Tallahassee, the State Capital of Florida, lies just south of the State of Georgia in what is called “The Panhandle”, the large area of land that runs west along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, with the State of Alabama on its northern and western border.
The name ‘Tallahassee’ comes from the Muskogeon language of the Apalachee Indians who lived in this area prior to and at the time of the Spanish establishing their settlement here. Tallahassee means “Old Fields” named in reference to the Crops that the Apalachee people grew here.
In the early days of Spanish exploration Juan Ponce de Leon (1474-1521) had sailed to the East Coast of the Florida peninsula in 1813, naming ‘La Florida’, but had never ventured inland. In 1527-28 the Spanish explorer, Panfilo de Narvάez (1478-1528) stopped at the Bahia de Tampa (Tampa Bay) and then at Bahia Apalachee on his voyage from Santo Domingo in Hispaniola (Haiti), before heading further west to the Delta del Mississippi where his ships were wrecked, and he was forced to salvage what he could and build rafts to travel further. A storm however washed the rafts out to sea, and Panfilo is thought to have drowned at sea, although his second in command managed to survive and eventually make it to Mexico.
In 1539 a Spanish Expedition led by Hernando de Soto (1496-1542), the Governor of Cuba sailed from Cuba to Tampa Bay before heading north overland to Georgia, stopping to camp during the winter months in Anhaica, the main town of the Apalachee people, in what is now known as Tallahassee. Their campsite is thought to be where Governor Martin House is located in the Hernando de Soto State Park – 1022 De Soto Park Drive. At the end of the winter in 1540 the de Soto Expedition headed north into Georgia, before turning west towards the Mississippi River and returning to Cuba. In 1542 Hernando de Soto died from fever and his body was laid to rest in the Mississippi River.
Pensacola on the far west coast of Florida lays claim to be the oldest settlement in the United States, the settlement established in 1559, but later abandoned, and on the East Coast, St Augustine also makes this claim on the basis of it being continuously settled by the Spanish, being founded in 1565. If “camping” is considered a settlement, then equally Tallahassee could also make a claim to this title, given that the campsite was established in the Apalachee Village in 1539-40. All three locations were however lands occupied by the Native American tribes that lived in each of the areas prior to the arrival of the Spanish – the Timucuan Indians in St Augustine, Apalachee in Tallahassee and the Muscogee Creek Indians in Pensacola.
The relations between the Apalachee people and Spanish varied from friendly to hostile, but there were also inter-marriages too, and when children were born, they were called ‘Mestizo’ – their heritage being both Spanish and Indian. The Apalachee people grew crops – such as maize, beans and squash, as well as fishing and hunting for game. They also traded with other tribes, and long trodden pathways existed. When the Spanish arrived, they also used these pathways and in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s, a pathway, what became known as ‘El Camino Real’ connected St Augustine on the east coast to Tallahassee and on to Pensacola. Franciscan Friars established their missions along this trail, with the Trail given the prestigious name of the ‘Royal Road’ which would later connect all the way to the Royal Road “El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro’ that in 1598 had been built from Mexico City to near Santa Fe in New Mexico.
In 1633 two Franciscan Friars, Pedro Munóz and Francisco Martinez established the ‘San Luis de Inhayca’ mission in the Apalachee Village and then in 1656 ‘San Luis de Talimali’ was built where Tallahassee is now. The Mission consisted of the Village thatched roof houses, a plaza, meeting house, church, friary and blockhouse with the village gardens and crop areas just outside the village and mission. A palisade wall constructed from timber logs was also built as protection and in 1679 this palisade became the Fort Marcos de Apalachee, which housed some 45 Spanish soldiers with around 400 Apalachee Indians living in the village. This set up of a village with both Spanish and Apalachee being together in the one village was unusual, as in most of the Spanish settlements, the settlements were built around a ‘Plaza de Armas’ a central square.
The Mission San Luis de Talimali became an important settlement with its mix of Apalachee, Spanish settlers, Mestizo, friars, soldiers and workers. The mission however would not survive.
While Florida was under Spanish control, the British had control over the areas to the north including Georgia and South Carolina where ownership and trading in slaves was an established way of life for the plantation owners. Slaves began to realize that if they escaped, they would have a chance of freedom if they made it to Spanish controlled Florida.
In 1701 Britain had declared war on Spain and on France, and in the war that followed over the next couple of years, British forces with their Creek Indian allies from Georgia attacked the Florida Missions and Forts. Rather than let the British take control over the San Luis Mission, the Spanish and Apalachee in 1704 abandoned the Mission and set fire to it, with many of the Apalachee fleeing to Mobile in Alabama, and then later to Louisiana.
The San Marcos Fort was only rebuilt by the Spanish in 1718 using timber logs again, before they started rebuilding it using Flintstone and Limestone in 1739. It then passed into British hands between 1763 and 1783, back into Spanish control from 1787 to 1818 when US General Andrew Jackson and his troops waged war in Florida in the First Seminole War. The Fort and Florida in the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 led to Americans taking control over Florida from the Spanish. In the years to follow, the Old San Marcos Fort also came under the control of the US Marines, who used stone from the Fort to build a Military Hospital; then in 1861 under Confederate control in the Civil War until the end of the Civil War took place. The Fort and earthworks constructed by the Confederate Forces were then largely abandoned and left to ruin. Those ruins and the Fort’s history and museum can be seen today in the San Marcos de Palachee Historic State Park at 148 Old Fort Rd, St Marks. The Mission San Luis de Apalachee is located at 2100 West Tennessee Street, Tallahassee.
The old Battlefield between the Union Forces and Confederates – what was called the Battle of Natural Bridge is located at 7502 Natural Bridge Rd in Tallahassee. The Confederates won this battle and Tallahassee was the only southern city that was never captured by the Union forces during the Civil War. The City has a real southern feel about it still today, so a total contrast to cities like Miami.
There is a lot of history to see and learn about in Tallahassee, and these are some of the other historic places that you might like to visit –
- Old City Cemetery – Corner Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard and Park Avenue – which has graves dating back to 1829.
- Tallahassee Museum – 3945 Museum Drive as 52 acres of grounds beside the Lake with a restored mansion – Bellevue Mansion, with its kitchen and slave cabin as well as around 14 other historic buildings to see. There are also natural habitats for wildlife, and a tree-to-tree zipline and adventure course to enjoy.
- Museum of Florida – 500 S. Bronough Street. This is a great museum to see artefacts and exhibits that chronicle Florida’s history from Pre-historic Mastodon times to the present.
- Florida State Archives – is also located in the Museum of Florida.
- Goodwood Museum and Gardens – 1600 Miccosukee Road. The museum and gardens are located on 19 acres with the old antebellum House dating back to the 1840’s.
- Knott House Museum – 301 E. Park Avenue. Tel: 850 922 2459 See museumoffloridahistory.com The museum is located in this large house built in 1843.
- Bradley’s Country Store – 10655 Centerville Road. Visiting the old store will give you a feel for the 1920’s, when the store first opened. They still serve ‘Grits’ here too.
- Capitol Museum – 400 S. Monroe Street. Built in 1902 with a stained glass dome on top it houses the Florida Legislative Research Center. There is also an observatory here too on level 22 that has views over the city.
- Governor’s Mansion – 700 N. Adams Street. “The Hermitage” is modelled on Andrew Jackson’s home, and has been the home of a number of Florida Governors. To see inside you need to make an appointment – Tel 850 717 9345.
- First Presbyterian Church – 102 N. Adams Street – The church history dates back to 1832 and inside in the restored Sanctuary is the ‘North Gallery’ – where slaves sat separately to the main congregation.
- Frenchtown – is an area of Tallahassee that was once the home of a number of French settlers. It is an area bounded by Tennessee Avenue, Alabama Street, Woodward Avenue and Marin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. It was also the home of Ray Charles at one time. Here you will also be able to see ‘Taylor House’ at 442 West Georgia Street, built in 1894.
- John G. Riley House Museum – 419 E Jefferson Street, Smokey Hollow. The house was built in 1890 and was the home of the John G. Riley a prominent Civil rights leader and former School Principal. On E. Jefferson Street take a look at the sidewalk to see the story of the Civil Rights City Bus boycott of 1956 and the Civil Rights demonstrations that occurred in between 1960 and 1963.
- Tallahassee –St Marks Historic Railroad State Trail – the Railroad between Tallahassee and St Marks on the coast was built in 1836 and continued in operation until 1983. During this time it carried timber, cotton, other goods and passengers between the two centers, including Confederate troops during the Civil War to surprise and fight the Union forces that landed at St Marks. (See Battle of Natural Bridge). Today the roughly 20 mile long railroad track is a trail used by bike riders and hikers.
- South Eastern Regional Black Archives Research Center and Museum – 445 Gamble Street. The Center seeks to collect and research the history of African Americans. Also look for the Union Bank of Florida Museum at 219 Apalachee Parkway – this building is where newly freed slaves were able to bank monies that they earned.
- St Marks Lighthouse – at the end of Lighthouse Road located on the shores of Apalachee Bay in the St Marks Wildlife Refuge. The lighthouse dates back to 1832, and while it is not open, there is a visitor center, great coastal views and walking trails, and each October there are hundreds probably thousands of Monarch Butterflies that are born here.
- Lake Jackson Mounds – 3600 Indian Mounds Rd – Mounds (small elevated earth platforms) were built as ceremonial platforms for an ancient culture that lived here, said to date back to between 1050 and 1500 AD. The Lake itself covers around 4000 acres of water.
- Letchworth-Love Mounds – Sunray Rd off Highway 90 – 14 miles east of Tallahassee. This is also where you can see ‘mounds’ that are said to date back to 300 to 900 AD.
- Canopy Roads – these are roads where the trees on both sides of the road arch over the road to create a canopy with moss draped live Oaks, sweet gums, pines and Hickory Trees. There are a number of Canopy Roads in Tallahassee – Old Augustine Rd, Old Bainbridge Rd, Miccosukee Rd, Moccasin Gap Rd, Centerville Rd, Sunny Hill, Pisgah Church Rd and North Meridian Rd.
- Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park – 3540 Thomasville Rd Tallahassee is said to be one of the most beautiful gardens in the South. Here you will be able to see Dogwoods, Hawthorn, Horsesugar, Silverbell, Sweetboy Magnolia and other trees, with Azaleas in blossom between January and April. Tallahassee, in contrast to the cities on the Florida peninsula has four seasons, so while it is still a tropical climate, its climate is more like Georgia and other southern states. Georgia is only about 14 miles north, while the Gulf coast to the south is just 20 miles or so. There is also a lake in the Park too – Lake Hall where you can kayak too.
- Dorothy B. Oven Park – 3205 Thomasville Rd. This park covers around 6 acres with azaleas, camellias, and other trees and flowers to see.
- Freshwater Beach – 3226 Flastacowa Rd – for swimming, trails, kayak hire.
- Tom Brown Park – 501 Easterwood Drive has 225 acres of parklands with walking and bike trials, picnic and sporting fields.
- Cascades Park – 1001 S. Gadsden Street. Here you will find an amphitheatre, walking trails and an interactive water fountain with a light show on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
- COCA Art Walk – starts at the TCC Capitol Center in the City. See cocanet.org/downtownartwalk . Tallahassee has a number of art galleries, and this walk takes you past many of the Street Art sculptures and memorials in the City Center.
- Railroad Square Art Park – 567 Industrial Drive. Here you will find artist studios and gallery shops in these old warehouse buildings. See railroadsquare.us
- LeMoyne Center for the Visual Arts – 125 N. Gadsten Street. A free gallery with both local and international artist’s work.
- Wakulla Springs State Park – 465 Wakulla Park Drive, about 15 miles south of Tallahassee is the natural spring where Tarzan Jungle movies were once shot, as well as the movie “ The creature form the Black Lagoon”. It is a great location! You can travel on a glass bottomed boat here to see down into the water, which goes down about 300 feet into the depths. The Springs are said to be the biggest and deepest natural spring in the world. There is also a Lodge built in 1937 where you can stay. Enquire on 850 421 2000.
- Spring House – 3117 Okeeheepkee Rd. This is only opened occasionally, but is a house designed by the famous Architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.
- Theaters, Ballet, Orchestras – see tallahasseelittletheater.org ; www.tallaballet.com; www.tallahasseesymphony.org
- Planetarium and IMAX theater – 200 S. Duval Street . Here you will find a 5 storey planetarium to see the stars, also an IMAX Theater and a Space Station Laboratory simulator. See challengerlh.com
- Antique Automobile Museum – 6800 Mahan Drive. See tacm.com Tel: 850 942 0137. An amazing collection of cars including the Batmobile, a rare Cord, and even the Hearse Carriage that was used by Abraham Lincoln. There are other collections here too so well worth seeing.
- Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory – 222 Clark Drive Panacea is about 30 miles from Tallahassee. See gulfspecimen.org Here you can get up close and see Starfish, sea urchins, crabs, turtles and other marine life that live in the Gulf of Mexico.
Tallahassee has the Malls and other places to shop, and being just 20 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, there is great seafood, including oysters, as well as fresh garden produce from the farms to the north.
There are also all the big name hotels to stay at, but also smaller places too, with bike and walking trails, lakes, forest, the history, gardens and four seasons to enjoy. The Canopy roads are certainly something different to experience, and it is also good to see some of the small towns that are close to Tallahassee, such as Apalachicola on the Gulf Coast, Bloutstown (about 55 miles from Tallahassee) where there is the Panhandle Pioneer Village (see www.panhandlepioner.org ) set out on 5 acres of grounds with buildings from the 1820’s to 1940’s. Also for a really historic small town, head to Havana about 17 miles from Tallahassee (known for its antiques)and also to Thomasville in Georgia (about 35 miles north of Tallahassee). There are lots of historic buildings here, just one of them being the Pebble Hill Plantation (see www.pebblehill.org). There is also the Sweet Grass Dairy which makes a range of different cheeses. See www.sweetgrassdairy.com and the Birdsong Nature Center, 106 Meridian Road. There are walking tours of the old town center, and lots of things to see.
If new to the South, you must try some grits, and also another specialty, Boiled peanuts. Welcome to Tallahassee.