Monday, February 26, 2007

We’ll have a Dalmatian Plantation!

Despite Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction of an early spring, it seems most of the US has battened down the hatches as nature unleashes one last winter blast. Across the pond, Edinburgh isn’t fairing much better – there’s a crispness in the air reminiscent of fall and ominous storm clouds rolling in. While I tuck into a steaming mug of cocoa, I thought it was about time to recount some more of my Florida adventure with high school buddy K. (A special thank you to K for letting me use her digital images as mine are on film and I don't have a scanner.)

While researching Tallahassee, I discovered that the 35 miles between Thomasville, Georgia and Tallahassee, Florida are home to the highest concentration of plantations in the US – over 100. After reading this, and having watched many many many episodes of “America’s Castles” on A&E with my dad, I was determined to see at least a few of these grand old ladies from a forgotten era. Thankfully, K humored my excessive interest in architecture and agreed to see a couple of the historic homes too! First up, the Knott House.

Located in downtown Tallahassee, and home to one of the key figures in Florida history (William Knott), the “house that rhymes” has been lovingly restored to its 1928 glory. Although simply constructed, there are some clever examples of cunning interior design. For the entrance hall and grand staircase, Mrs. Knott acquired Parisian wallpaper designed to look like trees. Not enough arrived, so, she carefully cut the paper apart and pasted it to the wall to create a forest. Eccentric, maybe, but then again, Mrs. Knott also wrote poetry about the furniture and hung it on the item in question.

Next up, the gem known as Pebble Hill. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, I thought we’d hit the jackpot. Formerly a cotton plantation, the grounds and house have hosted elaborate hunting parties and reared horses since 1827. Given that brief, the mind wanders towards Gone With The Wind and the wrap around porches of a proper southern manor. Unfortunately, most of the house burnt down in 1934. Only the furnishings were saved. When reconstructed in 1936, a Greek revival style was chosen and is the house we see today.

Again, always a hound for art and architecture, it was wonderful to see over 33 original Audubon prints from Birds of America. I say wonderful because the original silver plates used to engrave Audubon’s famous book were sold by his wife to pay off their debts following his death and subsequently melted down. Shocking I know, but to see a set of original prints provides a welcome highlight to a horrific story.

Similarly, the Big Room was recently restored and showcases a massive wildlife mural by Clinton Shepherd.

One of my favorite sights from ‘the South’ is Spanish Moss. Native Americans named this bromeliad after the Spanish conquistadors who had pointed beards. Despite its name, it is not a moss but a relative of the pineapple and is deceptively soft. Softly rustling, it makes for a meandering afternoon stroll.

So, not exactly the plantations I was expecting, practically brand new by European standards, but an interesting slice of Americanna nonetheless.

Next up, a road trip.

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