Florida’s Own Stonehenge

If you travel south from Ocala toward Belleview on U.S. Highway 27/301/441, there’s a place where the northbound and southbound lanes split to go around a tiny patch of thick forest.  There doesn’t appear to be much of a reason for this at first, aside from the small satellite sheriff’s office Marion County has in the median.  There’s more to this than meets the eye, however.

Excerpt of a Florida Department of Transportation map showing U.S. 27/301/441 between Ocala and Belleview. The "Stonehenge" structures are located in the median of this highway where the northbound and southbound lanes bend outward (1977).

Excerpt of a Florida Department of Transportation map showing U.S. 27/301/441 between Ocala and Belleview. The “Stonehenge” structures are located in the median of this highway where the northbound and southbound lanes bend outward (1977).

Hidden among the vines and oak trees in the middle of this busy highway is Florida’s own Stonehenge. Granted, it’s not nearly as old, and its uses aren’t nearly as shrouded in mystery. That being said, it’s still quite a sight to see in person. Four enormous concrete structures rise nearly as high as the trees, covered in vines, moss, and graffiti. They date back to 1936 when construction began on a bridge to cross a section of the Cross Florida Barge Canal.

One of the towering structures located in the median of U.S. 27/301/441 at Santos (2014).

One of the towering structures located in the median of U.S. 27/301/441 at Santos. Photo by the author (2014).

 

Another concrete megalith peeks out from a tangle of vines and overgrowth at Santos (2014).

Another concrete megalith peeks out from a tangle of vines and overgrowth at Santos Photo by the author (2014).

The Franklin D. Roosevelt administration had authorized the canal project as a federal relief program. Camp Roosevelt, located a few miles away, served as housing for the workers. The canal had yet to be built at this point, although government authorities had already condemned a strip of land for it, right through the middle of the community of Santos.

The project was short-lived. In June 1936, after barely six months of work, the federal government halted work on the bridge at Santos. Concerns about the canal project’s impact on tourism and the water supply had aroused concern among the public and Congress, and no additional funding was made available for the span.

Buildings at Camp Roosevelt, originally established in 1935-36 to house laborers working on the Cross Florida Barge Canal. The camp was later used as a vocational education center. The camp no longer exists, but some of the houses still remain, and the neighborhood is still called

Buildings at Camp Roosevelt, originally established in 1935-36 to house laborers working on the Cross Florida Barge Canal. The camp was later used as a vocational education center (1936).

The bridge piers were, however, already built. What could be done with them? They were too heavy to move, and too expensive to simply destroy. Project managers decided to leave them where they stood. Maybe they thought the canal project would resume sometime in the future and the piers could still be used.

The Cross Florida Barge Canal did resurface in later decades, but the Santos Bridge remained untouched. When U.S. 27/301/441 was widened, the road planners simply bypassed the enormous bridge piers and allowed the space they occupied to grow up naturally. The Cross Florida Greenway now passes through the area, and the old bridge piers are a side attraction for visiting hikers and mountain bikers. The nearby trailhead is called Santos in honor of the community that once prospered there.

Graffiti from a number of fraternities marks the remnants of the Santos Bridge project (2014).

Graffiti from a number of fraternities marks the remnants of the Santos Bridge project. Photo by the author (2014).

The Stonehenge-esque structures at Santos are merely one of many mysterious monuments to the past hiding in plain sight in Florida. What mysterious historical structures are located in your community? Search the Florida Photographic Collection to see if we have photos of them, or consider donating a photo by contacting us.

 

 

The Day They Gave a Florida Island Away on “The Price is Right”

If you’ve ever seen the hit daytime show The Price is Right, you know they’ll give away just about anything. Toasters, exercise equipment, new cars, bread makers, trips to Italy – you name it, they give it. But have you ever heard of The Price is Right giving away an island?

Excerpt of map of Putnam County showing Bear Island in the middle of Crescent Lake (1990).

Excerpt of map of Putnam County showing Bear Island in the middle of Crescent Lake (1990).

Well, not the entire island. But Bill Cullen, the host of the show before CBS took it over, did give away a nice chunk of Florida real estate on Bear Island in the middle of Crescent Lake, which straddles the border between Putnam and Flagler counties near the Atlantic coast. The date was December 11,1961, and the movie Mysterious Island, based on the popular Jules Verne novel of the same name, was about to be released in theaters by Columbia Pictures.

Columbia and the Price is Right folks had gotten together and planned a whole show promoting the movie release. One lucky winner would walk away with the keys to a new two-bedroom house on their very own (part of) “Mysterious Island,” complete with a dock and the latest amenities.

The house on

The house on “Mysterious Island,” locally known as Bear Island (1961).

Mr. and Mrs. Henry Freeman of New York were the lucky winners of the “Mysterious Island” house. They were flown to Crescent City for a ceremony at their new home, where they were given the keys, the deed to the land, and a private screening of Mysterious Island. Columbia filmed all of this, and used it to help promote the movie.

Mr. and Mrs. Henry Freeman, the lucky winners of the

Mr. and Mrs. Henry Freeman, the lucky winners of the “Mysterious Island” house (1961).

The Freemans appeared to be very pleased with their new home on “Mysterious Island,” but they ended up not doing much with it. After the ceremony and a fishing trip, they returned to New York and reportedly never returned. In early 1964, the local newspaper reported that Jake Ward, the developer who owned the rest of the island, had bought the house. He hoped to perpetuate the “Mysterious Island” theme and create an attractive housing development.

Mr. and Mrs. Henry Freeman enjoying their first (and apparently last) fishing trip on Crescent Lake (1961).

Mr. and Mrs. Henry Freeman enjoying their first (and apparently last) fishing trip on Crescent Lake (1961).

The island is still privately owned today. There’s not much there, aside from the house and a landing strip. There’s no telling whether the owners even know the unique history of the place. But now you do!

You never know what kinds of quirky Florida history will show up when your browse the Florida Photographic Collection. Tell us about the interesting photos you’ve found by sharing on our Facebook page, or leave a comment below.