Soloman’s Castle might be Florida’s most difficult tourist attraction to find. Don’t ask me how to get there. (Just click on the link and put their address in your GPS. That’s what we did.) But generally speaking, Soloman’s Castle is a dozen or so miles southwest of Ona. Okay, Ona is about nine miles west of Zolfo Springs. Sorry—alright, Zolfo Springs is about twenty five miles west of Sebring.
Early jobs in boat building and construction evolved into wood and metal sculpting for native-Rochester, New Yorker Howard Soloman. He had been selling his whimsical sculptures through galleries in Miami and in the Bahamas when, in 1972, he bought forty acres of mostly swamp property out in the middle of nowhere in Hardee County. Almost entirely by himself, he built his castle, clad with used aluminum newspaper printing plates, to serve as a museum/gallery for his art (Over 500 pieces at last count—much of it fashioned from scrap metal, discarded appliances, and car parts; each piece with a pun-filled story to go along with it). Next he added his family’s living quarters to the back of the castle, and later a giant wooden “Spanish galleon” (it looks more like Noah’s Ark to me) in the moat next to it, to house his restaurant. Soloman’s Castle is open October through June, Tuesday through Sunday. Entrance via guided tour is $10 for adults and $4 for children. If you are “in the neighborhood” drop in and see it, but—not sure I would go quite so far as to recommend it as a sole destination.
I awoke to sad and shocking news this morning: The Senator at Big Tree Park, near Longwood, Florida, burned to the ground early in the morning. Updated reports this afternoon point to the possibility of arson, which I find utterly inexplicable. Last June I visited The Senator with my friend and Rollins College Environmental History professor Leslie Poole. To stand in front of something that majestic and ancient, but still living, was humbling to say the least—a reminder that we, as humans, are mere blips on Earth’s timeline. It was an awe-inspiring visit, but today I am even more grateful that we went. The Senator was likely the oldest (3500 years) and tallest (116 feet) cypress tree in the United States. It used to be even taller. A 1925 hurricane, which blew across Central Florida, sheared the top off of the then-165-foot-tall Senator. There is another big cypress at the park: 89-foot-tall, 2000-year-old Lady Liberty is just a few more steps down the boardwalk trail from where The Senator stood. Big Tree—a Seminole County park is just east of County Road 427 on General Hutchinson Parkway, just north of Longwood.
Update, Tuesday January 17: Midday yesterday a Division of Forestry spokesperson announced that they had discovered kindling at the base of the tree and suspected arson. However, by mid-afternoon they had retracted that statement, saying that they had determined it was not arson but did not know the cause. One theory floated by the Seminole County Fire Department this morning is that a lightning strike from a storm two weeks ago may have started a fire inside the tree that smoldered for the two weeks, and did not become noticeable until it reached the top of the tree yesterday morning. No doubt there will be more theories in the days to come.
photo below taken in June 2011
From the top of the State Road 92 bridge over Goodland Bay at the western edge of the Ten Thousand Islands, you get a brief glimpse at Marco Island’s high-rise beach condos on the horizon, five miles away. But turn left immediately after the bridge and you’ll find a completely different ambience in the tiny fishing community of Goodland (population 320). A few homesteaders settled here at “Goodland Point” back in the late 1800’s, but more people started coming eighty years ago after the first Goodland bridge—an old wooden swing bridge, was built in 1935. In contrast to the beach side of Marco Island, Goodland hasn’t grown much since then, and that’s the way folks here like it. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in personality.
Today, as then, fishing is the main draw, and to keep those visitors (and the few locals) watered and fed, there are three bar-and-grills, all with good local fresh seafood: The first one you come to is Stan’s Idle Hour Bar and Restaurant. Owner Stan Gober is Goodland’s Renaissance man—restaurateur, singer/song-writer, stand-up comic, and festival promoter. Stan’s Idle Hour has been hosting Goodland’s Annual Mullet festival (always the weekend prior to Super Bowl) since the 1980’s, which culminates in the crowning of that year’s “Buzzard Lope Queen”—named for a Stan Gober song and the local’s favorite dance.
(Excerpt from Visiting Small-Town Florida, Third Edition by Bruce Hunt)