Some destinations reveal themselves slowly, requiring you to peelback their layers over several days -- if not repeat visits -- to uncover the gems that lie within. Micanopy is no such place. It greets you happily the moment you drive along its oak-canopied streets, Spanish moss dripping like icicles from power lines. Florida Cracker and Victorian homes aren't meticulously preserved so much as tended to naturally, with patches of cracked paint visible.
At only one square mile, this historic town of just 650 residents is just south of Gainesville. It has two claims to fame. Antiques lovers know it for its half-dozen or so storefronts, each with its own specialty. (Unlike other antiques hubs, this one is rarely crowded and not over-commercial.) It's also the backdrop for movies such as Doc Hollywood and Cross Creek, the latter of which was inspired by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' novel of the same name. A trailblazing journalist enamored with rural Florida, Rawlings is best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Yearling. Today, her turn-of-the-century homestead is the highlight of a state park about 10 miles away.
Founded in 1821, Micanopy -- also the name of the town's one-time Seminole Indian chief -- is the state's oldest inland community. With only one "main" street, Cholokka Boulevard, and about three blocks' worth of storefronts, it's amusing to think of this as the ultimate place to find yourself, but that's just what starts to happen when you wander Micanopy's sidewalks and linger on its porch swings. Folks who come here aren't looking for a bevy of museums or even activities. This community is a cove of calm, a trait that's highly coveted by those who live and visit here. If quiet enhances thought, this is the place to indulge in a little reflection.
Most of the shops are pleasantly messy, with mismatched collectibles and an overabundance of "stuff." But it's precisely those qualities that give the town character, as if it must cram in its charms so as not to forget any. At the simply named Shop, every nook and cranny of this one-time drugstore holds vintage and contemporary décor that's often hard to tell apart. Whimsical iron garden art rests happily next to a pair of delicate stone bluebirds on restored Chinese furniture that's also for sale.
A couple of doors down, one of the country's largest displays of cameos resides inside a former bank from 1906. Now a narrow shop called Delectable Collectibles, it's the daytime home of owner Monica Fowler. Wearing a pair of sunglasses even when indoors, she happily shares historical facts about the 1,450 pieces she's collected over the past 28 years. "No two are identical," she says of the hand-carved jewels. "They're like bas-relief sculptures in miniature."
If you've ever wondered where all those Brooke Shields dolls from the 1970s ended up, they're to the left after you enter the nearby Stagecoach Stop, a co-op of vendors displaying eclectic wares in designated rooms. Besides a nostalgic anthology of retro toys, the store boasts a comprehensive collection of vintage postcards with dedicated Florida sections that include 1950s images of iconic Miami hotels such as the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc. Some have handwritten messages ? "Thinking of you in the cold days" -- that seem worth way more than their $1 price tag.
At O'Brisky's Books, you can usually find ol' Brisky himself reorganizing his many used and rare books. Broad-shouldered with wire-rimmed glasses perched low on his nose and a full white beard, he stacks and re-stacks piles of military books on the Civil War and World War II, just two of his specialties. Anything having to do with Florida is also in abundance, but don't call anything in this place a collection. "It's more of an accumulation," Brisky likes to say, just before ducking out to the post office and trusting you with rare first editions of Jefferson Davis' Rise and Fall of the Confederacy and Francis Trevelyan Miller's Photographic History of the Civil War. Old maps and natural-history prints sit just beyond a 1940s phone booth that comes pretty close to stealing the spotlight.
KEYS OF INFLUENCE
Rusty mailboxes on tilting stilts are clustered along the two-lane roads that surround Micanopy. This friendly, bucolic ambience prompts many who visit to stay. "I had been visiting my sister here since 1974," says Linda Barrett, who, along with her husband, Mark Gregg, moved from Islamorada five years ago. "She was the town librarian, and her husband was the superintendent at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park 11/2 miles away."
The couple has been buying and renovating Micanopy homes for years, but it was the growing congestion in the Florida Keys that sealed their decision to move. "The huge trees here finally get me out of the sun," laughs Barrett. They recently moved into the Simonton House, a 1910 Victorian with a wraparound veranda at the edge of the three-block-long main street, and are in the process of a top-to-bottom restoration effort that will preserve many of the home's original details.
At the other end of Cholokka Boulevard is Herlong Mansion, also a former home of the Simonton family. Natalie Simonton and ZC Herlong raised six children in this Cracker-farmhouse- turned-neoclassical Southern mansion. For three years, Barrett and Gregg ran the Herlong before turning it over to Caroline and Stephen West, Key West innkeepers who were looking to escape the Conch Republic's "over-commercialization." It's also the only place in town to spend the night.
With three stories, two cottages (one of which doubles as the town's yoga studio) and a butterfly garden, this is no petite B&B. Architectural details such as mahogany inlaid in original oak floors and Corinthian columns add history and depth, but the muddled décor is central to the experience. Brightly colored botanicals and seaside paintings from the owners' years in Key West share wall space with handwritten 1920s love letters to Herlong daughter Mae.
"Mae Herlong, Micanopy, Florida" is all that's printed on the envelopes, hinting at a time when street addresses and zip codes were unnecessary. Natalie Simonton Herlong's original 1941 degree from Florida State University's College for Women rests just inside the door to the second-story veranda. Swinging daybeds and white wooden rockers provide natural perches from which to gaze at the white 1874 church with cherry-red doors across the street. Ten rooms have large claw-foot tubs or four-poster beds.
With no place to eat in town past 5 p.m. (locals flock to nearby Blue Highway, a funky pizzeria with delicious salads and homemade dressings), the Dyllas, a local family celebrated for their cooking, have recently begun catering meals at the mansion. Choose the table closest to the window, watch the moonlight stream across a string of unruly citrus trees and marvel at the beauty of small-town America. welcometomicanopy.com