Here's an aerial view of the lake to help you get acclimated.
Photos to this point were taken on the western, Earleton, side of the big lake. The upper, smaller lake is known as "Little Lake Santa Fe." Also. If you look to the bottom right you can see an inlet known as Melrose Bay. We'll travel over that way later.
There is a railroad line to the west of the lakes where there used to be a station in the town of Waldo, on Lake Alto. Near the end of the 19th century canals connecting Lake Alto to Little Lake Santa Fe were dug so a steamboat could be operated between all the now-connected lakes. Visitors from the northeastern U.S. would travel by train to Waldo, and then by boat over to Melrose Bay, where they would stay at an inn. The steamship would also deliver commodities, especially oranges, back to the train station for shipment to the north. At that time, most of the southern end of the big lake was planted in orange groves, but the big freezes of the late 1800's destroyed the trees and the local industry.
I have witnessed a few space shuttle launches from Lake Santa Fe in the past. It's amazing the view one can have, even though the lake is located significantly northwest of Cape Canaveral (155mi/250k). And, though I was certainly not aware of a planned launch, I was thrilled I just happened to be sitting on a dock taking photos when this Delta IV rocket carrying a satellite was launched right before my eyes just a little after sunset.
And you waited until now to show this to us? Shame on you!
Though I have never written about Lake Santa Fe, I have posted lots of photos taken on the Santa Fe River. This spring fed lake, and the swamp to the north of it, are the headwaters of the Santa Fe River.
Good grief, Htmb ~ in a prolific career of making great threads with wonderful photos, you just surpassed yourself with this one! The mood, the information, the exciting sequence of the rocket, but most of all the impossibly beautiful photographs -- wow!!!
Most of the area surrounding the lake is extremely rural. Here's a ride north up Earleton Road after a rainstorm on a very hot afternoon.
There are pastures (usually) filled with cattle.
The St. John's Cemetery which, until just a few years ago, had been completely covered with vegetation.
Here's the write-up on the historic marker, including our first reminder that this land was a part of the deep south.
Earleton is named for General Elias B. Earle (1821-1893) who received government land grants in Florida for his service in the U.S./Mexican War (1846-48). Born into a prominent South Carolina family, Gen. Earle fought in the Palmetto Regiment, enlisted as a private, and at war's end received the honorary commission of General from the Governor of South Carolina. He moved to the western shore of Lake Santa Fe with his wife and four children between 1856 and 1860. When the Civil War began, Gen. Earle owned a 2000-acre cotton plantation north of here and had 50 slaves, making him one of the largest slave holders in Alachua County. A colonel of the Seventh Florida Regiment, Earle joined Capt. J.J. Dickison's Company H for the 1864 Battle of Gainesville, leading an infantry of ninety men down what is now E. University Ave. After the war, Earle became a director for the canal company connecting Lake Santa Fe to Lake Alto and president of the Green Cove Springs to Melrose Railroad. His son-in-law, German botanist Baron Hans von Luttichau (1845-1926) created the "Collins-Belvedere Azalea Gardens" in Earleton, introducing Formosa azaleas to Florida. Earle is buried in the family plot at Eliam Cemetery in Melrose.
St. John's Episcopal Church and Cemetery were established at this site in the late 1870s by English settlers. Completed in 1880, the church was one of the first carpenter gothic chapels in Florida. It was at the time known as the mission at Balmoral and the Lake Santa Fe Mission. When Trinity Episcopal Church (still standing) was completed in Melrose in 1886, this smaller church was sold for $15 and torn down. The cemetery was established in 1878 and held between 60-70 graves at the turn of the 20th Century. Little is known about who is buried there because the records were lost when the Diocesan headquarters burned during the Jacksonville fire of 1901. The only legible headstone belongs to Emma Lucy Hilton, who was born in England in 1827, and died in Earleton in 1884. On the banks of Lake Santa Fe (east of here) sat the Balmoral Hotel, which catered to northern tourists who came by train to Waldo and then by steamboat through the Lake Alto canal. Balmoral was an impressive two-story, U-shaped structure and a popular resort through the 1880s, until the 1894-95 freezes ruined the local economy. The hotel was turned into a private residence and eventually burned. No trace is left.
Excellent collection of photos. The one with the standing heron is my favorite, but so many are worthy. I'm surprised to see blueberries being farmed there, they farm them here and the climate could hardly be more different--most of the plants shown look completely foreign to my eyes.
Thanks, Fumobici. Florida blueberries have been marketed for the past 30 to 40 years, though many of the farms are U-pick type operations. It seems more and more acreage is being turned over to blueberry production. Our berries are pretty tasty, too, but I would imagine they are specialized to our growing area.
As promised, let's move to the southeastern corner of the lake, to the town of Melrose on the bay. This town is unincorporated, and is situated at the point where four counties join together. It's also bisected by two highways. Basically, there are not a lot of reasons why it will ever develop into much of a town. For now, it's a community hosting a diverse mixture of people.
Here's the Episcopal Church mentioned in the St. John's Cemetery marker description.
Some of the old boat houses on the bay have been turned into plush places.
Pontoon boats are favored by many, and accommodate all different age groups.
This is where I saw the giant butterflies.
Lots of orange trees pop up in places where you least expect them. Many are sprouting from the root stock of trees planted in the 19th century. Often the fruit is sour, but the juice makes a terrific marinade for barbecue.
There are also rows of stately Palm trees that once bordered fancy home sites back in the day.
And while there are a few paved roads in the area around the bay, most are just plain sand and dirt.
For as long as I can remember, going back at least thirty-five years, there have been horses in this pasture right near the center of the town.
It wasn't too long ago that many of the old houses in Melrose were crumbling ruins, but then a sudden interest in restoration about thirty years ago saved many of the buildings. In addition, new construction also took on the look of the period homes.
Many of the old, crumbling walls that marked property lines have been left in place.
While some of these homes are quite interesting to view during the daytime hours...
Many are even more fascinating to look at in the dark.
The vegetation and the old architecture are absolutely amazing. Something that the photos don't convey, though, is the heat and humidity of the Deep South in midsummer, except for the photo of the rain steaming off the road. Without the annoying high temperature, it all looks like an absolute paradise. The movie The Paperboy, as over the top as it was, definitely conveyed the climate perfectly, however, especially being set in the days before air conditioning everywhere.
I too was surprised by the blueberries being grown in that climate. As pretty as it looks in photographs, I don't think I would enjoy the humidity there. And I assume that drooping gray moss hanging off the trees is also caused by the damp?
Bjd, Spanish moss is actually a type of Bromeliad, so related to the pineapple. It's an epiphyte, so yes it needs the humid air, but only uses the trees for support. It is not a parasite. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_moss
Htmb, I have to echo Kerouac's words and then some. When I first saw this thread I thought it was gorgeous and complete, since I couldn't imagine it getting any better. But your latest additions are fabulous enhancements. I am enjoying this so much!
Hot and humid, somewhat, but also think of cooling breezes in the summer coming from a large body of water. And, for the most part, perfect weather from October through late April. The kind of weather those 19th century northerners were seeking when they took the train south in the winter, and that some of you will admonish me for mentioning when you are enjoying your "brisk" winter weather and I'm splashing around in the water here.
What most draws me to the Santa Fe Lake area is the wildlife. Unfortunately, other than the heron, I didn't get any photos on this visit, but the place is absolutely teeming with many different types of birds, plus, if you look hard enough, you can find alligators, snakes, armadillo, deer, raccoons, and even an occasional Florida black bear. There are huge osprey nests ringing the lake, and the birds return to them year after year to hatch, raise their young, and teaching them to fly and to fish.
The deep water lake creates its own micro-climate so that it is cooler in the summer, and winters can be much milder than in town. That's the reason why orange trees were so successfully grown in the area until the very cold winters of the late 1800's. The lake warms the air and property owners still manage to keep many tropical plants alive and thriving year round. And on those really hot, still days, when it seems there is no relief in sight, all one has to do is dive into the lake to find that just below the surface the water is super cool and refreshing. One of the benefits of a spring-fed lake!
Though this is a big lake with wide open water, it's also a wonderful place to kayak with lots of hidden areas along the shoreline to explore. Places only a kayak or flat bottomed boat could go. I've been down part of the old canal that once connected Little Lake Santa Fe to Lake Alto for the steamboats. They wouldn't be able to navigate it now because it's filled in with dirt and vegetation over the years. I've also paddled down a narrow channel and "discovered" a small, hidden lake filled with basking alligators. That was both an exciting and terrifying experience at the same time, as you can imagine.
The last place I went on my recent visit was the Melrose Cemetery, located on the south side of the town. I'd never actually been in the cemetery, and in the past had only used the parking lot as a turn-around point when teaching my children how to drive. It's actually a pretty interesting place with lots of historical relevance.
Of course, this is the grave of Susan Earle, whose father we learned about earlier.
Upon entering the cemetery, one of the first things that caught my eye and caused me to stop in my tracks was the sight of several confederate flags. I was really surprised to see them and, at first, thought they had each been placed by locals who were still hoping the south would "rise again." However, on further inspection, I realized that each flag had (presumably) been placed by the cemetery association crew at the graves of soldiers who had fought in the confederate army. Each of those graves also had a U.S. flag beside it.
I would have liked to have looked around a little bit more. Unfortunately, one of our summer thunder storms was brewing and I like lightening even less than I like cemeteries, so it was time to get back in the car.
I appreciate the kind comments. Maybe I'll wander back to the area again one day.