By VISIT FLORIDA staff
You'll find Southern hospitality driving from Tallahassee to Jacksonville.
If you're going to tour northern Florida, especially on a sunny day, you might as well begin under a canopy of trees. Tallahassee is famous for its narrow old roads shaded by decades-old pines and oaks. Popular pleasure-driving streets include Centerville, Meridian and Miccosukee, which crosses U.S. Highway 90 at Fifth Street.
Just out of town the highway slips beneath Interstate 10, its neighbor and nemesis for the trip to Jacksonville. Interstate 10 draws most of the traffic and modern clutter, leaving U.S. Highway 90 to be the old-time Southern highway that it is, with two lanes of blacktop rising and falling over the quiet countryside.
Instead of McDonald's and Taco Bell, there's Ken's BBQ and O'Neal's Country Buffet. Instead of Circle K and 7-11, there's Kelly's Grocery and the Hilltop Country Store.
This old way, which began as a tribal path and then a Spanish trail, welcomed a railroad route and then a highway beside it. There are four lanes along parts of the road now, but the character of the place hasn't changed much. Besides county courthouses and natural springs, there's the Civil War battlefield of Olustee, which was the largest engagement between Union and Confederate forces in the state.
As a plaque says at Suwannee River State Park, "You now stand on the shores of history."
Tallahassee to Jacksonville: Day One
Your first stop is Monticello, which is also the first in a string of small county seats across the northern border of Florida. Most feature a yellow-brick courthouse, with or without cupola, set within a red brick downtown that is only now being gentrified with antique stores and collectible shops. Monticello, however, is the only one with a greyhound track just outside of town. There’s an organic bakery and café called Tupelo's that’s open Monday through Saturday.
One thing to note: Monticello isn't a one-stoplight town; it's a no stoplight town. This is the South you didn't think still existed.
Just west of town near the Aucilla River is a roadside exhibit for the DeSoto's Florida Trail. On Oct. 1, 1539, the river was flooded and the Spanish party of explorers was ambushed by an Apalachee band of warriors.
Another roadside plaque, just past tiny Greenville, tells the more recent story of John Hicks and Hickstown. This Miccosukee Indian chief - his given name was Tuckose Emathla - led his tribe in the time between the First and Second Seminole Wars in the early 19th century. After that second war, his town was abandoned to history, like so many things on U.S. Highway 90.
Tallahassee to Jacksonville: Day Two
This is a day to park your car and wander by foot around a lovely downtown area. The city park, interestingly enough, features an old Confederate war memorial, along with a newer monument dedicated to the slaves who helped build Madison County in the years before the Civil War. Greek revival architecture in the area includes the Jack Wade House, built in 1838 and the Smith Mansion, built in 1860.
The original First Baptist Church, a Queen Anne-style structure built in 1898, looks traditional enough but contains an architectural surprise – the interior space is octagonal. Call (850) 973-2547 to ask about a visit.
If you have kids traveling with you and this downtown strolling is a bit slow for them, take them over to the Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts on Old St. Augustine Road (note: if you're using a GPS, enter Ragan's Lake Road). There's a giant water slide, 60 feet tall, with hours varying according to the time of year. Call (850) 973-8269.
Tallahassee to Jacksonville: Day Three
The Suwannee River, of course, was immortalized by the old Stephen Foster song, "Old Folks at Home." Today's it's as pretty as it is famous, with high bluffs offering a panoramic view of the water and woods.
Suwannee River State Park, just north of U.S. Highway 90 at 3631 201st Path, is open 8 a.m. - sunset, daily. It offers boating and picnicking, hiking and camping. Call (386) 362-2746.
A few miles upstream, at the Stephen Foster State Park & Folk Culture Center, there's plenty of history and trivia. For example, Foster, a native of Pittsburgh, never laid eyes on the river he made so famous. The Culture Center is on U.S. Highway 41 in White Springs. Call (386) 397-2733.
Farther east, Lake City is known to most Florida travelers as the small town near the intersection of Interstate 75 and Interstate 10.
Tallahassee to Jacksonville: Day Four
You can follow U.S. Highway 90 all the way to Jacksonville Beach and the Atlantic Ocean, but the route gets lost in the sprawl of the city of Jacksonville. Better to close this journey at Olustee, where 10,000 Union and Confederate soldiers met on Feb. 20, 1864.
To the north and east of the site is the 187,000-acre Osceola National Forest, which extends far north of Interstate 10. It offers a range of recreational opportunities, including fishing, hiking and camping. Endangered species within the park include the gray bat and red cockaded woodpecker. The forest is open 8 a.m. - dusk, daily. Call (386) 752-2577.
The town of Olustee is barely a crossroads, but the Olustee battlefield is just 17 miles away with another battlefield, Big Shoals, just 2.5 miles away from the town. Confederate Brig. Gen. Joseph Finegan chose a spot between a lake and a swamp as the best place to repel a Union advance. "It was a fair-square, stand-up fight in the pine woods," said one Joseph Hawley, a rebel colonel. The Union army was sent back to Jacksonville with 1,861 casualties, as opposed to 946 for the Confederate forces.
The Olustee Battlefield State Historic Site is open 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Call (386) 758-0400.