Thursday, March 15, 2007

Old Tampa Highway

Deep down in Florida

Last month I spent about ten days at our home in central Florida while doing tornado relief work for Christian Disaster Response. On my days off I went exploring in the immediate area adjacent to our house which borders one of the most beautiful wooded swamps I have ever laid eyes on. It is land owned by the Walt Disney Corporation and is the last large undeveloped parcel on the Disney World property.

After consulting some old maps I was able to find out that it has a name: the Reedy Creek Swamp. It is full of massive oaks, cypress, palms, bay trees, gums and tall stately pines. It is one of my favorite spots in all of Florida, with a breadth and majesty I can only compare to the western canyons and deserts that I formerly inhabited in another life.

In the depths of the Reedy Creek Swamp

From where our property abuts the swamp it stretches off to the south and east for many roadless miles. One day I got curious and checked some county maps to find out where I could locate an access point on the other side of this wide swath of jungle wilderness. While poking around in my car looking for a promising entry point, along the Osceola/Polk County line, I discovered a remnant of the old Tampa Highway that was still paved with bricks.

Old Tampa Highway

This one-mile stretch of 15 foot roadbed is what is left of the original road that crossed the Florida peninsula from Daytona Beach to Tampa. It was called, at various times, the Lee-Jackson Highway, Dixie Highway and the Central Florida Highway and was built in 1925. There are no historical markers pointing it out so it is a well hidden and little visited piece of yesteryear, only a few hundred yards from the bustle and noise of U.S. 92 to the east. It is hard to make out the original concrete edges, but you can see the asphalt widening and repairing that has been done over the years. It is still used by the locals who live in old tar paper shacks and double wides.

Close-up of the Old Tampa Highway

At the county line there is an old concrete marker that was put there in 1930 welcoming motorists to Polk County the Citrus Center of Florida, which it still is today. According to my research this is one of only three remaining in existence and was moved several times as the route was realigned and was finally placed here away from the main road for safe keeping.

Welcome to Polk County in 1930

You never know what you'll find when you're poking around the back roads and swamps of Dixie and that's why I'm always looking. This was definitely a very neat discovery. More on the swamp in a later post.


Audie said...

As always, I truly love your photographs, beamis. They're great.

Historic Shed said...

I am curious to know where you found the information about the marker having been moved three times? It is a really cool thing to chance apon in the middle of nowhere...