Jump to content
American Road Magazine
Celebrating our two-lane highways of yesteryear…And the joys of driving them today!
Keep the Show on the Road!

Cedar Key, Gulf Coast, Florida

Recommended Posts

It has been a couple of months now since our early spring trip to Florida, and I have never completed posting the highlights. The highlight location was Cedar Key, a small village on the Gulf Coast that qualifies as not only beautiful, it is also Authentic.

 

Authentic is my term for a place that retains as an integral part of its existence the original structures and ambiance of a time past, whose inhabitants are not either self conscious tourist hounds, nor reenactors of the earlier time.

 

In short, the place or community goes about its daily business with minimum attention to their special status, their surroundings preserve the earlier period, and what has changed is a evolution from the past, not a recreation. Like good art, you know it when you see it.

 

Cedar Key is the best example I can imagine, and despite its abundant charms it is not overrun (yet) with tourists. Because of its location at the end of a long two lane road that stops at the gulf, it isn't on the typical Florida tourist routes, although it was once, back in the 1800's when the rail line ended here. Most visitors come from inland Florida towns.

 

A walk down main street, which here is 2nd Street, will take you back at least 75 years, if not 150. The Island Hotel, where we had a terrific meal served in an old dining room was built in 1859, and many of the main street buildings date from the 1800's.

 

The old dock where the steam trains met the steamers that took passengers further south is now the site of several restaurants, all interesting, and several quaint, and the site of our motel, the Dockside. We had a lovely, large corner room with a spectacular view over the gulf, and as I recall it cost us under $60 a night. That is the off season rate, but given the site and the charm, it was a gift. It would have cost three times that much anywhere that had been "discovered."

 

Everyone in the little town was friendly without that phony pro forma greeting and "give me your money" smile you so often encounter at typical tourist destinations. In the evening locals walk main street, the kids ride their bikes by, and old folks sit on the benches in front of the Hotel,.....while its slightly askew wood frame screen door swings in the gulf breeze.

 

I have posted a few photos in the Gallery. PHOTOS

 

Cedar Keys is all by itself on the Gulf Coast at the end of state route 24, about 90 miles north of Tampa as the bird flies I would make reservations at the Dockside Motel or Island Hotel or one of a couple of other places before driving all the way there.

 

Like the authentic old days, everything in Cedar Key is Mom and Pop owned and operated. I didn't see a single national chain. There are some signs of the times, though. At the far end of town folks have built a modern condominium, which thankfully is hidden by trees and such. And the State built a concrete fishing dock with modern railings attached to the venerable wooden dock....sort of like putting chrome rims on an authentic Model A

 

A couple of then and now shots (B&W from the Florida State Archives), comparing 1927 with 2010. About all that has changed are the tress and cars.

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

 

CedarKey2nd1927.jpg

 

CedarKey2nd2010.jpg

 

 

CedarTrace002.jpg

 

CedarTrace.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As you say the place has frozen in time. Not many of those these days. Most tourists have a driving need to be entertained. Suggest they come to a place like this and simply curl up in a corner with a good book and they'll think you insane. I think it is insecurity. They have to have something of the familiar, like a MacD or Burger King - some symbol they can recognize - or they are totally lost. They have to have crowds and crowds of people, so they can complain about how crowded it it. Places like this are still about, but now you have to search for them.

 

Great write-up - I'm ready to head for Florida.

 

Hudsonly,

Alex Burr

Memphis, TN

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Dave,

Great write-up and I love the Deja View.

My mother lived on Pine Island, just north of Fort Meyers, for a number of years. There were still a few "vintage" towns on the island. The main industry, during the 18 or so years we visited, was serving retirees and shrimping. There was some tourism but it was limited.

 

And now, the rest of the story... There was only one road connecting the island with the mainland and it was just above sea level. The State or County limited construction on the island based on the road's ability to handle evacuation traffic. Needless to say, the developers were fighting it.

 

~ Steve

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm intrigued by the next coastal town to the southeast as shown on Dave's (KtSotR) map: Yankeetown.

Why in the world is there a "Yankeetown" in northern Florida, which, as most know, is far more "southern" in character and history than southern Florida!

There's got to be a story behind this community and it's somewhat prejorative (at one time, at least) name. Anyone know?

Another musing: Ever since reading this thread, the line "Travis McGee's (MacGee?) still in Cedar Key" keeps rattling around in my brain. I'm assuming it's a song lyric, but I just can't pin it down. What song, and who is or was Travis Mcgee?

While I never made it up to Cedar Key--or Yankeetown--I did explore the area along the coast to the south about 20 years ago. Weekie Watchee(sp?), etc. I liked it: Far less developed and touristy than far too much of the rest of Florida has become. Now I want to check out Cedar Key--sounds delightful!

Edited by mga707

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the comebacks!

 

As you guys, I recognize that things change....or rot away. It must be that certain special circumstances create a Cedar Key, Not having a devastating downtown fire is probably among the most important. Then there has to be too little business to justify tearing down the old buildings and replacing them with new. Generally this is occasioned by a net out migration. But there has to be enough business to prevent abandonment.

 

Cedar Key will become a greater tourist magnet. It will be "discovered." I think it was just about there (condos and all) when the economic downswing probably slowed its take off. It will boom, and it will inevitably lose its charm for me, but will attract those who want water parks and boutique shopping.

 

Old fashioned lamp posts will line the streets and there will be a carriage pulled by horses to take folks around town. In short, it will be restored to what it never was. It has all the ingredients, so if you want to see the old Florida gulf coast village, go now......or wait a few years and enjoy the water slides and carriage......to each his / her own!

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm intrigued by the next coastal town to the southeast as shown on Dave's (KtSotR) map: Yankeetown.

Why in the world is there a "Yankeetown" in northern Florida, which, as most know, is far more "southern" in character and history than southern Florida!

There's got to be a story behind this community and it's somewhat prejorative (at one time, at least) name. Anyone know?

Another musing: Ever since reading this thread, the line "Travis McGee's (MacGee?) still in Cedar Key" keeps rattling around in my brain. I'm assuming it's a song lyric, but I just can't pin it down. What song, and who is or was Travis Mcgee?

While I never made it up to Cedar Key--or Yankeetown--I did explore the area along the coast to the south about 20 years ago. Weekie Watchee(sp?), etc. I liked it: Far less developed and touristy than far too much of the rest of Florida has become. Now I want to check out Cedar Key--sounds delightful!

 

I didn't know this, but looking at the Island Hotel website I found this referring to the 1980's:

 

"Florida songwriter and balladeer Jimmy Buffett visited the Island Hotel often during these years. He sometime would give impromptu concerts in the Neptune Bar. During one arts festival he sat on the balcony and serenaded people passing along Main Street. A reference to Cedar Key and mystery writer John D. McDonald's fictional character Travis McGee is among lyrics from the song 'Incommunicado' on Buffett's 'Coconut Telegraph' album.'"

 

I don't know the story behind "Yankeetown" (and I agree the name is interesting) but I might mention how we chose Cedar Key as a destination. I used Google Earth street view to check every community along the gulf coast (unless I had been there on the Hypotenuse Trail trip and already knew them). Cedar Key is hands down the most evocative place to visit.

 

I am pretty jaded after over 60 years of road tripping but northern and gulf coast Florida got the old juices flowing. We liked the northern Florida area so much we extended our ten day trip by a week, and traveled the two lane roads to our hearts' content.

 

Accommodations were extremely reasonable, almost laughable in cost compared to our home area, people were friendly and happy to have us visit, and the food was excellent. We discovered roadside treasures around every turn, and in every town.

 

It may mean little to those who didn't grow up in Southern California in the 1940's, but much of northern Florida reminded me of those days when So. Cal. orange orchards stretched for miles, homes were set on multi acre lots back from the highway, with screen porches and maybe a horse or pony for the kids, where each cross roads had a little mom and pop store, and kids played outside in their yards or rode bicycles without fear.

 

The roadside boiled peanuts vendors and Bar B Q rib broilers were new to me, but not unlike the lemonade and fresh fruit stands rural families set up in my day.

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the comebacks!

 

 

Cedar Key will become a greater tourist magnet. It will be "discovered." I think it was just about there (condos and all) when the economic downswing probably slowed its take off. It will boom, and it will inevitably lose its charm for me, but will attract those who want water parks and boutique shopping.

 

Old fashioned lamp posts will line the streets and there will be a carriage pulled by horses to take folks around town. In short, it will be restored to what it never was. It has all the ingredients, so if you want to see the old Florida gulf coast village, go now......or wait a few years and enjoy the water slides and carriage......to each his / her own!

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

 

I can relate to this! There are two tiny towns (three, actually, as one of the sites is two adjoining communities) out here in the southwest that I've been to and loved that could easily, and unfortunately, become "Sedonafied". I made up that term but I think you all what it implies--see above!

I almost hate to mention them, but here they are: Boulder, Utah; and the Glenwood/Pleasanton area in SW New Mexico. Here's hoping they--and Cedar Key--stay undiscovered!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I can relate to this! There are two tiny towns (three, actually, as one of the sites is two adjoining communities) out here in the southwest that I've been to and loved that could easily, and unfortunately, become "Sedonafied". I made up that term but I think you all what it implies--see above!

I almost hate to mention them, but here they are: Boulder, Utah; and the Glenwood/Pleasanton area in SW New Mexico. Here's hoping they--and Cedar Key--stay undiscovered!

 

Now you have done it....captured the essence in a single word, "Sedonafied." You either love it or hate it, but that's it......Sedonafied. I haven't been to Sedona since the 1970's but I can see in my mind's eye those beautiful bluffs and pristine stream with its slippery red rocks turned into an outdoor Disneyland for the upper middle income tourist.

 

But I don't knock what millions love. Like Jackson Hole, you can't really blame the people who loved it so much they changed what they loved. It can't be avoided, anymore than getting older!

 

Yes, Boulder is nice. I think our buddy Ara (beemerchef) did some cooking there last year, if memory serves. He bragged it up, so the cat is at least part way out of the bag!

 

We have been through Boulder on the way to Torrey and Capitol Reef, but Glenwood is new to me....ah, another neat place to visit on the two lanes! Thanks for the tip!!!

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Now you have done it....captured the essence in a single word, "Sedonafied." You either love it or hate it, but that's it......Sedonafied. I haven't been to Sedona since the 1970's but I can see in my mind's eye those beautiful bluffs and pristine stream with its slippery red rocks turned into an outdoor Disneyland for the upper middle income tourist.

 

But I don't knock what millions love. Like Jackson Hole, you can't really blame the people who loved it so much they changed what they loved. It can't be avoided, anymore than getting older!

 

Yes, Boulder is nice. I think our buddy Ara (beemerchef) did some cooking there last year, if memory serves. He bragged it up, so the cat is at least part way out of the bag!

 

We have been through Boulder on the way to Torrey and Capitol Reef, but Glenwood is new to me....ah, another neat place to visit on the two lanes! Thanks for the tip!!!

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

 

My first time through Sedona was in 1968 at age 10--most recent time just this past January. One constant on both visits was a stop for food at the Coffee Pot Cafe. It's one of the few things that was there in the '60s before Sedona was 'discovered' that is still in business today, and still cranking out the famous omelets!

 

The Glenwood/Pleasanton area of New Mexico is truly an undiscovered gem. Both adjoining towns are indeed on a two lane, US 180, about midway between Silver City and Alpine AZ. They are in a beautiful setting, with the primordial and roadless Gila wilderness/Mogollon mountains to the east. One spot that is an absolute 'must-stop' is Catwalk Canyon. An ambitious and ingenious construction project from the late 1800s diverted water from the mountains above to the mining operations below through the canyon via huge cast iron water pipes. At a later date a walkway--the "catwalk"--was placed on top of the pipes and still exists today. One can walk several miles up the canyon, a beautiful riparian area with flowing water and huge old cottonwoods, via the "catwalk".

At the top of the canyon, accessible by paved but narrow and winding NM route 159, is the mostly-but-not-quite ghost town of Mogollon.

There are also some great hot springs nearby, along the San Francisco River, but in the interest of keeping them from being trashed and ruined I won't give specific directions!

Anyway, the area is wonderful, and as yet almost totally unknown by anyone outside the area, although it is a popular getaway for Silver City-area folks.

 

...and so we go from the peaceful shores of the Florida upper Gulf coast to the equally peaceful solitude of the New Mexico wilderness!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I see I've delayed long enough that my only question, "Why Cedar Key?, has been answered. I could not guess how it happened to get on your route although I was quite glad it did.

 

Not only has my one question been answered, my one answer has been provided. I recognized the Travis McGee line instantly and even think I'd have eventually remembered which album it was from. I'm going to try digging it out of my vinyl jungle as soon as I hit send. It contains not only the great title cut and the John McDonald quoting Incommunicado, but The Weather is Here, I Wish You Were Beautiful with the classic line "The beer is too cold and the daiquiris too fruitiful". It's been too long since I've heard that.

 

...and speaking of Sedona, I've long thought that whether travelers on US-89 in Arizona prefer Sedona or Jerome says a lot.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I see I've delayed long enough that my only question, "Why Cedar Key?, has been answered. I could not guess how it happened to get on your route although I was quite glad it did.

 

Not only has my one question been answered, my one answer has been provided. I recognized the Travis McGee line instantly and even think I'd have eventually remembered which album it was from. I'm going to try digging it out of my vinyl jungle as soon as I hit send. It contains not only the great title cut and the John McDonald quoting Incommunicado, but The Weather is Here, I Wish You Were Beautiful with the classic line "The beer is too cold and the daiquiris too fruitiful". It's been too long since I've heard that.

 

...and speaking of Sedona, I've long thought that whether travelers on US-89 in Arizona prefer Sedona or Jerome says a lot.

 

 

This crew is cranking out wisdom by the train load! Denny, what a brilliant question! It should be in the Marriage Counselor Training Book. If the troubled couple both choose the same place, the marriage can be saved. If not, there is little hope.

 

I have a true story. I took girlfriend A to Jerome in 1977. She enjoyed it and we had a long relationship. I took girlfriend B to Sedona in 1979, and she enjoyed it. We broke up when we got home.

 

That is absolutely true, but until now I never connected it to your insightful perspective.

 

Its a personality type I guess. I know I am outnumbered at least 100 to 1 when I don't choose Sedona, because it is, I assume, still a very beautiful place, and certainly has something for the whole family to do.

 

Cedar Key is a pure gem. It is what you might see in your mind's eye when you listen to some of Buffet's songs, so it didn't surprise me that he apparently hung out there. If I had known that, I certainly would have spent more time at the Island Hotel bar. As it was we had a terrific meal in the dining room, and a Key Lime pie so good Sheila wanted to return the next evening just for pie.

 

The things that are charming to me are probably unattractive to many. When you look at the photo of the sidewalk in front of the Island Hotel (the one after the shot of the fellow selling his book) , note the fading fish sculpture hanging from the balcony, the weathered bench, the cracked sidewalk, and the open and wood framed screen door. Those aren't stage props, nor neglect. They are like your father's or grandfather's comfortable old leather easy chair that has been burnished over the years by his trousers, that cradles you in the right places, and bears the rings of a few drinks that should have had coasters.

 

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I took girlfriend A to Jerome in 1977. She enjoyed it and we had a long relationship. I took girlfriend B to Sedona in 1979, and she enjoyed it. We broke up when we got home.

It's nice to see a theory validated. I hope the breakup wasn't too painful.

 

Going back a bit in the thread, I've found a couple of tidbits on Yankeetown. Although it doesn't exactly explain the origin of the name, this article from the founder's great nephew does explain the origin of the town. The second discovery really seems to relate to the spirit of this thread. Yankeetown isn't as well protected as Cedar Key and has probably already been affected by "modern times". Apparently its citizens have had enough and have created this website to "help our community stop the over-development of the small town of Yankeetown, Florida." Let's hope they succeed. If not, couples in Florida may soon be able to gauge compatibility by visiting Cedar Key and Yankeetown,

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×