Antiquing at its best is a type of "mobile archaeology." It can tell you more about a location in a few hours than days of study can, so I was thrilled when offered the chance to write about antiquing in central and north Florida.
In downtown St. Petersburg, our first destination is the refurbished Art Deco area around 4th Street North.
Here, we visit Hess Fine Art at 1131 4th Street N., which doesn't seem to be a likely candidate since its showcases carry new merchandise. Yet owner Jeff Hess brings us boxes filled with vintage wristwatches, including a beautiful 1950s 14-karat white gold Omega.
Next we head for the Grand Central District, the heart of antiquing in St. Petersburg. Once an area of urban neglect, the neighborhood now has museums, an arts center, restaurants and galleries in addition to antiques dealers.
Here, we visit Janet's Antiques at 2545 Central Ave., where there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of antique and vintage treasures from the 1800s to the present.
My sister Jean and I head back down Central Avenue to the four-story Pinkee's Antiques at 1246 Central. A treasure-trove of old and new books may be found at Haslam’s Book Store located at 2025 Central Avenue (727-822-8616).
In a couple of hours we find Heron Cay Lakeview Bed and Breakfast, our home for two nights. It is built in the Queen Anne style so popular in Victorian Mount Dora. Its long front porch is a great place to relax and look at famous Lake Dora, named after Dora Ann Drawdy, the woman who housed the town's first surveyors on her lawn.
Our hostess escorts us to the Vintage 356 room, overlooking the pool and gardens. Its ornate Victorian-style beds are so high that step stools are provided for the vertically challenged.
We have dinner reservations at The Goblin Market Restaurant at 330 Dora Drawdy Way, so our first full view of downtown Mount Dora is in the dark. It is memorable. The town center's Christmas light display is absolutely breathtaking. Trees that surround the square are wrapped like balloons filled with strings of fireflies.
We're up early the next day, ready to explore. Starting at the Old Mount Dora Depot, now an information center, we pick up a brochure on the town's many antique and memorabilia shops and set out on foot. The town is famous for its thrice-yearly Renninger's Antiques and Collectors Extravaganza, drawing more than 1,000 dealers and large crowds of antique buffs. Smaller but no less avid are the crowds that flood Mount Dora on weekends visiting Renninger's Antiques Center and its Farmers and Flea Market.
On this clear, sunny winter Thursday, there are no crowds as we stroll to Oliver's Twist Antiques on North Donnelly where I discover the "find" of our trip: a large metal case filled with small, stuffed birds ($695). This type of "nature" tableau was very popular with the Victorians, and good examples sometimes go for thousands.
We decide to head to one of Mount Dora's largest antique attractions, The Village Antique Mall, 405 N. Highland Street.
Early next morning, Jean and I leave for a small town south of Gainesville named after a famous Seminole leader, Micanopy (pronounced mick-can-op-pee).
Nothing has prepared us for the beauty of the oldest inland town in Florida. Its main thoroughfare, Cholokka Blvd. is a picture-postcard setting of old buildings (many on the National Historic Register) framed by massive old live oaks dripping with Spanish moss.
Jean and I continue in to the town center where antique stores line two sides of the street. We park and walk under Micanopy's massive old oaks - and discover a range and quality of antiques that is surprising for such a small town. The Garage at Micanopy offers a set of four chrome Ford V8 hubcaps from the 1930s ($80).
Later, Jean and I are treated to a truly delicious Cuban sandwich and homemade orange pie for lunch at the Old Florida Café.
Heading up the street, we visit O. Brisky Books, and peruse their Florida collection with selections such as Fifty Years Down The Swannee River by LL. Barnete.
We retrieve the car to visit Smiley's, a huge antique mall off I-75's exit 374 at C.R. 234. I let out a whoop when I find a Betsy Ross Tea Tin for $45 (she was my hero as a child).
As the day draws to a close, we return to Micanopy. We're off to Havana early the next morning.
Settled before the Civil War, Havana became one of Florida's leading cigar centers because it was close to shade tobacco fields (shade tobacco leaf was used as a cigar wrapper).
The town burned down in 1916, but was rebuilt and continued its smoky industry until a synthetic cigar wrapper appeared in the 1960s. Havana fell into decline until antique stores, art galleries and gift shops began appearing in old factory buildings.
At Traditions Antiques & Gifts, at 206 N. Main St., I find a handsome old English oak dresser with horn pulls.
We head for The McFarlin House B&B in Quincy. Host Richard Fauble gives us a tour of the historical Queen Anne Victorian house, a testament to the wealth McFarlin made in the shade tobacco business. McFarlin was so rich he hired the Carr Brothers and Louis Comfort Tiffany of New York to work on the house, which in its heyday required a staff of 25. Although the house is filled with antiques, Richard admits that he has had to replace some with reproductions, explaining, "Have you ever seen what happens to a dainty Victorian chair when a 200-pound man sits in it?"
The next day, antiques road show winding down, we head home to Sarasota, tired, exhilarated - and already planning our next antiquing vacation in Florida.