Florida Main Street Program Has Stories to Tell

    By Kevin McGeever

    Florida’s Main Street communities have compelling stories to share.

    In a state celebrated for its abundant sunshine and brand-name vacation destinations, these neighborhoods and small-town downtowns represent an underappreciated Florida that predates modern tourism and deserves exploration.

    The South’s largest cattle range. The winter strawberry capital. River cities with warehouses that served Big Cotton. A once-segregated Black community surviving and thriving in St. Petersburg.

    The heritage is preserved in the architecture, in the geography, and in the echoes of native Americans and pioneers and civil rights activists.

    Propelled by dedicated neighbors, 45 Florida Main Streets have received technical assistance toward the goal of revitalizing historic downtowns and encouraging economic development. Main Street officials say the effort, 35 years on now, has paid off in greater community pride, the preservation of historic resources, and billions of dollars in reinvestment.

    Joanie Smalley, former director of Main Street Leesburg, described her downtown in words and images that could stand for all of these communities: “It is the epitome of a small town. Everybody knows your name. If you are a visitor, you are welcomed. Everybody talks to you. You’re treated as family.”

    Antiques and collectables are set up next to the Oak Park Inn in downtown Arcadia during the Arcadia Antique Fair which is held the fourth Saturday of the month.

    Antiques and collectables are set up next to the Oak Park Inn in downtown Arcadia during the Arcadia Antique Fair which is held the fourth Saturday of the month.

    - Scott Keeler

    Arcadia

    Arcadia, an hour east of both Sarasota and Fort Myers, is the seat of De Soto County in the heart of Florida cattle country. It is a place, Janet Keeler wrote, “where the Old West meets the Old South.”

    Livestock auctions and rodeo competitions have been city traditions for the better part of a century. On Saturdays, 100 antique dealers fill up a four-block district selling military weapons, comic books, Depression glass, silverware sets, artwork, stamps and dolls.

    In response to a 1905 fire that incinerated 42 downtown buildings, the City Council mandated that all future construction be brick or cement. Those edifices, including the allegedly haunted Opera House, are more than a century old now and enshrined on the National Register of Historic Places.

    Business owners and residents support each other, directing guests to their friends who run the Canoe Outpost on nearby Peace River, or suggesting the best slice of pie down the street.

    Beneath spreading Live Oak branches, Trinity Episcopal Church has served Apalachicola since 1838.

    Beneath spreading Live Oak branches, Trinity Episcopal Church has served Apalachicola since 1838.

    - COLIN HACKLEY

    Apalachicola

    Apalachicola’s brand is fresh oysters, but the Panhandle city’s roots are in the antebellum South.

    Nineteenth-century brick buildings today hold oyster plants, one-of-a-kind boutiques, and river restaurants. The Center for History, Culture and Art, formerly one of the cotton warehouses that lined the riverfront downtown, dates to 1836.

    The Raney House Museum, a Greek Revival house also built in 1836, is listed on the National Register of Historic Homes.

    Two more nationally recognized historic structures, built in the 1900s, remain popular inns for visitors.

    The Gibson’s early 20th-century Florida “Cracker” architecture features metal roof, high ceilings, and large wrap-around porches. A widow’s walk and cupola crown the tin roof, remnants of Apalach’s steamboat past.

    The Coombs Inn is actually three Victorian Mansions. Twelve-foot ceilings, poster beds, and English chintz draperies are standard fare.

    Child eating collard greens

    This little girl loves her collard greens .

    - Chris Zuppa

    The Deuces

    St. Petersburg’s 22nd Street S, dubbed “The Deuces” after its double 2’s, was the former hub of black businesses, homes, and entertainment during the time of segregation.

    “At its peak during the early 1960s,” Jon Wilson wrote for VISIT FLORIDA, “more than 100 businesses, retail stores, professional offices and entertainment venues thrived on the thoroughfare.”

    Veatrice Farrell, executive director of Deuces Live, the non-profit organization that oversees the Main Streets project here, said the Deuces corridor, prior to integration, is where one could live their whole lives.

    From “Cradle to Grave, and everything in between,” the Deuces Live website says of the stretch of 22nd Street S between Eighth and 15th avenues. “In 1962, one could step out the door, cross the street and get a shoe shine at Cozy Inn, have lunch at the Shag, and later, get a haircut at Oscar Kleckley’s. You could visit your attorney and buy groceries at Barco’s store; Dr. Ayer could examine you. If it was too late for that, funeral arrangements could be made at the Arch-Royal.”

    Again from Jon Wilson: “Today, a detailed African-American heritage trail reflects the street’s glory days, depicting a century of history – 1868 to 1968 – that developed along 22nd Street and along 9th Avenue South. … The street’s history sheds light on the overall St. Petersburg story. African-American workers built the railroad that put the city on the map, and they provided much of the craftsmanship that built the resort city’s downtown during the 1920s boom years.”

    The Dr. Carter G. Woodson African-American Museum is the memory and voice of the Black community. A vivid Black Lives Matter mural, each of the 16 letters painted by a different artist commissioned by the city, brightens Ninth Avenue in front of the museum and joins other Deuces murals of legendary Black figures who stayed here during segregation.

    Twice a month, movie nights at the Royal Theater and neighborhood block parties bring neighbors together. Monthly art walks and the annual Collard Greens Festival attract visitors from near and far.

    bench in Homestead

    The Overseas Railroad was completed in 1912. Homestead, incorporated in 1913, is the second oldest city in Miami-Dade County.

    - Photo by Peter W. Cross

    From vital steamboat-era stops like Chattahoochee to gay-friendly districts such as St. Pete’s Grand Central, Florida’s Main Streets represent the Sunshine State’s collective memory. They reflect progress but also societal fault lines and important lessons. They are living history.

    Accredited Main Street Communities

    Apalachicola Main Street

    Arcadia Main Street

    Main Street Bartow

    Brooksville Main Street

    Chattahoochee Main Street

    Historic Cocoa Village Main Street

    Main Street Crestview

    Crystal River Main Street

    Main Street DeFuniak Springs

    MainStreet DeLand Association

    Deuces Live Main Street of St. Petersburg

    Eau Gallie Arts District Main Street

    EDGE District of St. Petersburg

    Fernandina Beach Main Street

    Main Street Fort Pierce

    Grand Central District Association of St. Petersburg

    Havana Main Street

    Homestead Main Street

    Kissimmee Main Street

    LaBelle Downtown Revitalization Corporation

    Lake Wales Main Street

    Leesburg Partnership

    Lincoln Park Main Street

    Marianna Main Street

    Newberry Main Street

    New Port Richey Main Street

    Ocala Main Street

    Okeechobee Main Street

    Ormond Beach MainStreet

    Plant City Main Street

    Quincy Main Street

    St. Cloud Main Street

    Stuart Main Street

    Venice MainStreet

    Main Street Vero Beach

    Vilano Beach Main Street

    Main Street Wauchula

    Main Street Winter Haven

    Main Street Zephyrhills
     

    Apprentice Communities

    Communities within their first three years of the Florida Main Street program.

    Eatonville Main Street


    2020 Non-Accredited Communities

    Cocoa Beach Main Street

    Melbourne Main Street

    Panama City Main Street

    Sanford Main Street

    Tallahassee Downtown Main Street

    Places to Remember

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