December 1 – December 12, 2019.
They call it “The Forgotten Coast.” It stretches along Florida’s panhandle from Mexico Beach to St. Marks on the Apalachee Bay. Noticeably absent are the high-rises, beach stores, and miniature golf courses that you see on other parts of the Florida coastline. Instead, there are small seaports with rich histories, towering lighthouses, small museums, and modest homes.
I get why they call it “forgotten” but “forgotten” makes me think, not worth remembering and the “forgotten coast” is not that. I think perhaps “the off the beaten track coast” would be better. Or maybe “the unexpectedly lovely coast.” It could be the “just as pretty as the rest of Florida but less crowded coast.” Or even better “the coast of sleepy towns with super nice friendly people.” I know none of these names are visitor-center-brochure catchy. But for me, they more accurately capture our experience of this un-“forgotten coast.”
Our first stop on the Forgotten Coast was at Carrabelle near the southeast corner of the Apalachicola National Forest. We might have given this small town a pass, but I saw that they had a bottle house. And if you know how much I live public art, you know I didn’t want to miss this. Looking at the map I saw there was also a small free museum in town. It’s free, why not visit? Surprisingly this tiny little museum ended up being one of the highlights of our Florida Panhandle journey.
When we arrived we were greeted by Tamara, a cheerful woman sitting on an electric scooter wearing a straw hat with a bright orange flower. She preceded to take us on a historical tour of this small museum starting with American Indian artifacts found in the area. She had just finished telling us about a mural currently in progress by a local artist of Caravelle in its heyday as a shipping port when her husband, Cal, arrived. He was there to take her up to the drug store to pick up a prescription.
Although Tamara’s replacement had shown up, she had one more thing she wanted to show us. She led us over to a chest full of pictures and newspaper clippings. Here she told us about a sunken ship, and the survivor who swam 25 miles to shore for help. Somehow after that, I ended up in another room with Tamara while Greg remained with her husband and the volunteer replacement. When Tamara and I rejoined, Cal asked if we wanted to go next door for a quick visit to his painting studio. Sure!
At the studio, Cal explained his technique using egg tempera and natural pigments which he sourced himself. His paintings reminded me of Andrew Wyeth. And as it turns out, Wyeth was an inspiration to him. We looked at quite a few individual paintings in Cal’s gallery, and he told us stories about each.
Finally, we returned to the museum, passing by Cal’s car, door open, ramp out. Ready for the last hour to scoop up Tamara and take her to the pharmacy.
It was getting late by then, but I still wanted to see the Bottle house! It was just a short walk away. Located in a yard on private property there is a gate and a sign inviting visitors to come on in 7 days a week, 24 hours a day – just don’t let the dogs out. Soon after we entered, we were greeted by 2 rambunctious standard poodles. A little while later Frances, the wife of the bottle house creator, sat and talked with us for a while.
The Forgotten Coast is home to 4 historic lighthouses. Three of these were on our path from Carrabelle westward.
Our next stop on the Forgotten Coast was the city of Apalachicola. I had read about the maritime museum here, and it sounded very interesting. Unfortunately, much of the town was still recovering from the previous year’s Hurricane, Michael, including the maritime museum. It was closed. We did have a nice stroll around the town and a visit to another museum about someone I had never heard of before – John Gorrie, a pioneering inventor of the ice machine and air-conditioning.
Gulf Coast National Seashore – Fort Pickens
Fort Pickens is not on the Forgotten Coast but it was our last stop in Florida. The National Park includes white sandy beaches, nature trails, a discovery center, and, of course, a fort.
Do you have a favorite coast? Have you visited any interesting small museums lately?