Our very long, very hot pandemic summer has not inspired me to take many photos. At most, I’ve taken random iPhone shots in the course of our very repetitive outdoor activities. Blog followers know that publishing activity is way down around here. In an effort to find out if my camera still works and to break up our routine of beach walking, bike path walking, and more beach walking, we decided to visit nearby Apalachicola to check out the historic buildings. I pulled my camera from its storage cubby, charged the batteries, and set off early one morning with the intention of lifting some of our pandemic-induced malaise.
The charming little town of Apalachicola has a long history, with initial European settlement dating back to the 1820s. The city was incorporated in 1827 and actually predates the State of Florida; Florida was acquired as a territory in 1821 and did not become a state until 1845. The heyday of the town was in the antebellum period, when the immense quantity of cotton transported down the Flint, Chattahoochee, and Apalachicola Rivers made Apalachicola the third-largest port on the Gulf of Mexico in 1840, behind only New Orleans and Mobile. Other historically important local industries include sponge harvesting and all kinds of seafood production. The much-deserved demise of the plantation system, the transition of cargo movement from ships to rail, and the opening of new opportunities in the far-less-swampy western US all conspired to make 1860 the high point of economic activity in the city.
What happens when a relatively old community goes through 150 years of virtually no growth? There is a very significant stock of interesting historic buildings, especially when compared to other towns in development-crazy Florida. During our first visit to the area we checked out two state parks, the historic Orman House and the John Gorrie Museum, but had previously spent little time in the commercial district. So we planned to stroll around the downtown area to admire the architecture and get a feel for the town.
The downtown is nestled up against a working waterfront. The shops, restaurants, offices, and art galleries that now inhabit the old cotton warehouses look out over docks filled with commercial fishing boats and seafood processing facilities. The wide streets ensure that there are open views from the main commercial drag of Market Street, past the intermediate area of Commerce Street, all the way down to the river at Water Street. As an added bonus, the street names make perfect sense.
The downtown contains all the important fixtures of community life: the courthouse, a theater, community event spaces, offices of the local newspaper, one historic hotel, plenty of restaurants, the excellent brewery, art galleries, and many different shops selling everything from fishing gear to apparel to books to home decor to pet supplies. Many of these establishments trace their lineage back to the 19th century. And there is not a chain offering in sight, adding to the interest.
We made an early start because we didn’t intend to actually go inside any of the buildings — a pandemic is not the time to browse random stores, and many places have restricted hours and limited customer access right now. We also wanted to avoid crowds on the streets, though “crowds” is of course a relative term in a community with a permanent population of only around 2,500 people. The nearly deserted streets certainly delivered on this goal. Finally, we hoped for relatively pleasant weather, but that didn’t work out. We were dripping with sweat after ambling around for an hour, and we are counting the days until fall arrives here in north Florida.
Still, it was worthwhile to find out what the town offers. There are quite a few eclectic shops and interesting restaurants that we want to check out in the future…. if life ever gets back to normal. In the meantime, my camera is feeling less forgotten and I even remembered how to log in to my blog. Right now, we are happy with small victories.