Although Florida is known as a center for tourism, Tallahassee is not particularly tourist-oriented and draws far less visitors than you might expect. It has over 180,000 inhabitants and is a prominent college city.
History of Tallahassee
Tallahassee was occupied by Apalachee Indians from 500AD until the arrival of the Spanish conqueror Hernando de Soto in 1539. Conflict and disease drove the native Indians out of what had been their ceremonial center and the name Tallahassee actually means “Abandoned Fields”.
Throughout the 1600s, several Spanish missions were built as support for the mission at St Augustine, the oldest permanently occupied European city in the U.S. The Mission San Luis de Apalachee is now a National Historic Landmark and offers docent-led tours.
Like much of the southern states, Tallahassee prospered with many cotton plantations worked by thousands of slaves. The Civil War saw a bloody battle at Natural Bridge, but Tallahassee was the only southern city not to fall to Union troops.
Modern Day Tallahassee
Tallahassee’s compact downtown area is a pleasant area to stroll. It is said that former Governor Jeb Bush preferred to stroll the ten blocks from the Governor’s Mansion to the Capitol when it was in session. Speaking of the Capitol, this new building, erected in 1977, is an iconic concrete tower standing 22 stories above the surrounding historic buildings. It is well worth taking one of the free guided tours to see around the chambers and visit the observation deck which offers 360 degree views over the city.
The capitol has come a long way from the original state capitol building which consisted of three hastily constructed wooden cabins when Tallahassee became state capital in 1824. The current Old Capitol building was completed in 1845 and has since been restored to its 1902 appearance. It has an opulent marble interior and two wings, one for the House and one for the Senate.
This grand old dame, a more typical Capitol with its stained glass dome and Florida state seal over the entrance, was made redundant with the building of the iconic tower nearby and is now used to house the Florida Historic Capitol Museum. Admission is free and as well as the political and historical exhibits, visitors can see the Supreme Court Chamber and the Senate.
The surrounding Historic District has many fine mansions from Tallahassee’s prosperous past, built by plantation owners, business men and politicians. Park Avenue and Calhoun Street are shady mansion-lined streets, thanks to the live oaks draped with Spanish moss and the huge magnolias. Two homes of note are the Classic Revival Brokaw-McDougall House on Meridian Street and The Columns. This 1830s mansion on Duval Street is now the home of the Chamber of Commerce where free self-guided walking tour maps are readily available.
Tallahassee has two universities: the Florida State University campus with its massive Doak Campbell Stadium just a short distance west of Monroe Street, and the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, better known as the FAMU, south of downtown. The presence of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory shows the city’s commitment to scientific research.
The Knott House Museum, former home of politician William V. Knott and his poetry writing wife Luella, is well worth taking a guided tour. The Tallahassee Automobile Museum is also worth a visit to see the oldest surviving US car, the 1894 Duryea, and a collection of Batmobiles from the popular films.
Big Bend Farm, part of the Tallahassee Museum of History and Natural Science, has employees dressed in period costume working the recreated 1880s farm. The museum also has a boardwalk through the native swamp habitat and Bellevue, a small plantation home.
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