Walkabout: Alachua County antiques mecca



Outside of Miami Beach, Micanopy might be one of the best-known communities in Florida.

Not by its unusual name, though. By its appearance.

The town was dressed up as the fictional town of Grady, S.C., “the Squash Capital of the South,” for the 1991 hit film “Doc Hollywood,” starring Michael J. Fox. The romantic comedy did well at the box office but does even better as a staple of cable TV’s movie menu, even to this day. So Micanopy — Mik-uh-NO-pee — has been seen by millions.

walkregularLongtime Floridians, a lot of whom escaped to Micanopy for getaways while attending the University of Florida in nearby Gainesville, were not fooled in the movie theater when they saw the town’s vintage buildings and surrounding oak forests. South Carolina, indeed.

Buildings seen in the movie are still there, but what would you expect? Longtime residents observe that the town hasn’t changed much in a century. That’s why they call it “the town that time forgot.”

Micanopy, which has about 600 residents in its 1 square mile, has the distinction of being the oldest continually occupied town established in Florida’s interior, says town historian John Thrasher, 84. It was a main outpost after the United States accepted the peninsula after Spain ceded it in 1821.

Citrus growing flourished in the area until the killer freeze of 1895, which crushed production and land values. To the south, The cattle industry took rise.




Micanopy’s economy recovered until the 1920s land boom. Decades of decline followed, but the town, named for a Seminole Indian chief, was saved from further decline when U.S. 441 was four-laned and routed around the outskirts, rather than through downtown.

“That was a saving grace,” said Thrasher, whose grandfather was a merchant in town starting in 1896. “But they ruined McIntosh,” a small town to the south. “They wiped out what was there.”

In 1980, concerned with the town’s decline, a committee applied to place the historic district and 39 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

“At that time, even the town commission was not in favor of it,” said Thrasher. “People said, ‘Oh, no, we won’t be able to do anything to our property. It will keep us from changing it or selling.’ ” A mistaken assumption.

“But the town changed its attitude and created a pretty strong historic preservation board that is functioning today, and is about to be embroiled with the state” over a plan to replace at least one of the town’s dirt paths with a concrete sidewalk.

“It would take down some big oaks and change the character of an 1821 town even more,” said Thrasher. “There has been enough change already.”

Micanopy has become a favorite stop for tourists who have an appreciation of rural Florida history, not to mention a busy stopover on fall Saturdays for football fans heading to Gainesville to cheer on the Gators.

The town, noted for its boutiques, antique stores and used-book stores, will hold a fall festival Oct. 25-26.

Trading post

When Florida became a U.S. territory in 1821, settlers moved in to set up a trading post to do business with the Seminoles, led by Chief Micanopy.

“The town grew pretty fast after the end of the Second Seminole War in 1843,” said Thrasher. “But by 1838, people were coming in because it was protected by federal troops. Planters came in from South Carolina and planted cotton and tobacco. Timber was very important, especially turpentine products — naval stores.

“The ground was pretty good, and all around Orange Lake, the Spanish orange seeds had come up and there were wild orange groves. Oranges became a very big item for agriculture.”

Just before the Civil War, Micanopy had become like “an oasis in the desert,” said Thrasher, because little of Florida south of the town had been settled.

“South Florida was wild and woolly,” said Thrasher.

In 1861, the local newspaper was full of advertisements for private schools, doctors, lawyers and dentists. “There were several large homes and hotels. It even became touristy in the winter,” said Thrasher. “It was a cultural entity in the 1850s and ’60s because of the influx of planters from South Carolina.”

The town sent a number of soldiers off to fight for the Confederacy, but the closest Civil War skirmish was in Gainesville.

“Through the 1880s, agriculture and the orange culture was at a high point,” said Thrasher. “In 1883, a spur came from the Atlantic Coast Line.” Packing houses and sawmills were served by the railroad spur, including the Thrasher Warehouse that now houses a history museum.

The oldest house still standing dates from 1855; it has been expanded twice since then.

Almost all buildings pre-date World War II, although a number of large new homes have been built, and real estate values are “quite high” as professors and professionals from Gainesville buy the restored old homes.

“Micanopy has become something of a bedroom community,” said Thrasher. “We had a crate mill, Franklin Crates, that had been open for 96 years, just close last July. That was a major source of income for many people.”

So now the town survives on charm and antiques shops.

“The way it looks is very important,” he said. “I grew up here and it looks a great deal like it did when I was a child. The town is unique. It is a mixture of residences and businesses all together.”


Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: October 19, 2013
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