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Tallahassee - Unique City and Capital of the Sunshine State
By: James Richardson

Aside from the unexpectedly hilly terrain for a Florida city, the extensive variety of historical landmarks, the numerous assortments of cultural attractions, the proximity to varied outdoor activities, and the abundance of camping facilities, Tallahassee is just another state capital. Except for its uniqueness.

Located in the Panhandle of the State of Florida, Tallahassee currently has a population of nearly 135,000. Its history consists of diverse inhabitants from Spanish explorers to Indians to outlaws. There are several unique features and facts about Tallahassee. The origin of the city’s name came from the Apalache Indians. In the 1600s, as disease and the encroaching Spaniards forced the Indian residents away, the area became known as “the abandoned village” or “Tallahassee.” The explorer Hernando de Soto spent the first Christmas in the New World in the woods near the present State Capitol.

When Florida became a territory in 1822, the two major cities, Pensacola and St. Augustine, wanted to be the capital. An agreement could not be reached, so a point between those two cities was chosen. The hilly terrain of the middle ground became the location of the present capital, Tallahassee. The frontier era brought desperados to the capital city. Tallahassee quickly obtained a questionable and tough reputation due to its frequent duels and shootings. A police force was put together to clean up the city. During the Civil War, Tallahassee was the only Confederate city east of the Mississippi River to escape falling to the Union army. The skirmish at Natural Bridge, just south of Tallahassee and near St. Marks, deterred the enemy.

Leon County has always been a good agricultural area. The resulting plantations were evidences of that. Today, several homes with elaborate grounds are reminders of this part of Tallahassee’s past. The Goodwood Plantation is one such place. Began in the 1830s as a cotton and corn plantation, Goodwood contained 2400 acres. The present renovated home and grounds contain nineteen acres and are open for limited tours (Tuesdays through Saturdays 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.).

Downtown

Because Tallahassee is the capital of Florida, much of the downtown area contains governmental buildings. There is distinction in the buildings also. The Old Capitol Building is now a museum (Old Capitol Museum). The building is restored to its 1902 appearance complete with red candy-striped awnings and stain-glassed dome. It is also open for tours. The new Capitol building is one of five tower capitols in the country. On its top twenty second floor, there is an observatory and art gallery. From the observatory panoramic views of the entire downtown area and much of the city can be enjoyed.

Other downtown buildings and attractions are the Governor’s Mansion, the Florida Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, and the Tallahassee Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. The Florida Vietnam Veterans Memorial contains names of Florida’s casualties and soldiers missing in action on two granite towers supporting a huge American flag.

There are several museums on Tallahassee’s history - the Museum of Florida History, the Museum of Art, the Tallahassee Antique Car Museum, the Black Archives Research Center and Museum (contains an extensive collections of African-American artifacts), Riley House Museum of African American History and Culture (Riley House was built in 1890), the Union Bank Museum (built in 1841 and is Florida’s oldest surviving bank) and the Tallahassee Museum of History and Natural Science (a fifty-two acre natural habitat zoo with an authentic 1880s farmhouse).

Two other reminders of Florida’s history are near Tallahassee - Bradley’s Country Store and the Mission San Luis. Bradley’s Country Store exists just as it did in 1927. The store with its hardwood floors specializes in country-smoked sausage and corn milled grits. Stop by and reminisce. Bradley’s Country Store is just twelve miles outside Tallahassee on Centerville Road. The Mission San Luis is inside Tallahassee’s city limits. The mission was the center point of Spanish and Apalachee Indian culture in the seventeenth century. Lifestyles of both cultures can be examined in one location. Today, archeological research is carried on at the mission. In 1960 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark. Free guided tours are offered daily.

Outside Tallahassee

No city in Florida is very far from either the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean. Tallahassee is no exception. The Gulf is only about twenty miles to the south. En route southward along State Highway 363 is Natural Bridge Battlefield State Historic Site, where the Union Army was routed during the Civil War. At the end of State Highway 363 is the town of St. Marks. The town sits at the confluence of two rivers - the Wakulla and the St. Marks. In this small town is the San Marcos de Apalache Historic Site. The history of this important fort spans four centuries. The fort changed occupants like bad real estate. The site’s history began in 1528 when the location at these two rivers appealed to Panfilo de Narvaez. Notable individuals had a hand in the history of this small fort. Hernando de Soto arrived in 1539. A lighthouse now stands at the site of de Soto’s landing. St Marks’s Lighthouse is part of St. Marks’s National Wildlife Refuge. The Spanish, the English, Creek Indians, and Americans were all occupants of the fort. The fort’s final confrontation occurred in 1861 when the Confederates took control of it. Soon after, the Battle of Natural Bridge was fought just north.

US Highway 319 follows the eastern boundary of the Apalachicola southward away from Tallahassee. The Apalachicola is the largest of Florida’s national forests, consisting of over 950 square miles.

Along the Gulf coast south of Florida’s capital, fishing charters, other wildlife refuges, and beach activities are enjoyed. The coastal towns like Panacea and Ochlocknee Bay are smaller, but still offer visitors gulf side opportunities for family fun in the sun.

Tallahassee is usually passed through on the way to destinations southward to other parts of Florida. However, making Florida’s capital a primary destination is becoming more popular as visitors discover the many opportunities for sightseeing. Visiting Florida’s capital will be an experience the entire family can enjoy. The varied attractions and Tallahassee’s diverse heritage offers a wide assortment of things to do. So, visit a unique state capital.

For more information:
Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce
http://www.talchamber.com/

Leon County/Tallahassee Convention & Visitors Bureau
http://www.co.leon.fl.us/visitors/index.htm