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PalatkaThe Florida Review
Palatka is laid out for a beautiful city. Instead of huddling her business interests around the four sides of her courthouse, thereby limiting its possible growth to four blocks, it has strung out Lemon street twelve blocks, and there are very few vacant stores or vacant lots the whole distance.
The union station is a beautiful red brick building well equipped for the comfort of the traveling public. The few blocks near is devoted to the colored population and seems well managed and well patronized.
We are impressed with the civic pride of the general view, paved streets, cement sidewalks, flower laden shrubs, towering palmettos, well kept lawns and all the streets arched avenues of verdure and beauty.
We are told that the Palatka of today is practically only three years old, it having lain dormant for about twenty years. The palatial structure for five hundred guests, called the Putnam House, occupies the very heart of the city. When it was built it was filled to its capacity, but for the intervening years it was not considered a paying institution. The present owners have owned it for five years, and this year it is again open to the public at a nominal price, so that the tourist and prospector are assured of accommodation in this grand hostelry.
The Putnam County court house is a beautiful building, artistic, substantial and practical. It is certainly a pride worthy of commendation which exerts itself in fine municipal structure and environment of laws for order, morals and sanitation from each telegraph pole and corner, where is attached a wire basket receptacle for waste paper, orange and banana peels, etc.
The morals are well regulated by being deprived of that menace to public decency, the old fashioned saloon, and being supplied with two good opera houses, two motion picture shows and five beautiful churches.
The city really faces the broad expanse of the St. Johns River, as the blue water can be seen from any of the principal streets. The highway steel bridge is one mile in length and has a revolving section to allow the passing of the big boats.
The wharves are of easy access and to one who never tires of the wonders of wave and wind, there is much entertainment and delight in standing where the gentle undulating motion of the verdant sea of hyacinths makes one dizzy, and in looking at the arrival and departure of boats and the ever changing face of the broad expanse of water.
We are told of a wag who, delighted in making sport at the expense of the ignorance of others, was showing a stranger over Palatka and taking him down to the wharves, pointed out the water hyacinths and explained that it was a fine celery farm. The stranger went away praising the enterprise.
It is truly a sight though, this verdant sea, this wonderful garden without roots. There are no less than ten acres down at the foot of Main Street, where no water is visible, yet every wind which beats waves upon the shore vibrates and moves this whole mass. I am anxious to see it in bloom, it must be beautiful, indeed. But what is a matter of beauty under control is a serious menace to traffic when allowed full sway. I am told that they multiply and increase to such an extent that landing of boats would be almost impossible, that there are times when the water is scarcely visible from the foot of Lemon Street, just a nodding level of green with light purple flowers that looks as though one could walk on it.
In traversing the entire length of River street we cannot fail to see it as soon will be, instead of as it was or is. The preparation for paving the entire length, fully one mile, the fine granite slabs lying ready for curbing, shows that the boulevard will soon be a popular drive. Homes on the one side and the ever fascinating waves on the other, grand trees overhead and a wealth of flowers all along.
We occasionally catch a glimpse of primitive Florida, old worn out, gone to ruin Palatka, fence posts gone to decay, ragged palmettos strewn about like a capricious child who has tired of his blocks and strewn them right and left.
These pictures only add to the quaintness of the whole as an ivy-covered wall attracts the attention of those not accustomed to the sight.
Out past the cypress mill and sash and door factory, which is an immense enterprise, we climb a hill that is really worth the name. A turn now takes us away from the river and the street has homes on both sides. An observer is impressed with the fact of easy living and made to feel the significance of the expression, "The land of the least resistance." A home here with a small garden, a cow and a good, industrious old hen solves the problem of a living, and that leaves all efforts to be used to lay by the surplus, or, in other words, get rich.
And such a variety of shrubbery! Only March and everything in full bloom, fragrant honeysuckle climbing over the arbor, Pomegranate bushes aflame in their vermillion dress, roses, roses, and then some. Beds of pansy faces, nasturtium with their freckled faces, little white sweet Elysium that floats its fragrance out in invitation to the honey bee, so similar are the odors.
We trudge bravely up the hill, passing all these attractions, and the view of the town from the summit is well worth the effort, although little can be seen but the tree tops, but we are above them and know by the court house dome and a few smokestacks that the city lies nestled down there in its bed of verdure.
There is one tree which rivals the famous oak near the Tampa Bay hotel. It stands alone in a block and its branches spread the entire enclosure, a grand old patriarch of the forest, a reminder of the days when the impenetrable jungle, with all its saurian and amphibian inhabitants, prevailed. Man, with his automobiles, his railroads, his boats, his cities, was but an unknown fairy dream.
Among the boats and river craft of many varieties one attracted our attention, and we described it as an item of interest to those who love the water, and will welcome any new or novel way of enjoying it.
It was practically a house on the water. It had neither engine or sails and relied upon tugs to take it out. It is built only for pleasure and is equipped with all the various fishing tackle, and parties with their guests have the boat tugged up the river to the point selected and anchor and leave them there as long as they wish, then bring them back home.
Thatís what I call going a-fishing—to have your cook, your kitchen, dining room, comfortable bed at night. The whole upper deck for enjoying the scenery, easy chairs, hammocks, reading, and music congenial companions. Donít that sound like a fairy tale? Well it isnít, it is part of Palatka.
Standing on the heights overlooking the city we are reminded that the Atlantic ocean is only twenty miles away, and we are assured that the ozone ladened air from that side is not contaminated. The pine laden breath from the forest on the west is so sweet with every breeze that blows, and with an abundant supply of good, pure water, what more can one ask.
Do you want the earth with a fence around it? Well, you have nearly all of earthís blessings that you can assimilate, any more would cause indigestion.
Palatka may have her faults, but we have not discovered them.
Excerpt from Barber, M. L. The Florida Review, Vol. V, No. 4. April, 1911, pp. 38–315.
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