Typically, I spend my Independence Days in the St. Petersburg area, which is a really unique place for a firework holiday. St. Petersburg (and the rest of Pinellas County) is surrounded on 3 1/2 sides by beaches, all of which are lined with hotels, condos and restaurants – and all of which hope to attract tourists and residents with big fireworks displays.
So, every year on the Fourth of July, the whole county lights up with major, professional firework displays. You can sit on any dock, or drive down any street, and enjoy a 360-degree light show. It’s pretty cool.
Central Florida is different. There’s no water from which to shoot off high explosives, cities are far more spread out and there’s always the danger of starting wildfires with an errant boom.
But this year, I decided to celebrate the nation’s birthday in the little town of Micanopy, which is as charming to visit at as it is to say (me-CAN-opee). It’s a town with about 700 people, four restaurants, seven antique shops, a church, a museum, a hair salon and a firehouse. They appear pretty serious about their antiques. Even places that aren’t antique shops, like the cafe and the bakery, are also antique shops. That’s pretty much the contents of the whole town, but you get the feeling that the folks living there wouldn’t want it any other way. I’ve been a few times, and it really is your quintessential sleepy Southern town – the time of place where you overhear kids talking about “Old Man Jackson,” as I did on Wednesday.
On Independence Day, the whole town turns out for their annual parade. The parade was surprisingly large, given the population, so I’d guess that about 1/4 of the Micanopians were in the parade, while the other 3/4 looked on.
There were the usual parade staples – classic cars, firetrucks, local politicians – but also some “floats” that likely only pop up in small towns, like old tractors (some being towed), confederate soldiers on horseback, a cardboard cutout of Mitt Romney, and – my favorite – Smokey the bear, in a tractor, being towed by a truck.
It wasn’t the type of parade with lots of candy or beads or music, and at times, the drivers of the classic cars looked more like people stuck in traffic than parade-folk, but the whole event had a great Norman Rockwell vibe. We staked a spot in the shade, and the man next to us (whose dog howled along with the sirens), yelled out “Hey Mike,” “How’s it going Judy,” “Sandy, tell Frank I said hello” to people in the parade, as they drove by. I’ve never been to a parade where the crowd has conversations with the people in the parade, while the parade is going on.
In Micanopy, everyone is a neighbor, and you could really tell.
(WARNING: history lesson in the next paragraph)
After the parade, we walked around town, checked out some antique shops and read the historical markers. The town has an interesting past and a long history. According to their historical markers, Micanopy was the first city settled in the territory of Florida after the Spaniards gave up the land to the young United States. This dates the town originally to about 1823, but since then, the town has been in occasional military battles and at one point was entirely burned to the ground. Most of the older buildings in town were from an agricultural boom around the turn of the century (when they discovered that people up north would pay big bucks from winter produce). Some buildings, like the museum, are relics of the late 1800s, but most of the big homes are from around 1910.
We grabbed a sandwich at the Old Florida Cafe (about $7 for a veggie sandwich, which was good, but there are better options in town), and headed out to hike some nearby trails (look for a post coming soon).
We came back later that night for the grand fireworks spectacular. The townsfolk, and I have to believe all 700 were there, gathered around the baseball field to watch what I hope was a professional fireworks display. It was a nice evening. There were hayrides for the kiddos and mosquitos for the adults.
The firework show lasted about 20 minutes, and generated a fair amount of “oohs” and “aahs.” The fire department, which waited on the field with the pyro experts, had a quiet evening, thankfully.
The everyone-knows-everyone feeling continued at the fireworks show, and it made me wonder what it’d be like to grow up in a town like that – to be Jem Finch in Maycomb or Tom Sawyer in Hannibal. I had a great childhood, but I didn’t spend much time running around barefoot with the neighborhood kids or playing unsupervised with firecrackers. Maybe I’m romanticizing it a little, but most of my small town experiences come from books, and I see so much of that lifestyle reflected in places like Micanopy.
The Micanopians were friendly and welcoming, and I had a great day enjoying their company. If you’re looking for a small-town afternoon, or if you desperately need some antiques, you can’t go wrong with Micanopy. It’s on US 441, between Gainesville and Ocala. You can also take exit 374 off of I-75.
As for food, I’ve now eaten at exactly 75 percent of the restaurants in town, and this is what I’d suggest: For your main course, get a pizza at Blue Highway or some barbecue at Pearl Country Store (it’s half gas station, half BBQ joint). Grab a snack from the Old Florida Cafe while you’re walking around, and end with some ice cream from Coffee N Cream.
Or, if you’re like me, just get ice cream three times from Coffee N Cream and forget the rest.