Hot on the trail of Florida’s one-time wealthiest cities, I found myself driving through endless miles of verdant landscape, wondering how a bucolic burg like Quincy could have struck it rich – not realizing that in agriculture, certain crops are green gold.
Here’s a town that followed the shade tobacco market to early 20th-century prominence. Seems that shade tobacco, used to wrap cigars, gets persnickety about its growing conditions, and north Florida proved its environmental match. Planters moved up as shade tobacco barons.
When the fledgling Coca-Cola Company first offered stock to the public, Mark W. Munroe, a local bank president, decided that people would always be able to find a nickel for a Coke™, so the investment was sound. Purchasing stock himself, Munroe urged family, friends and business clients to do the same. Reportedly, he even made seed loans to tobacco farmers conditional upon stock purchase – though offering to lend the purchase money and wait until harvest for repayment. (And my bank thinks free checking is doing me a favor.)
Munroe’s diligence resulted in a town populated with Coca-Cola millionaires. The stock certificates were undoubtedly consolation when shade tobacco agriculture collapsed several decades later.
Quincy still retains an air of Victorian gentility – with a hefty dash of Southern charm. Wandering streets lined with columned manors and well-appointed bungalows, all lavishly landscaped, I suddenly felt inappropriately attired. This 30-block historic district seemed to deserve a parasol-toting Gibson Girl – not a tourist in jeans and a T-shirt.
My favorite downtown discovery was the Gadsden Arts Center, a slick gallery reinventing an old hardware store. The industrial-style center pays homage to the past through preserved architectural details like rolling ladders, an intricate fretwork-detailed office and a hand-pulled elevator (no longer in service, to my dismay). A gift shop showcases products of regional artisans, from vases carved of native woods to jewelry and specialties like handmade soaps, hand-painted silk scarves and cane syrup.
Find an overnight escape at The Allison House Inn, a handsome dwelling built by Florida’s sixth governor, General A.K. Allison, that offers impeccable comfort and hospitality plus a mini-museum hallway with historic displays. For a romantic retreat, choose the sprawling McFarlin House B&B, the town’s largest, most elaborate building. This 11,000-squarefoot masterpiece, embellished with curly pine paneling, stained glass, stamped brass ceilings and imported European niceties, was erected by planter John Lee MacFarlin for the sole purpose of entertaining – like a playhouse for tycoons.
Shoppers should head to Havana, 30 minutes southeast, a workman’s town established to process tobacco for the Quincy planters, where once industrial buildings are now packed with enough shops – ranging from antiques and crafts to home décor and gourmet goodies – and cafés to fill a leisurely afternoon.