By Janet K. Keeler
The first thing you need to know about the Putnam Lodge in Cross City is that it’s in Shamrock.
Perhaps you’ve never heard of either town, which should not dissuade you from seeking out the historic and beautifully restored 1927 lodge on Florida’s Nature Coast or maybe the Hidden Coast depending on who’s handing out the labels.
Both descriptions are geographically and descriptively correct. There are plenty of natural wonders here and the region has lots of wide-open spaces for camping, paddling, biking and birding. From Cross City, the Gulf of Mexico (fishing!) is due west about 15 miles. The Steinhatchee River (scalloping!) is north and the Suwanee River (as in “way down upon”) is south and a paddler favorite.
The front walkway and entrance of the Putnam Lodge
So the Putnam Lodge makes all kinds of sense as a place to kick back and use as a base to explore Real Florida. Shamrock is just a wide spot on the road, north of Cross City, which is wider with a population of 1,728. I’ve meet three people who live in Shamrock and that is a good chunk of the population in this Dixie County town.
For years, I passed by the Putnam Lodge Cross City on my way north to Tallahassee on U.S. 19. The two-story white building stood shuttered behind a fence for years, until one day, life stirred. White rocking chairs swayed slightly. Lights flickered. A welcoming butler (statue not human) stood at the entrance. And there were cars in front. Lots of them. Fancy ones, too.
On one trip I stopped to check it out and then returned recently to stay the night. It’s so nice that you can soak up the ambiance and get a massage, too. The spa is new since 1927, but the lobby, with its hand-stenciled pecky cypress columns and heart pine floors, is vintage all the way.
One of several hallways in the Putnam Lodge
Owners Ed and Beverly Pivacek have masterfully woven the old with the new since they bought the place and reopened it in 2014. The successful Tampa entrepreneurs had their eyes and hearts on the Putnam Lodge since 1993 but it was 20 years before they could call it theirs.
The new attractions include the popular Dixie Paintball next door, also run by the Pivaceks. There’s traditional hunting in the region, but the paintball field draws church youth groups and birthday party revelers looking for another kind of shooting. On Saturdays, the lodge transforms into a wedding venue or a high school reunion spot. The Pivaceks aim to be all things to all people, and that includes travelers and locals.
The lodge, which sits on 18 acres, embraces its Old Florida roots but guests sleep on Ralph Lauren linens and eat upscale fare in the friendly dining room, including some of the best beef dishes in the area thanks to Chef Jeno Koch.
Steak Valentina made with filet mignon, asparagus, and gulf shrimp
Singer Krista Campbell belts out the hits – from Sinatra to the Supremes with some Adele thrown in – a couple evenings a week. Dance, sing along, whatever. If the dining room walls gossiped, they’d likely tell tales of evenings so lively they wouldn’t end until the sun came up. On Thursday nights, travelers swap tales with the locals, who have made the Putnam Lodge a weekly gathering and dining spot.
Gangster Al Capone is rumored to have hung out at the lodge and operated secret stills across the street during Prohibition. Today, the chef sleeps in his room upstairs. Ed Pivacek says guests report supernatural experiences, ghosts and such, but he’s not buying. Old buildings speak volumes through uneven, creaky floors and original windows that create spooky waves of light.
The dining room and bar area of the Putnam Lodge is finished with original stenciled "pecky cypress."
On the first floor of the lodge are 25 rooms plus the spa, dining room and a cozy library where visitors can kick back with a book or watch a DVD. On the second floor are meeting spaces and a poolroom.
The Putnam Lumber Co. built the lodge for executives and tourists when the Old Dixie Highway was a main artery of north-south travel. Putnam operated a huge cypress sawmill nearby. There’s still a lumber business there, now called the Suwanee Lumber Co., but the area doesn’t bustle as a much.
Shamrock was a company town then. Today, it’s welcoming company at the historic Putnam Lodge.
If you go…
The Putnam Lodge
15487 NW U.S. 19, Shamrock, Fla.
For information about Dixie Paintball next door, call (813) 390-4489.
Other Attractions Nearby Putdam Lodge
The summer draws people to the town of Steinhatchee for scalloping season, which starts in late June and runs through late September. The sweet bay scallops are a delicacy and visitors can rent gear or bring their own, and hire someone to do the shucking. There’s plenty of other types of fishing in the area, too.
The Nature Coast State Trail System connects the towns of Cross City, Fanning Springs, Chiefland and Trenton with paved hiking and equestrian trails. For more information: www.visitnaturalnorthflorida.com.
The Suwannee River, which starts in Georgia and flows 200 miles to the Gulf of Mexico, is fed by many natural springs and is a popular tributary for adventure lovers. There are many outfitters and guides along the river. The river and environs are also a popular spot for campers, birders, bicyclists and horseback riders. For more information: www.suwanneeriver.com.
The Dixie County Tourist Development Council can point travelers to antique shops, cave diving experiences, annual festivals, plus more lodging and other attractions. Contact the Council at (352) 498-1403 or www.visitdixie.com.