Florida: Monroe County

Monroe County (pop.73,090) is one of 17 Monroe counties, all named for James Monroe (1758-1831), fifth president of the U.S.

Although 87% of the county’s land is on the mainland (in Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve), more than 99% of the population lives on the Florida Keys.

The two parts don’t touch.

The county seat of Monroe County is the city of Key West (pop. 24,649), located at the southern end of U.S. Highway 1 (which begins in Maine) and  near the western end of the 1,700-island archipelago known as the Florida Keys.

The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum was the author’s home from 1931-39. It is known for its six- and seven-toed cats, descendants of Hemingway’s cats.

The house stayed in the family for many years.

The Harry S. Truman Little White House is also in Key West. President Truman made 11 visits as president, between 1946 and 1953.

East of Key West, Sugarloaf Key has a historic bat tower, built in 1929 to control mosquitoes. The bats flew away soon after they were installed, and the mosquitoes apparently remained.

One of three still standing in the U.S.

Farther east, at Big Pine Key, is the Bahia Honda Bridge. It was replaced in 1980, and part of it is now open to pedestrians.

Old bridge on left, new bridge on right

The city of Marathon (pop. 8,310), on seven different islands, has the grave of Flipper – bottlenose dolphin star of the 1960s TV of the same name.

Her real name was Mitzi.

The island of Key Largo, 33 miles long, is near the eastern end of the keys. Humphrey Bogart starred in the 1948 film “Key Largo” and in the 1951 film “African Queen,” which had nothing to do with Key Largo.

But the actual boat is docked in Key Largo.

NEXT STATE: INDIANA

Florida: Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade County (pop. 2,496,435) is Florida’s largest county by population, and the seventh-largest county in the U.S. It’s the most southeasterly county on the U.S. mainland.

Dade County was created in 1836 and named for Major Francis L. Dade, a soldier who died in the Second Seminole War in 1835. Voters changed the name to Miami-Dade in 1997.

The courthouse was built in 1926.

The county seat of Miami-Dade County is the city of Miami (pop. 400,769), second-largest city in Florida (after Jacksonville).

Downtown Miami skyline

The MLB Miami Marlins and NBA Miami Heat play in Miami; the NFL Miami Dolphins play in nearby Miami Gardens.

Marlins Park was built on the site of the former Orange Bowl.

Metrorail (1984) is a rapid-transit system with two lines, covering 24 miles and connecting downtown with the airport and suburban areas.

Downtown also has a free, 4-mile people mover.

Actor-comedian Jackie Gleason (1916-1987) lived and worked in the Miami area for many years. He is buried at Our Lady of Mercy Cemetery in Miami, with the inscription “And away we go” on the tomb.

“The Honeymooners”

The separate city of Miami Beach (pop. 87,779) is on barrier islands, across Biscayne Bay from Miami.

Miami Beach is known for having the most extensive collection of 1920s and ’30s Art Deco architecture in the world.

There’s an annual Art Deco Weekend.

The nearby community of Opa-Locka, established in 1926, has the world’s largest collection of Moorish Revival architecture.

City Hall (1926)

The city of Coral Gables (pop. 46,994), home of the University of Miami, is known for its Mediterranean Revival architecture.

City Hall (1928)

The headquarters of Burger King is located in an unincorporated area of Miami-Dade County.

Founded in 1954 in Miami

Everglades National Park is in the western part of Miami-Dade County. The Ernest Coe Visitor Center is west of the city of Homestead (“Gateway to the Everglades”).

NEXT: MONROE COUNTY

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Florida: Broward County

Broward County (pop. 1,748,066), south of Palm Beach County, is Florida’s second-largest county in population, and the 17th-largest county in the U.S.

Almost all of the population lives in the eastern part of the county; the western part is in the Everglades Wildlife Management Area, which serves as a protective buffer to Everglades National Park, to the south.

Hunting is allowed.

The county was named for Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, governor of Florida from 1905 to 1909. As governor, he worked to drain the Everglades for agricultural use.

The county seat of Broward County is the city of Fort Lauderdale (pop. 165,521), home of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

Port Everglades is the home of more cruise ships than any other port and is the busiest container port in Florida.

It once hosted 15 cruise ships on the same day.

The former Yankee Clipper Hotel in Fort Lauderdale – built in 1956 to resemble a cruise ship – is now part of the B Ocean Resort.

The Wreck Bar inside the B Ocean Resort is known for its windows into the hotel pool and its weekend mermaid shows.

Friday and Saturday at 6:30 p.m.

North of Fort Lauderdale, the city of Pompano Beach (pop. 99,845) is the home of the Festival Flea Market Mall, known as the largest indoor flea market in the U.S.

More than 500 stores

Pompano Park is a harness racing track and casino.

South of Fort Lauderdale, in Hallondale Beach (pop. 37,113), Gulfstream Park is a horse racing track that dates from 1944. Nearby is a new, 110-foot bronze statue of Pegasus killing a dragon – second-largest statue in the U.S.

#1 is the Statue of Liberty.

The NHL Florida Panthers play at the BB&T Center (previously the National Car Rental Center, 1998) in the city of Sunrise (pop. 84,439), west of Fort Lauderdale.

Also previously the Office Depot Center

Nearby, the city of Coconut Creek (pop. 53,072) is the home of Butterfly World, the largest butterfly park in the world.

It opened in 1988.

NEXT: MIAMI-DADE COUNTY

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Florida: Palm Beach County

Palm Beach County has Florida’s third-largest population, 1,320,134 in 2010, up from 348,753 in 1970. It stretches from Lake Okeechobee to the Atlantic Ocean.

Most of the population is along the ocean.

One of Florida’s wealthiest counties, it has communities named Palm Beach, West Palm Beach, North Palm Beach, South Palm Beach, Royal Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens, and Palm Springs.

The Breakers hotel (1925), Palm Beach

The county seat, and largest city, is West Palm Beach (pop. 99,919). It’s the oldest municipality in the South Florida metropolitan area – incorporated in 1894, two years before Miami.

The old courthouse (1916) is now a history museum.

West Palm Beach is on the 71-mile Tri-Rail commuter rail system, which runs south to Miami. It opened in 1989.

Tri-Rail and Amtrak station (1925)

On Peanut Island in West Palm Beach, tours are now available of President John F. Kennedy’s once-secret bomb shelter – located near the Kennedy family’s “Winter White House” in Palm Beach.

It could have sheltered 30 people for a month.

The town of Palm Beach (pop. 8,426) is on a barrier island, across the Intracoastal Waterway from West Palm Beach.

Palm Beach at right, West Palm Beach at left

The Flagler Museum is a 55-room mansion in Palm Beach, built by Henry Flagler in 1901 and now open to the public.

Flagler was the “Father of Palm Beach.”

The city of Boca Raton (pop. 85,196) – which does not allow billboards along its roads – is the home of Florida Atlantic University, a public university founded in 1961.

About 30,000 students

The Palm Beach Gardens branch of Nova Southeastern University has an 18-foot Mako shark statue bursting out of the plaza.

The school’s teams are known as the Sharks.

The town of Jupiter (pop. 55,434) is the spring training home of the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals. Both teams play at Roger Dean Stadium (1998).

Four minor league teams also play there.

NEXT: BROWARD COUNTY

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Florida: Hendry County

Hendry County (pop. 39,140) is north of Collier County. Its northeastern corner touches Lake Okeechobee.

Hendry County’s economy is based on agriculture – mainly sugar cane and oranges. The only cities are Clewiston, in the northeastern corner, and LaBelle, in the northwestern corner.

Florida’s #1 producer of oranges

The county seat is LaBelle (pop. 4,655), on the Caloosahatchee River.

Hendry County Courthouse (1926)

La Belle has an annual Swamp Cabbage Festival, now in its 50th year. The swamp cabbage, also known as the cabbage palm or palmetto, is Florida’s state tree.

Clewiston (pop 7,151) is the county’s largest city. The headquarters of US Sugar Company, the largest producer of sugar cane in the U.S., is in Clewiston.

The Clewiston Sugar Festival takes place in April.

The Billie Swamp Safari is an attraction on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation.

Swamp rides

Harlem, a census-designated place adjacent to Clewiston, was established by itinerant black workers in the sugar-cane fields. Its 2010 population of 2,658 was 96% African-American.

NEXT: PALM BEACH COUNTY

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Florida: Collier County

Collier County (pop. 321,520) is south of Lee County. It was named for Barron Collier (1873-1939), an entrepreneur who became the largest landowner in Florida.

Florida’s largest county in land area

The entire southeastern part of the county is in Big Cypress National Preserve, established in 1974.

Burmese pythons are not native to the area.

The county seat of Collier County is the unincorporated community of East Naples. The county seat was moved from the city of Everglades in 1962, after it was badly damaged by Hurricane Dora in 1960.

Collier County Courthouse

The name of Everglades was changed to Everglades City in 1965. Its population is now 400. In 1950, before Hurricane Dora, it was 625.

The restored courthouse is now City Hall.

The community of Ochopee, east of Everglades City, is the home of the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters, which investigates local sightings of the Skunk Ape – a Florida relative of Bigfoot.

Skunk-ape-related merchandise is available.

The Ochopee Post Office is the smallest post office in the U.S., at about 7 feet by 8 feet.

Former storage area for irrigation pipes

The largest city in Collier County is Naples (pop. 19,598), one of the wealthiest communities in the U.S.

Many condominiums

The Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens, which opened in 1969, was formerly the gardens for Dr. Henry Nehrling’s collection of plants.

It can get hot outside.

The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, east of Naples, was established in 1989 to protect the endangered Florida panther.

NEXT: HENDRY COUNTY

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Florida: Lee County

Lee County (pop. 618,754) is south of Charlotte County, on the Gulf of Mexico. It is one of 12 Lee counties, and one of the many named for Gen. Robert E. Lee (1807-1870).

The county seat of Lee County is the city of Fort Myers (pop. 62,431). Fort Myers was the winter home of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford in the early 1900s.

Edison statue and banyan trees he planted

The adjacent Edison and Ford Winter Estates are now open to the public, with home tours, museum, and botanical gardens.

The Ford home

The Shell Factory (“the largest collection in North America of taxidermy animals”) has been an attraction in Fort Myers since 1938.

Also “The World’s Largest Shell Factory”

The Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins have their spring training homes in Fort Myers – about six miles apart.

JetBlue Park at Fenway South (2012)

Florida Gulf Coast University opened in Fort Myers in 1997. It now has about 14,000 students

It has its own lakeside beach.

Deion Sanders, former NFL and MLB player, was born in Fort Myers and played baseball, football, and basketball at North Fort Myers High School. He was all-state in all three sports.

In Pro Football Hall of Fame

A giant head of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) can be found outside the Pyramid Village in Fort Myers.

A resort built by Austrians

The largest city in Lee County is Cape Coral (pop. 154,305). Founded in 1957, Cape Coral claims to have the most canals (about 400 miles) of any city in the world.

About 120 square miles

The nearby city of Bonita Springs is the home of the Everglades Wonder Gardens, which date from 1936.

The town of Estero (pop. 18,176) was established by the followers of Cyrus Teed, who believed that humans live on the inside of a hollow earth, and that the stars and planets are all inside it.

He claimed to be immortal, but he died.

NEXT: COLLIER COUNTY

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Florida: Charlotte County

Charlotte County (pop. 159,978) is south of DeSoto County. Its population in 1970 was 27,559.

The only other Charlotte County is in Virginia.

The county is centered on Charlotte Harbor, a natural estuary on the Gulf of Mexico.

Fishermen’s Village, Punta Gorda

The county seat of Charlotte County is the city of Punta Gorda (pop. 16,641).

Charlotte County Courthouse (1928)

Charlotte High School was among the many buildings in Punta Gorda that were severely damaged by Hurricane Charley in 2004.

The entire interior was rebuilt.

Ponce de Leon Park in Punta Gorda has a marker commemorating the “first white man to die in America.”

Many of the homes in Punta Gorda are in a neighborhood of man-made canals, 100 feet wide and 17 feet deep.

55 miles of canals

Punta Gorda has a 2.4-mile Harborwalk along Charlotte Harbor and the Peace River.

Established in 2010

The unincorporated community of Port Charlotte is the home of the Charlotte Stone Crabs, single-A Florida State League affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Charlotte Sports Park (1987)

In the nearby community of Englewood, the cemetery has a grave shaped like a boat.

H.H. “Bill” Anger (1915-1990)

NEXT: LEE COUNTY

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Florida: DeSoto County

DeSoto County (pop. 34,862) is east of Sarasota County. It was named for Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto – as was Hernando County, farther north in Florida.

The only other DeSoto County is in Mississippi. Its county seat is the city of Hernando.

In the Memphis metropolitan area

The county seat of DeSoto County, Florida, is the city of Arcadia (pop. 7,636).

DeSoto County Courthouse (1913)

The Arcadia Opera House (1906) is now one of downtown DeSoto’s many antique stores.

The theater was on the second floor.

The Opera House was built after a fire destroyed most of Arcadia’s business district in 1905.

Only two downtown buildings survived

Hurricane Charley in 2004 did extensive damage to Arcadia and DeSoto County. About 95% of downtown buildings were damaged.

Much damage all over southwestern Florida

Carlstrom Field was a military airfield, southwest of Arcadia, that trained pilots from 1917 to 1945.

It became a hospital after WWII.

DeSoto County has the second-most acres in citrus trees (after Polk County) of any county in Florida.

NEXT: CHARLOTTE COUNTY

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Florida: Sarasota County

Sarasota County (pop. 379,448) is south of Manatee County, along the Gulf of Mexico. The origin of the name “Sarasota” is unknown.

The county seat of Sarasota County is the city of Sarasota (pop. 52,166), in the county’s northwestern corner.

The courthouse (1927) is in Mediterranean Revival style.

Starting in 1927, Sarasota was the winter quarters of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Today, it is the home of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.

The Ringling Mansion (Ca’d’Zan) is open for tours.

The Ringling Circus Museum features a 44,000-piece miniature circus.

The world’s largest

The 25-foot “Unconditional Surrender” statue is a landmark in Sarasota. It is based on a famous photograph taken in Times Square on V-J Day in 1945.

First installed in 2005

Sarasota Jungle Gardens, open since 1936, has bird and animal shows, in addition to its gardens.

Bike-riding parrots

The Sarasota Opera House (originally the Edwards Theatre, 1926) is the home of the Sarasota Opera.

Elvis Presley played there in 1956.

The former Sarasota High School is being renovated. When completed, it will become the Sarasota Museum of Art.

Built in 1926

The Sarasota Chalk Festival, which began in 2007, features a wide variety of Italian street painting in downtown Sarasota.

The world’s most important chalk festival

The Baltimore Orioles have had their spring training home at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota since 2010.

The White Sox played there previously.

The largest city in Sarasota County is North Port (pop. 57,357). Located inland, North Port has grown from a population of 178 in 1960.

Warm Mineral Springs, North Port

NEXT: DESOTO COUNTY

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Florida: Manatee County

Manatee County (pop. 322,833) is west of Hardee County, on the Gulf of Mexico and partly on Tampa Bay. Almost all of the population is in the coastal areas.

The manatee (also known as the sea cow) is Florida’s official state marine mammal.

They reach 8-14 feet in length.

The county seat of Manatee County is the city of Bradenton (pop. 49,486).

Manatee County Courthouse (1913)

The Linger Lodge restaurant in Bradenton is known for the stuffed animals on the walls, as well as for its menu, which includes “fresh alligator bites” and fried green tomatoes.

Tropicana, Inc., was founded in Bradenton in 1947. Its headquarters are now in Chicago, but it still has its huge plant for processing fruit juice in Bradenton.

Tropicana juice plant

The aquarium at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton is the home of Snooty (age 67) the world’s oldest known manatee.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have their spring training home at McKechnie Field (1923) in Bradenton. The Pirates have been there since 1969.

Renovated in 1993

The De Soto National Memorial, five miles west of Bradenton, commemorates the landing of Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1539 – the first extended exploration of the area by Europeans.

Lake Manatee State Park is in the central part of the county.

Wildlife includes armadillos

NEXT: SARASOTA COUNTY

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