August 5, 2007


See you next week!

The First Chapter: Munn Park

I've begun writing the first chapter, which will probably be entitled simply: "Munn Park." Walkin' Lawton Chiles was born in 1930 in Lakeland, Florida. In those days Munn Park was the commercial, social, political, and geographic center of town and of Polk County. Folks would go there to play baseball games; kids would play in the grass; and politicians would come to town by train and make long speeches peppered with cracker sayings and slogans like "Get Back on Track With Jack." Trips to Munn Park raised him on politics and introduced him to his idol--Polk County's own U.S. Senator Spessard Holland. To Chiles, Holland was the model of honesty, statesmanship, and Southern charm that all rising politicians should follow. The above picture is dated 1911. The park was named for the "Father of Lakeland" Abraham Godwin Munn in 1908. The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad station, then and now, forms its northern border. The tracks, then as now, separate North and South Lakeland and--roughly--rich from poor. In the early days, blacks mostly got work on the railroad, phosphate mines, and citrus fields. Now, Amtrak uses the line.

Munn Park (2007)

Note from the Author: Vacation

I'll be posting several times today and tomorrow because I'm going on vacation from tomorrow (Monday August 5) until the following Monday.

A good hiker knows when to put his/her knapsack down and take a nap. So does a good writer.

Leaving Monticello

Monticello is behind you. Only 900 miles to the Florida Keys! US 90 east. The Lawton Chiles Trail.
A pleasant stroll out of town. Jefferson County Head Start, championing Governor Chiles' dearest cause--children.

Watch out! The Monticello PD chase car is ready.
If you're walking into town on 90, turn around and you'll see the Walkin' signpost.
Highway 90 into Monticello is Old Florida all the way.
I'm not sure what this pink flowering greenery is, but it adorned the entire path to Monticello--almost as it was one big driveway to a plantation.

Forgotten Florida: Monticello

Apart from the County Courthouse, the main historical attraction in Monticello is the High School. Built in 1852, it is Florida's oldest brick school building. In 1970, as Lawton Chiles strolled through Monticello west along US 90, the high school was already rich in lore.

In truth, the whole town is a relic. I visited on a Sunday afternoon--after the time when church gets out. I expected some tourist bustle. It was a ghost town. Not one person walking the antique streets. Not even a dog or cat. I did see a squirrel on Dogwood Street. And one guy visited the post office. There were also two guys on a bench outside the gas station on one side of the courthouse, who appeared to be bullshitting/telling stories.

Monticello is only about 20 miles east from Tallahassee, but it's definitely the Forgotten Florida that Chiles loved.

First Presbyterian Church
Denham-Brinson House
The Cuthbert House
Jefferson County Courthouse

Walkin' Monticello

A Florida Heritage downtown and "courthouse town," Monticello has more than 40 historic buildings, including City Hall in this photo. Most folks think of Florida as a young state--and it is. But the land that Native Americans knew for centuries was first settled by Europeans long before Plymouth Rock in St. Augustine. If you love history, Monticello (est. 1827) will tell it. It's like a town-sized Thomas Jefferson museum. North Florida was settled first by the British and then by American colonists from South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. Monticello in Jefferson County and similar towns in the Cotton Belt were slave-owning, plantation economies just like the rest of Dixie. They represented the Southeast corner of "The Peculiar Institution." The cotton may be gone, but the name, look, and feel of the town are memorials to that way of life.
The Episcopal Church is a stroll north from the County Courthouse.

The Jefferson County Courthouse, built in 1908 to look exactly like Jefferson's Monticello.
The Courthouse from the Chamber of Commerce.

Monticello Chamber of Commerce