Thursday, April 9, 2015

MARIANNA, FLORIDA

On a return trip from central Florida to New Iberia, Louisiana, we stopped at Marianna, Florida, the halfway mark of a 15-hour journey. We had always stopped short of this town, as it seemed like just another county seat that didn't offer much in the way of "immersion." However, even the Floridian with whom I was traveling was surprised at the attractiveness of the town, a place associated with Spanish Colonial history and settled by Spanish missionaries and soldiers. The missionaries had traveled west to create missions among the Chacato Indians living along the Chipola River.

Marianna sits on a ridge above spring-fed Chipola River and offers attractions like several Colonial Plantation homes; e.g., Great Oaks and Erwin House, as well as Queen Anne Victorian houses. As I'm an Episcopal deacon, I was especially interested in the history of St. Luke's Episcopal Church that was burned by the Feds during the Battle of Marianna in 1864. A Bible survived the conflagration and is on display at St. Luke's, a reproach to the soldiers who tried to destroy the church... and the town. The Battle of Marianna has been described as the "deepest penetration of Confederate Florida by Federal soldiers," according to a historian who lives in the town and does extensive Civil War research.

Waterways near Marianna include the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee, and Chipola Rivers, Compass and Seminole Lakes. Birders love the area near Lake Seminole where King rails, purple gallinule and yellow-throated vireo abound. Along the Chipola River, wood warblers thrive, and one bird watcher reported 150 species in a single year. Birders come in herds to see the horned lark, which frequents open cotton fields near the Chattahoochee River. The ubiquitous blackbird was sighted during our overnight stay, and grackles (my favorite) paraded in the motel parking lot.

Because we couldn't find the bookstore at nearby Chipola College, I resorted to reading the telephone directory and a visitor's guide published by the Jackson County Tourist Development Council. I was amazed to read that an olive grove flourishes at nearby Alford. It was planted by Don Mueller who retired to Florida after spending many years vacationing in Italy. He established Green Gate Olive Grove (a U-Pick farm) because he discerned that the climate in Jackson County, Florida was similar to the Mediterranean area he visited in Italy. "U-Pickers" clean Mueller's grove out in three weeks during August-mid September. He's the first big producer of olives and olive oil in Florida and has been in the business for six years. Next trip, we plan to visit during U-Picking time. We're told that a variety of Kalamata-style olives are being developed.

We missed the Bellamy Bridge, which is reputed to be haunted by the ghost of Elizabeth Bellamy. Elizabeth's bridal gown caught fire on her wedding night, and she was burned to death. I didn't discover why she haunts the bridge, but I surmise that she still searches for water to douse the blaze that set her afire. The bridge is now open to the public under an agreement with Northwest Florida Water Management District, but we didn't stick around to catch a glimpse of Elizabeth's ghost.


As I've said before, travelers never know where they'll find serendipity, and the GPS has never alerted us to "places of immersion," but we find them anyway!
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