during WWII, introduced the water ski shows to entertain troops who visited the gardens. Even though tourism was a bit stifled during the war, the military played a role in continuing to bring people into Florida. Cypress Gardens basically became the water ski capitol of the world. The park closed in 2008. In 2010 the land was acquired with plans to turn it into legoland. Legoland opened in 2011.

Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg was built in 1935. The gardens are 100 years old so it is home to some of the oldest tropical plants in the region. Built in an ancient drained lake, it was the perfect place for the owner, George Turner, to enjoy his favorite pastime, gardening. The beautiful gardens he built became a real treat to his neighbors and they would spend hours strolling through them….so eventually, he began charging 5 cents for tours. So it became a destination….the family later purchased the building that is now the housing the ticket office and a children’s museum, it was previously the Coca Cola bottling company, but they purchased it to build worlds largest gift shop and a wax museum. It is a great afternoon/Saturday morning excursion, a beautiful botanical garden with several water features and flamingos.

Another neat little old Florida day trip is Winter Park. This is one of the cities that was developed as a winter resort for wealthy northerners, seeking warmth from the harsh winters. It’s just north of Orlando, so in a very over developed part of the state, but it is like stepping back in time a bit when you visit. The men who developed it did so with a great design that included residential communities and business, a large Central Park in the downtown area. Rollins college, which is still there, was built and winter park developed a bit of a reputation as an art and literary colony of sorts. It was, and still is a gorgeous area, surrounded by several lakes and of course, citrus. It was a little slice of paradise. There were beautiful homes built on the lakes and the lakes are connected by little canal systems. Hence one of the oldest attractions, the winter park scenic boat tour…. opened in the 1930s and is still operating today. Also, a throw back to that art colony, we always visit the Morse Museum of American Art which houses the worlds largest collection of Tiffany glass, plus other beautiful art.

Another great excursions farther south that had some early tourist beginnings are the Theatre of the Sea (1946) which is in the Keys….Islamorada to be exact. It is a marine mammal park with dolphins, sea lions, sea turtles, tropical gardens and birds. It’s family owned, beautiful to explore. Plan on visiting it this summer if you and your family decide to join us for our FPEA fun in the sun Florida Keys trip.

Miami Seaquarium…built in the height of the 1950s when families were hitting the road and enjoying these attractions. At the time, it was the worlds largest marine life attraction and quite popular. Then in the 1960s it actually became one of the primary locations where they filmed the TV show Flipper.  The Seaquarium is still a fully functioning park with great options for wildlife experiences. It’s a neat experience and they still play with those bottle nose dolphins.

So there you have it……for the love of Florida….get out there and enjoy some of these places with your family.  Let’s keep them on the map for the generations to come because they truly are a tribute to establishing Florida as the tourist destination that we see today with the more recent theme parks.

FPEA is your source for all of your Florida homeschooling needs. You can check out our website, for exciting opportunities and valuable resources. Also, you can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram for other great tidbits and resources that are sure to help you as you create your customized homeschool journey.


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