Sunday, June 9, 2024

Floral City - Boom to Bust and Back Again

Around 1800, Seminole Indians were settled in the area we now know as Floral City. But following the Seminole Wars the 1842 Armed Occupation Act gave 160 acres to any man who lived on it, kept a gun and ammunition, and farmed 5 acres for 5 years. The legislation effectively encouraged settlers to move in and the Seminoles to move out.

Picking Oranges - Ferris Groves circa 1900
By the late 1800's, Floral City was exporting citrus, sugar cane and timber. Harvests were shipped to northern markets by steamboat via the 5 mile long Orange State Canal which was dug in 1884 and connected Lake Tsala Apopka to the Withlacoochee river.

Steamer on the Orange State Canal circa 1890
In 1893 the railroad arrived and with it phosphate deposits were found causing a boom which by 1900 had attracted around 10,000 miners. It made Floral City one of the largest towns in Florida with hotels and an infrastructure to support the community. But things slowed down with the great winter freezes of 1894/95.The citrus industry wouldn't recover for 20 years. Another setback followed when the phosphate mines went south - to Bartow.

Ferris Groves on Hwy 41 1955
Citrus recovered when "Doc" Ferris, who had bought Duval Island during the land boom planted orange trees instead of building the golf course he had originally planned. He covered 350 acres with 31,000 trees, built a packing house, and nearly everyone in Floral City worked for him through the great depression and the war years. All went well until the Christmas deep freeze of 1989 which wiped out the groves for the last time.

The Shamrock Inn 2024
Today, the railroad is gone and the old road bed is now the Withlacoochee State Trail which we ride on. East Orange Avenue, Floral City's main street, has many beautiful old homes and the Shamrock Inn is always good for lunch. Continue east on East Orange and you will cross the Orange State Canal when you ride over the bridge to Duval Island.

Saturday, May 4, 2024

Bugg Spring

Legend has it that around the year 1900 nine year old Billy Bugg, his mule and wagon fell into this spring one morning while he was getting water. Billy drowned but his name lives on.

Bugg Spring 1929 - photo: Florida Memory

Bugg Spring lies between Lake Denham and Hwy 470 about a mile east of Dabney Recreation Center. It's a second category spring producing about 5.5 million gallons of water per day and flows into Lake Denham near Helena Run. It has a large 400 feet wide steep sided pool and is very deep at 175 feet.

Bugg Spring

It would be a wonderful club ride destination if the the Naval Undersea Warfare Center hadn't purchased the property in 2011. The springs huge volume of deep, quiet and still water has an ambient noise level below sea state zero and the navy uses it for the calibration of submarine noise and surface ship tactical towed sonar arrays. Among other things. 

Among other things? Well some time ago I was enjoying a coffee and donut at the Brownwood Dunkin while chatting to one of our members who it turned out was a submarine chaser when he was in the Navy. I mentioned Bugg Spring and he seemed to think that in quiet water like that they'd also be locating and listening to ships and submarines in the Atlantic. 

Bugg Spring Road

So, believe it or not, you can't just stop by and visit but you can get an authorization to see the facility here. Tell them you'd like to see the manatee and alligators, good luck.

While Bugg Spring is not a top secret naval facility, if you do not see me out on my bike for a while after the publication of this article you probably shouldn't ask too many questions.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Why is it called Carney Island?

Being the unofficial SLBC resident historian I am often asked "why is Carney Island called Carney Island when there is no Island?" Well, it's proper name is Carney Island Recreation and Conservation Area. So think of it as an island recreation and conservation area named after John Carney. And, by the way, there are two islands.

Around 1870 Captain John L. Carney had seen that wild sour Seville oranges planted by Spanish explorers were still growing after a couple of centuries which led him to believe it would be a good location for citrus groves. In '74 he bought 400 acres of property on Lake Weir which consisted of most of Hammock Peninsula and two islands to the south, Orange Island and Lemon Island.
1883 map by T.M Shackleford showing peninsula and islands
Carney's business was successful and his groves on the Hammock Peninsula still exist but the island groves have long been abandoned. Over the years the Lake Weir water level has fallen and the islands now resemble hammocks in wetlands and maps no longer name them. However the southernmost tip of what today we'd call the peninsula is still identified as Lemon Point.

Peninsula and Islands - 1973 water levels
Where the road in the park ends there are trails which will give you access to Lemon Point and the two islands which are identifiable. I rode these trails after a dry period on 35mm gravel tires and while there can be areas of loose sand you can easily skirt them by riding on grass. It is well worth visiting.

Friday, March 1, 2024


The last time I rode up to Micanopy was before Covid with Hugh Caggiano. We started at the Fellowship Community Church on Hwy 27 where the church secretary said cyclists often start out and that she'd keep an eye on the car for us. Then we took an interesting 34 mile scenic route through horse farm country to Micanopy where we had lunch at Coffee & Cream.

The Old Florida Cafe
Named after the Seminole Chief Micanopy the town has an interesting history. In the late 1800's the adjacent 23,000 acre Payne's Prairie was flooded when the Alachua Sink became plugged following a storm. For about 20 years it was known as Lake Alachua and had regular steamboat service to local communities and Micanopy where you can see the anchor from the Chacala.

The Old Hotel and Saloon - banned on Saturday nights.
Since then its main commerce has been agricultural. The owner of the restaurant had lived in Micanopy all her life and she told me when she was a girl her parents wouldn't let her go "downtown" on Saturdays because many of the itinerant farm workers would be tearing it up at the local hotel and saloon.

More recently Micanopy is better known for being the location of the movie Doc Hollywood which starred Michael J. Fox as a doctor who crashed his car there and got sentenced to community service. Fortunately there was an attractive girl on hand - who'd have thought it?

The Flemington Country Store
On the way back we stopped at the historic and colorful Flemington Country Store - not to be missed!

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

A Weekend in New York City

In 1968 I was 22 and lived and raced bikes in Toronto, Canada. We had a decent core of 30-40 riders mostly made up of European expats who'd turn out for road races every couple of weeks.

Late that summer on a Saturday I drove to New York City for a race the following day put on by the German Bicycle Club of New York. It was about 105 miles around Central Park with a field of over 100.
A jersey with front pockets - don't see those any more!

The race started off at a decent pace with a few breaks that were brought back but my problem was my front tire had started to roll off the rim after a couple of laps. I'd glued on my best Dunlop #3 tires but the front one had started to roll off the base tape not the rim - the perils of tubular tires! I knew that if I stopped to change the tire it would be tough to get back into the bunch so asked around and luckily found a rider whose girlfriend was by the course. He rode ahead of me to tell her and I got the front wheel off her bike - what a save - a quick change and I was soon back in the peloton.

Most of the race, not having any team mates I rode conservatively staying close enough to the front so I wouldn't miss any serious breaks.

Eventually with a couple of laps to go two riders broke away, they took a good lead and looked strong. I asked around for help to chase them down but no one came with me. I caught them and knew that if we worked together we'd have the race sewn up. But they didn't see it that way and soon went out the back door. Someone said later they'd been intimidated by my Brit accent!

There I was alone for a couple of laps with about 13 miles to go so I just put my head down and time trialed to the finish praying I wouldn't get caught. I remember seeing the finish line, looking back and there was no one in sight and someone in the crowd said "he knows he's got it". I guess I was smiling. I'd been my club junior champion and had some success in previous races but this was the biggest race I'd ever win.

I won a beautiful German stein trophy which I still have, two pairs of tubular tires, a GBCNY jersey and a $40 gift certificate for the local bike store.

Afterward, when I returned the borrowed wheel I gave the gift certificate to the couple who'd loaned me the wheel. Then I put my bike back on the car and drove the 470 miles back to Toronto.

My 1968 Racing License

Writing this article has brought back memories. Two or three weeks before the race Mike Barry, a strong rider and Britannia C.C. team mate, had suggested we ride to Buffalo for a weekend to stay with some friends from the Buffalo Cycling Club. It was over 100 miles each way in two days and hard. Looking back, I think his plan may have been to make sure I'd be in good shape for the race. It's never occurred to me before and I wish it wasn't too late to ask him.