October 27, 2007

Chiles and His Florida: Baker

Baker in Okaloosa County doesn't get much comment in the Walkin' Notes, but it's got character--especially the Baker Block Museum right at the main intersection when you arrive. Unfortunately it wasn't open when I got there. The museum has a genealogical library as well as other artifacts. The rest of town seemed occupied with a softball game in one the fields farther down the road. If you had to walk state road 4--which intersects with US 90 soon after Baker--I would think Baker would be a nice rest stop after a long slog through the Blackwater Forest.

The average person in Florida probably has never heard of Baker, but they might have heard of the Okaloosa county seat Crestview, which dominates the area along with the massive Eglin Air Force Base to its south. With its socially conservative culture and military-and-cotton field economy, Okaloosa County votes solid Republican down the line. The Yellow Dog Democrats have long since gone. So have the coonskin Democrats. The late Congressman Bob Sikes represented the area for decades in the U.S. Congress, long enough to crown himself a 'He-Coon' before Chiles had even become governor. The buildings and roads named after Sikes are the legacy of that bygone era of Democratic dominance. Last year, Katherine Harris, unsuccessful Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from Florida, got 60% of the vote in the county--despite losing the state overall in a 2-to-1 Bill Nelson landslide.

Okaloosa County, deep in the Panhandle.

Cotton gin.

The opposite side of the museum building.

Blackwater River and Forest.

Front porch of the Panhandle.

Baker Block Museum.

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