African-American artist Dean Mitchell’s watercolors completely capture the dignity and majesty of his hometown, Quincy, Fla. But those framed images are only a tease for what awaits when you drive northwest from Tallahassee on U.S Highway 90 into the county seat of the state’s only majority black county.
Quincy is much more than a stop on the way to somewhere else. It’s a place where time stands still and the architecture celebrates the town’s glory days of shade tobacco and Coca-Cola prosperity. It’s a place where art is celebrated.
“Gadsden County is a great destination for anyone who is interested in heritage nature-based day trips,” said David Gardner, director of the Gadsden County Chamber of Commerce.
The mandatory first stop in Quincy should be the Gadsden Arts Center in the converted Bell and Bates Hardware store, where visitors can see permanent and traveling exhibitions. The two-story facility houses three professional galleries, a children’s gallery, a gift store, two art studios and a kiln. The gift store sells prints as well as original works by local artists, pottery, ceramics, jewelry and books by local authors.
In the summer of 2013, the center hosted a groundbreaking exhibition, “Portrait of Historic Gadsden County,” that showcased the region’s tobacco, Coca-Cola and tomato-growing history.
According to the story told in the exhibit, Mark W. “Mr. Pat” Munroe, president of the Quincy State Bank, was a close friend of W.C Bradley, chairman of the Coca-Cola Company board of directors from 1919 to 1939. In the 1920s and ‘30s, Munroe encouraged his Quincy friends to invest in Coke shares. Those who heeded his advice reaped the financial rewards.
The legacy of Quincy’s tobacco and Coca-Cola fortunes is evident the quality of the Victorian architecture in downtown Quincy. The 36-block National Register Historic District features 56 properties, including homes, churches and businesses. Pick up a brochure and map from the Gadsden County Chamber of Commerce and start strolling.
Begin your tour at the Quincy Garden Center/Pat Munroe House, the ancestral property of the former president of the Quincy National Bank. Other must-see properties include: the McFarlin House Inn and Bed and Breakfast on East King Street, built on the tobacco fortune of John Lee McFarlin; the Old Presbyterian Manse on North Corry; the Gardner-McCall House on East King Street; and, the Davidson-Thomas House on East King Street.
Most properties in the historic district are privately owned residences (occasionally visitors are known to knock on the doors and ask for a personal tour), but some house businesses and are accessible to the public. The stretch of the tour along East King Street gives the visitor a sense of walking on an avenue of aristocracy with well-tended gardens, wrought iron fences and elegant white homes.
Churches, including St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, First Presbyterian Church and Centenary United Methodist Church, are well-represented among the historic properties.
After the walking tour, you might be feeling a bit peckish. For lighter fare, the Tomato Café at the Gadsden Art Center offers tomato pies and daily quiche specials. For the best ribs in town, visit Flookahs Oyster Bar & Grill. For more home-cooked fare, the West End Grill is the place to eat.
Heading for Havana
Drive 11 miles northeast from Quincy on State Road 12 to reach downtown Havana, an antique and collectible shopper’s delight.
Situated on the northern end of the Florida Antique Trail, Havana – aka Florida’s “friendliest small town” – is home to The Planters Exchange and other locally owned business catering to those who love to hunt for that perfect piece of nostalgia. Walking through the 14,000-square-foot Planters Exchange showroom, you might find a Highwaymen original painting or a rocking chair like the one that used to grace your grandfather’s front porch.
And when you work up an appetite with all that shopping, you won’t have to go far to refuel. Try the brick oven pizza, pasta or a panini sandwich at Oscars’ Pizza. Up the street from Oscar’s, check out the menu at Joanie’s Gourmet Market & Fabulous Cafe, a local favorite. I opted for the Tomato Café and Tea Room, where after a chicken sandwich, tomato pie, quiche and soup, be sure to save room for a slice of the homemade carrot cake or coconut cream cake while you eavesdrop on the locals having conversations about the latest upcoming festival or the antics of their grandchildren.