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) andĀ  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

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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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Florida: Hardee County

Hardee County (pop. 27,731) is west of Highlands County. It’s the only Hardee County in the U.S.

The county was named for Cary A. Hardee (1876-1957), governor of Florida from 1921 to 1925.

Florida’s 23rd governor

The county seat of Hardee County is the city of Wauchula (pop. 4,952).

Hardee County Courthouse (1927)

Wauchula has long been known as the “Cucumber Capital of the World,” although today the area produces more citrus than cucumber.

The 106-mile Peace River, popular for canoeing, flows through Wauchula. The river flows into the Gulf of Mexico in Charlotte County.

Also a popular area for fossil hunters

Paynes Creek Historic State Park is located on the site of Fort Chokonikla – built in 1849 to protect white settlers from Seminole Indians. The fort was abandoned within a year, because so many people were dying of malaria.

It was in a swampy breeding ground for mosquitos.

In 2004, Hurricane Charley did $750 million damage in Hardee County, destroying 1,400 homes.

Power was out all over the county.

NEXT: MANATEE COUNTY

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Florida: Highlands County

Highlands County (pop. 98,786), north of Glades County, has more than 100 lakes. It is Florida’s third-largest producer of citrus.

The county’s largest lake is Lake Istokpoga, the fifth-largest lake in Florida. It has an average depth of only four feet.

Popular for fishing, dangerous for boating

Just west of Lake Istokpoga is Lake June in Winter. It was renamed (from Lake Stearns) by an early developer of the area who had a summer home on a Lake June in New York state.

The county seat of Highlands County is the city of Sebring (pop. 10,491).

Highlands County Courthouse (1927)

Sebring is best known as the home of the Sebring International Raceway, the site of the annual 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race for sports cars.

The track opened in 1950.

Sebring is also known as the “City on the Circle,” because the center of its downtown is on two concentric circle roads.

The Kenilworth Lodge is a resort hotel in Sebring that’s been in operation since 1916.

Mediterranean Revival style

Harder Hall, a resort hotel named for developers Lewis Harder and Vincent Hall, opened in 1927. It has been unoccupied since 1982.

On Little Lake Jackson

The Amtrak station in Sebring, built in 1924 by the Seabord Air Line Railway, serves Amtrak’s “Silver Star” and “Silver Meteor” trains.

Between New York City and Miami

The town of Lake Placid, named after Lake Placid, New York, has 46 murals on the sides of buildings.

Tour brochures are available.

Lake Placid is known as the “Caladium Capital of the World,” because 98 percent of the world’s caladium bulbs come from there.

Highlands Hammock State Park, which opened in 1931, was one of Florida’s original state parks.

Boardwalk through the cypress swamp

NEXT: HARDEE COUNTY

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Florida: Glades County

Glades County, southwest of Okeechobee County, is Florida’s fourth-smallest county, with a population of 12,884. It was named for the Florida Everglades, which historically reached into the area but are now farther south.

The county seat of Glades County is the city of Moore Haven (pop. 1,680), fourth-smallest county seat in Florida.

Courthouse (1928)

The Chalo Nitka Festival and Rodeo dates from 1948. “Chalo Nitka” means “Day of the Big Bass” in the Miccosukee language.

There’s a parade.

The unincorporated community of Palmdale is the home of Gatorama, which has twice-daily Big Gator Feed Shows.

It opened in 1957.

The 52-mile Fisheating Creek flows into Lake Okeechobee near Palmdale. It is the second-largest natural source of the lake, after the Kissimmee River.

Paddling on Fisheating Creek

The 67-mile Caloosahatchee River flows west from Glades County to the Gulf of Mexico. It is part of the Okeechobee Waterway, which crosses the state from east to west.

The Brighton Seminole Indian Reservation, in the northeastern part of the county, is the home of the Seminole Brighton Casino. The tribe also has a 36,000-acre cattle operation in the area.

NEXT: HIGHLANDS COUNTY

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Florida: Okeechobee County

Okeechobee County (pop. 39,996) is west of Martin County and north of Lake Okeechobee. The lake got its name from the Hitchiti Indian words “oka” (water) and “chobi” (big).

It is one of the six inland counties known as Florida Heartland – a mostly rural and agricultural area, with much less tourism than other parts of Florida.

The county seat of Okeechobee County is the city of Okeechobee (pop. 5,621).

Courthouse (1926)

The 54,000-acre Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, northwest of Okeechobee, is the state’s largest remaining area of dry prairie.

Popular for birding.

The Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928 was one of the deadliest and most destructive hurricanes in U.S. history. The lake overflowed and flooded hundreds of square miles, with water reaching depths of up to 20 feet.

Okeechobee Battlefield State Historic Park commemorates the Battle of Okeechobee, during the Second Seminole War on Christmas Day, 1837.

Annual reenactments in February

NEXT: GLADES COUNTY

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Florida: Martin County

Martin County (pop. 146,318), south of St. Lucie County, is one of six Martin counties in the U.S.

It was named for John W. Martin (1884-1958), governor of Florida from 1925 to 1929.

Martin (left) with John D. Rockefeller

Martin County is one of the five counties that meet in the middle of Lake Okeechobee, the largest freshwater lake in Florida.

Average depth of only 9 feet

The county seat of Martin County is the city of Stuart, the “Sailfish Capital of the World.”

Lyric Theatre (1926)

The former Martin County Courthouse (1937) is now the Courthouse Cultural Center.

Art Deco style

Downtown Stuart has an intersection known as Confusion Corner. It has eight different roads entering it, plus a railroad track.

At lower left

The Stuart Welcome Arch (1926) is actually in the nearby community of Jensen Beach. The city limits were changed after it was constructed.

Jensen Beach has an annual Pineapple Festival, featuring an authentic Bahamian Market.

Since 1988

The wealthy town of Jupiter Island (pop. 817) has been the home of sports and entertainment celebrities such as Tiger Woods, Greg Norman, Celine Dion, and Alan Jackson.

Ocean Breeze (pop. 354) is a town made up entirely of the residents of the Ocean Breeze mobile home park.

Established in 1938

The House of Refuge, built on Hutchinson Island in 1876, is the last remaining shipwreck life-saving station on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. It is now a museum.

A haven for shipwrecked sailors

The unincorporated community of Indiantown is the home of Payson Park Thoroughbred Training Center. Davy Jones (1945-2012) of the Monkees had 14 horses there.

He died there of a heart attack.

NEXT: OKEECHOBEE COUNTY

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Florida: St. Lucie County

St. Lucie County (pop. 277,789) is south of Indian River County. Its population in 1970 was 50,836.

St. Lucie County in 1917

The county seat of St. Lucie County is the city of Fort Pierce (pop. 41,590).

Old Fort Pierce City Hall (1925)

The Heathcote Botanical Gardens in Fort Pierce has the largest public collection of tropical bonsai trees in the U.S.

100 bonsai trees

During World War Two, Fort Pierce was the site of the U.S. Naval Amphibious Training Base.

Navy SEAL Museum

The Moores Creek Bridge (1925) in Port Pierce is known as the “Tickle Tummy Bridge” because of its high arch relative to its short length.

Made of reinforced concrete

The Sunrise Theatre in Fort Pierce (1923) closed for movies in 1983 and reopened as a performing arts center in 2006.

Author Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) spent her final years in Fort Pierce and is buried there.

She was born in Alabama.

The largest city in St. Lucie County is the city of Port St. Lucie (pop. 164,603), which was not founded until the 1960s.

The spring training home of the New York Mets is in Port St. Lucie.

Tradition Field (1988)

The master-planned community of Tradition, established in 2002, is within the city limits of Port St. Lucie.

Avalon State Park is on North Hutchinson Island, north of Fort Pierce.

NEXT: MARTIN COUNTY

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Florida: Indian River County

Indian River County (pop. 138,028) is south of Brevard County. It was formed in 1925 from the northern part of St. Lucie County.

In recent years, the coastline of Indian River, St. Lucie, and Martin counties has been known as the Treasure Coast, commemorating the Spanish “treasure fleet” that sank in a hurricane in the area in 1715.

11 ships carrying silver

The county seat of Indian River County is the city of Vero Beach (pop. 15,220).

Driftwood Inn, Vero Beach

The McKee Botanical Garden in Vero Beach dates from 1929.

Along the Indian River

Vero Beach was the spring training home of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1948 until they moved to Arizona in 2009.

The city of Sebastian (pop. 21,929) is the home of Mel Fisher’s Treasure Museum, with items from the 1715 Spanish treasure fleet.

It opened in 1992.

The city of Fellsmere (pop. 3,813) is the home of the annual Fellsmere Frog Leg Festival – the largest frog leg festival in the world.

Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, north of Vero Beach, was the first national wildlife refuge in the U.S., created by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903 to protect egrets and other birds.

Reachable only by boat

NEXT: ST. LUCIE COUNTY

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Florida: Brevard County

Brevard County (pop. 543,376) is east of Orange County, along the Atlantic Ocean. It’s the only Brevard County in the U.S.

The “Space Coast”

The Kennedy Space Center, on Merritt Island, has been the site of the Apollo moon landing program, Space Shuttle launches, and much more.

Vehicle Assembly Building

Brevard County was given the 321 area code in 1999 (formerly belonging to a Chicago suburb) to commemorate the countdown sequence for spacecraft at Cape Canaveral.

Space-related tourist attractions in the area include the Astronaut Hall of Fame, Shuttle Launch Experience, and Space Walk of Fame Museum.

 

Also the Police Hall of Fame is in Titusville

The county seat of Brevard County is the city of Titusville (pop. 43,761).

Old Courthouse (1912)

The city of Melbourne (pop. 76,068) was the birthplace (in 1943) of Jim Morrison of The Doors. San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy graduated from Melbourne High School.

Not Bruce Bochy

Melbourne is the home of the Liberty Bell Memorial Museum, which has a full-size replica of the Liberty Bell and other patriotic memorabilia.

Established in 1985

The real city of Cocoa Beach (pop. 11,231) was the fictional home of astronaut Larry Hagman and genie Barbara Eden in the 1960s TV series “I Dream of Jeannie.”

Actually filmed in California

The First United Methodist Church of Cocoa has a weekly drive-in service.

The Aladdin Theater in the city of Cocoa (pop. 17,149) dates from 1924. It’s now the Cocoa Village Playhouse.

The 25-mile-long Canaveral National Seashore is the longest expanse of undeveloped land on Florida’s Atlantic coast.

North of Kennedy Space Center

NEXT: INDIAN RIVER COUNTY

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Florida: Orange County

Orange County (pop. 1,145,956) is north of Osceola County. Its population in 1970 was 344,311; Walt Disney World opened in 1971. It now has the fifth-largest population in Florida.

One of eight Orange counties in the U.S., it was a major producer of citrus fruit before the Great Freeze of 1985.

Most of the tourist attractions are southwest of Orlando.

Orlando (pop. 238,300), the county seat, is the fifth-largest city (and largest inland city) in Florida.

Orange County Courthouse (1997)

Orlando has been called the “Theme Park Capital of the World.” The largest theme parks are Walt Disney World (not actually in Orlando), Universal Orlando, and SeaWorld Orlando.

Another Orlando attraction

The 23-acre Lake Eola is in downtown Orlando.

In Lake Eola Park

The Orlando Amtrak station serves the “Silver Meteor” and “Silver Star” trains (between New York City and Miami), as well as the SunRail commuter train, which runs 31 miles north to Volusia County.

Built in 1926

The Orange County Convention Center, 11 miles southwest of downtown Orlando, is the second-largest convention center in the U.S. – after McCormick Place in Chicago.

Opened in 1983

The University of Central Florida, in Orlando, opened in 1968 as Florida Technological University. It has the largest undergraduate enrollment of any U.S. university, with more than 60,000 students.

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke was born in Orlando in 1983 and played high school baseball at nearby Apopka High School.

The community of Christmas, east of Orlando, has the “World’s Largest Alligator” at the entrance to Jungle Adventures animal park.

“Swampy”

NEXT: BREVARD COUNTY

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Florida: Osceola County

Osceola County (pop. 268,685) is east of Polk County. Most of the population is in the northwestern corner, just south of Walt Disney World. The other Osceola counties are in Iowa and Michigan.

The county was named for Seminole Indian leader Osceola (1804-1838), whose original name was Billy Powell and who was of mixed Creek, Scots-Irish, and English parentage.

A leader in the Second Seminole War

Today, about 25% of the population of Osceola County is of Puerto-Rican ancestry.

The county seat of Osceola County is the city of Kissimmee (pop. 59,682).

New Osceola County Courthouse (2001)

Osceola County Stadium (1984) in Kissimmee is the spring training home of the Houston Astros; the Astros are scheduled to move away in 2017.

The Kissimmee Astros

Fun Spot America is a family-owned amusement park in Kissimmee.

The Tupperware World Headquarters Museum is in Kissimmee. Tupperware was founded by Earl Tupper in 1948.

The #1 market is now Indonesia.

Kissimmee has an attraction called Machine Gun America, where patrons can shoot real machine guns. “Live shooting experiences” start at $99.

Visitors may not bring their own weapons.

In downtown Kissimmee, the 50-foot Monument of States dates from 1943. It features rocks from 50 states and 21 countries.

Renovated in 2001

The master-planned community of Celebration (pop. 7,427) was originally developed by the Walt Disney Company, beginning in 1996.

Yeehaw Junction is in the southeastern corner of the county – a remote area that’s full of cattle ranches.

The community was formerly known as Jackass Junction.

The Florida Turnpike has an exit in Yeehaw Junction. The other nearest exits are 48.9 miles north and 40.5 miles south – among the longest exitless distances on limited-access highways in the U.S.

NEXT: ORANGE COUNTY

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Florida: Polk County

Polk County (pop. 602,095), east of Hillsborough County, is Florida’s fourth-largest county in land square miles. It’s one of 12 Polk counties, and one of the 10 named for President James K. Polk.

The county has more than 300 lakes.

The county seat of Polk County is the city of Bartow (pop. 17,329). The former courthouse is now the Polk County Historical Museum.

Built in 1909

FormerĀ  NFL linebacker Ray Lewis was born in Bartow in 1975. He played 17 years with the Baltimore Ravens.

College at University of Miami

The largest city in Polk County is Lakeland (pop. 97,894), known for its lakes and swans. The swans were reintroduced to Lakeland in 1957 after all the older ones had been eaten by alligators.

The Detroit Tigers have had their Spring Training home in Lakeland since 1934.

Joker Marchant Stadium

Lakeland is the headquarters of the Publix chain of supermarkets, with more than 1,000 stores in the Southeast.

Birthday cake water tower

Florida Southern College in Lakeland, affiliated with the United Methodist Church, has the world’s largest collection of buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright on one site.

Annie Pfeiffer Chapel (1941)

East of Lakeland is the city of Winter Haven (pop. 33,874), long known as the home of Cypress Gardens (1936-2009) – Florida’s first theme park for tourists.

The site is now Legoland Florida.

Many of the lakes in Central Florida’s “Chain of Lakes” are in Winter Haven. The Chain of Lakes has about 27 lakes, most of them connected by canals.

Musician Gram Parsons (1946-1973) was born in Winter Haven. His birth name was Ingram Cecil Connor III. Parsons’ father was a World War II flying ace, and his mother was from a wealthy citrus industry family.

The Orange Dome, in Winter Haven, was the longtime site of the now-defunct Florida Citrus Showcase. The dome was demolished in 2012.

Built in 1964

Polk County has a city named Frostproof (pop. 2,994). Frostproof got its name in an effort to convince the public that it would never have a citrus-killing frost – but a frost killed many trees a couple years later.

Polk County has long been a center of phosphate mining, and Mulberry (pop. 3,817) is the “Phosphate Center of World.”

Nalcrest is a retirement community for postal workers. The name is an acronym for National Association of Letter Carriers Retirement, Education, Security, and Training.

It opened in 1963.

NEXT: OSCEOLA COUNTY

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Florida: Hillsborough County

Hillsborough County (pop. 1,229,226) is Florida’s fourth-largest county in population. It has gained about a million residents since 1950.

The only other Hillsborough County is in New Hampshire.

The largest city in Hillsborough County is Tampa (pop. 336,846), third-largest city in Florida.

From the 1880s to the 1930s, the Ybor City area of Tampa was a worldwide center of cigar manufacturing. Immigrants from Cuba, Spain, and Italy filled the neighborhood.

“The Cigar Capital of the World”

Since 2002, the 2.7-mile TECO Line Streetcar has connected Ybor City with downtown Tampa.

11 stations

The NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers play at Raymond James Stadium (1998), located northwest of downtown.

“Ray Jay” for short

New York Mets pitching great Dwight Gooden was born and raised in Tampa.

1985 Cy Young Award winner

The former Federal Courthouse (1905) in downtown Tampa is now Le Meridien Hotel.

Opened in 2014

Union Station in Tampa (1912) serves Amtrak’s “Silver Star” trains, which operate between New York City and Miami.

Restored and reopened in 1998

Tampa has “The World’s Largest Bowling Pin,” near the waterfront.

Erected in 2003

The former Tampa Bay Hotel (1891) is now Plant Hall on the University of Tampa campus. It contains the Henry B. Plant Museum.

It had Florida’s first elevator.

Plant City (pop. 34,721) was not named for agricultural products – it was named for railroad developer Henry B. Plant. Plant City is known as “The Winter Strawberry Capital of the World.”

Home of the Florida Strawberry Festival

Plant City is also home of Dinosaur World, with more than 150 life-size dinosaur sculptures. Other Dinosaur Worlds are in Texas and Kentucky.

It opened in 1998.

The unincorporated community of Gibsonton, south of Tampa, was known for many years as a winter and retirement home of circus and sideshow performers.

NEXT: POLK COUNTY

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Florida: Pinellas County

Pinellas County (pop. 916,542) is Florida’s second-smallest county, with just 280 square miles. Most of the county is on the Pinellas Peninsula, between the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay.

35 miles of beaches and dunes on 11 barrier islands

The county broke away from Hillsborough County in 1912 because transportation to the county seat of Tampa was so difficult.

Now there are bridges.

The county seat of Pinellas County is the city of Clearwater (pop. 107,685).

Old Pinellas County courthouse (1918)

The largest city in Pinellas County is St. Petersburg (pop. 245,403), fourth-largest city in Florida.

Tropicana Field, home of the Rays

The Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg is the largest collection of Dali’s work outside Europe.

A new building opened in 2011.

The St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club (1924) is the world’s oldest and largest shuffleboard club, with more than 70 courts.

Shuffleboard under the lights

“Thrill Hill,” well-known to residents of very flat St. Petersburg, is a bridge over Salt Creek – built around 1930 to allow small boats to pass under it.

The Vinoy Park Hotel in St. Petersburg dates from 1925. In the early days, it was only open December to March. It was vacant for about 20 years, starting in 1974, before renovation.

Mediterranean Revival style

In nearby St. Pete Beach (pop. 9,346), the Don CeSar Hotel, built in 1928, was a favorite of celebrities during the Jazz Age. It also sat empty for some years before renovation and reopening – in 1973.

Mediterranean and Moorish style

North of St. Pete Beach, the city of Madeira Beach has both “The World’s Largest Indoor Alligator Attraction” and “The World’s Largest Chicken Wing.”

Tarpon Springs (pop. 23,484) has the largest percentage of Greek-Americans (about 12%) of any city in the U.S. Many Greek immigrants came to the city as sponge divers in the early 1900s.

NEXT: HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY

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Florida: Pasco County

Pasco County (p0p. 464,697) is on the Gulf of Mexico, south of Hernando County. It’s the only Pasco County in the U.S.

The county was named for Samuel Pasco (1834-1917), U.S. senator from Florida.

Pasco, Washington, was not named for him.

Pasco County has been known since the 1940s for its nudist and clothing-optional resorts.

The county seat of Pasco County is Dade City (pop. 6,437).

Pasco County Courthouse (1909)

Dade City has an annual Kumquat Festival, celebrating the fruit – which looks like a very small orange – that is grown in the area.

Dade City has a statue of a Paul Bunyan-style Muffler Man.

Just outside Dade City, the town of Saint Leo (pop. 1,340) is the home of St. Leo University, a small, Roman Catholic, liberal arts school.

Racially integrated since 1889

The largest city in Pasco County is New Port Richey (pop. 14,907).

On the Pithlachascotee River

The actress Gloria Swanson (1899-1983) lived in New Port Richey in the 1920s.

The unincorporated community of Hudson has an ice-cream stand shaped like an ice-cream cone.

NEXT: PINELLAS COUNTY

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Florida: Hernando County

Hernando County (pop. 172,778) was named for Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto (1496-1542), who landed nine ships in Tampa Bay in 1539. DeSoto County, farther south, is also named for him.

Located on the Gulf of Mexico, south of Citrus County, it’s the only Hernando County in the U.S.

For many years, Hernando County has been best-known for the mermaid shows at Weeki Wachee Springs. The first show in the underwater theater was in 1947.

Now a state park

The term “Weeki Wachee” – for which the springs, river, and city (population 12) were named – is derived from a Seminole word, apparently meaning “small spring.”

The theater

The county seat of Hernando County is the city of Brooksville (pop. 7,723), named in 1856 for South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks, who nearly caned abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner to death on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

Brooks at left

Boyett’s Citrus Attraction in Brooksville dates from the 1960s. It features a small zoo, fruit stand, miniature golf, aquarium, citrus-packing plant, and a “Dinosaur Cave.”

The Dinosaur Cave

Downtown Brooksville is known for its colorful murals.

East of Brooksville is the largest Wal-Mart distribution center in Florida, and one of the largest in the U.S.

Near Interstate 75

The largest community in Hernando County is the unincorporated, planned community of Spring Hill (pop. 98,621), which opened in 1968.

Service station dinosaur, Spring Hill

Legendary bank robber Willie Sutton spent the last few years of his life at his sister’s home in Spring Hill, and he died there in 1980.

NEXT: PASCO COUNTY

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Florida: Citrus County

Citrus County (pop. 141,236) is on the Gulf of Mexico, west of Sumter County. It’s the only Citrus County in the U.S. Its population has grown from 19,196 in 1970.

The county was created in 1887, when the area was a center of citrus production. After the devastating Great Freeze of 1894-95, most of Florida’s orange and grapefruit groves were moved farther south.

Overnight temperatures dropped to 18 degrees in Orlando.

The county seat of Citrus County is the city of Inverness (pop. 7,210). The old Courthouse is now a museum.

Built in 1912

The Valerie Theatre in Inverness, built in 1925, has recently been renovated, after being closed since 1987.

The grand reopening was June 6.

The unincorporated communities of Homosassa and Homosassa Springs are west of Inverness. “Homosassa” was derived from a Seminole word meaning either “river of fishes” or “pepper ridge.”

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is one of the best places in Florida to view manatees.

Bubbles the Manatee marks the entrance to the park.

Made of fiberglass

Baseball great Ted Williams (1918-2002) lived in Citrus County in his later years and died at Citrus Memorial Hospital in Inverness.

NEXT: HERNANDO COUNTY

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Florida: Sumter County

Sumter County (pop. 93,420) is west of Lake County. Its population has grown from 31,577 in 1990.

One of 4 Sumter counties

Sumter County has the oldest median age (62.7 years in 2010) of any county in the U.S.

The majority of Sumter County’s citizens (more than 51,000) live in the unincorporated retirement community of The Villages, in the northeastern part of the county.

The Villages has another 60,000 people in Lake and Marion counties.

The Villages, which has grown rapidly since its founding in the 1980s, has 39 golf courses and a polo stadium.

Golf carts are a popular form of transportation.

The county seat of Sumter County is the city of Bushnell (pop. 3,004).

Sumter County Courthouse (1914)

The city of Wildwood (pop. 6,603) is at the intersection of Interstate 75 (from Michigan to Miami), U.S. Route 301 (Delaware to Sarasota), Florida Road 44 (from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic), and Florida’s Turnpike (south to Miami).

Dade Battlefield Historic State Park, south of Bushnell, preserves the Second Seminole War battlefield where Seminole Indian warriors fought U.S. troops in 1835.

An annual reenactment is held.

NEXT: CITRUS COUNTY

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Florida: Lake County

Lake County (pop. 297,052), west of Seminole County, has more than 1,000 lakes. It’s one of 12 Lake counties in the U.S.

In addition to its many lakes, the county is the site of Sugarloaf Mountain (312 feet) – the highest point in peninsular Florida and the state’s most prominent point, relative to its surrounding area.

View toward the mountain

The county seat of Lake County is the city of Tavares (pop. 13,992). The old courthouse now houses the Lake County Historical Museum.

Built in 1922

The largest city in Lake County is Clermont (pop. 28,849), site of the 226-foot Citrus Tower. It was designed as an observation tower overlooking citrus trees, Today, it’s above a growing city.

There’s an elevator.

Nearby, the Twistee Treat building is shaped and painted like a giant ice cream cone.

The city of Eustis (pop. 18,605) has hosted the GeorgeFest, in honor of George Washington, for 113 consecutive years. It’s the second-longest-running George Washington’s Birthday festival in the U.S.

The city of Mount Dora (pop. 12,230) has no mountain, but it has the Mount Dora Ghost Walk, every Saturday at 8 p.m.

The movie “Honky Tonk Freeway” (1981) was filmed in Mount Dora. Much of the town was painted pink for the filming.

Pulled from theaters after one week

The city of Leesburg (pop. 20,464) is known for the 64-acre Venetian Gardens, a park on the shores of Lake Harris.

Walt Disney’s parents, Elias and Flora Disney, were married in 1888 in Lake County – about 50 miles from where Walt would build Walt Disney World.

Flora and Elias

NEXT: SUMTER COUNTY

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Florida: Seminole County

Seminole County (pop. 422,718) is south of Volusia County, between Daytona Beach and Orlando. The only other Seminole counties are in Georgia and Oklahoma.

The county seat of Seminole County is the city of Sanford (pop. 53,570).

Ritz Theater (1923)

Sanford is on the southern shore of Lake Monroe, the head of navigation on the north-flowing St. Johns River. Boats can reach the Atlantic Ocean from Lake Monroe.

Marina on Lake Monroe

The city has a two-mile RiverWalk that’s actually along Lake Monroe.

Sanford is the southern terminus of Amtrak’s 855-mile Auto Train, whose northern terminus is in Virginia. The non-stop Auto Train carries passengers and their cars, taking about 17 hours.

Cars loading onto train

Orlando Sanford International Airport is not as busy as Orlando International Airport, closer to Orlando, but it has many daily Allegiant Air flights, as well as an active flight-training business.

Built in 1942 as Naval Air Station Sanford

Tennis pro Jim Courier and baseball star Tim Raines were both born in Sanford.

7-time All-Star

The city of Oviedo (pop. 33,342) is known for the wild chickens that roam the downtown area.

They hang out at the Popeye’s drive-thru.

The American Automobile Association has its headquarters in the unincorporated community of Heathrow.

Founded in 1902 in Chicago

NEXT: LAKE COUNTY

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Florida: Volusia County

Volusia County (pop. 494,593) is south of Flagler County. Its name’s possible origins include an Englishman named Voluz, a Frenchman named Veluche, and the Roman jurist Volusio.

The county seat of Volusia County is the city of DeLand (pop. 27,031).

The Athens Theatre (1922) now hosts the Athens Theatre Company.

The former courthouse, built in Neoclassical style in 1929, now houses county offices and an art collection.

Copper-clad dome

DeLand is the home of Stetson University (1883), Florida’s oldest private college. It was named for John B. Stetson (1830-1906), inventor of the cowboy hat.

The sports teams are known as the Hatters.

DeLand calls itself “The Skydiving Capital of the World” because of its concentration of parachute industry-related businesses.

Longtime Atlanta Braves star Larry “Chipper” Jones was born in DeLand and grew up in the area.

#1 pick in the 1990 draft

The largest city in Volusia County is Daytona Beach (pop. 61,005), home of NASCAR, the Daytona International Speedway, the LPGA, Bethune-Cookman University, and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Auto racing on the beach ended in 1961.

Jackie Robinson Ballpark dates from 1914. Daytona Beach was the first Florida city to allow Jackie Robinson to play in a Spring Training game, in 1946. It’s now the home of the Daytona Tortugas of the Florida State League.

Class-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds

The town of Ponce Inlet (pop. 3,032), south of Daytona Beach, has the Ponce de Leon Inlet Light (1887), second-tallest lighthouse in the U.S. (175 feet).

Now also a museum

The unincorporated Volusia County community of Cassadaga is known as the “Psychic Capital of the World.” It was founded in 1894 as the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp.

The city of New Smyrna Beach (pop. 22,599) has a grave in the middle of Canova Drive, dating from the 1950s.

The road goes on both sides of the grave.

In the city of Port Orange (pop. 57,207), the Last Resort Bar features memorabilia of serial killer Aileen Wuornos (1956-2002), who was arrested there in 1991. Wuornos was played by Charlize Theron in “Monster” (2003).

NEXT: SEMINOLE COUNTY

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Florida: Flagler County

Flagler County (pop. 95,696) is east of Putnam County, on the Atlantic Ocean. It has been one of the fastest-growing counties in the country; its 1970 population was just 4,454.

The county was named for Henry M. Flagler (1830-1913), founder of the Florida East Coast Railway and a leader in the development of Florida’s Atlantic Coast.

The county seat of Flagler County is the city of Bunnell (pop. 2,676).

Former courthouse (1927)

The largest city in Flagler County is Palm Coast (pop. 75,180), developed starting in 1969 and incorporated in 1999.

Many residents commute to St. Augustine or Daytona Beach.

The 21-acre Washington Oaks Gardens State Park, near Palm Coast, is best known for its formal gardens.

The property was donated to the state in 1964.

Flagler Beach (pop. 4,484), partly in Volusia County, has six miles of beach and a municipal pier.

Relatively uncrowded, for Florida

The town of Marineland (pop. 10) is the home of Marineland of Florida, which was Florida’s first marine theme park when it opened in 1938. The park is now called Marineland Dolphin Adventure, a subsidiary of the Georgia Aquarium.

Marco Polo Park was another attraction in Flagler County. It opened in 1970 (a year before Walt Disney World opened) and closed in 1978. The site is now the Plantation Bay Golf and Country Club community.

In 1994, the entire county was evacuated because of huge brush fires that were threatening the area. About 40,000 people were forced to leave the county.

NEXT: VOLUSIA COUNTY

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Florida: Putnam County

Putnam County (pop. 74,364), northeast of Marion County, was named for Benjamin A. Putnam, first president of the Florida Historical Society.

One of nine Putnam counties

The county seat of Putnam County is the city of Palatka (pop. 10,558).

Angel’s, in Palatka, is Florida’s oldest diner. The former railroad dining car has been parked there since 1932.

Curb service is available.

St. Johns River State College in Palatka was established in 1958 as St. Johns River Community College.

The Larimer Memorial Library (1929) is now the Larimer Arts Center.

Palatka Union Depot serves Amtrak’s “Silver Meteor” and “Silver Star” trains, both between New York City and Miami. The station is also the home of the David Browning Railroad Museum.

Built in 1909

Ravine Gardens State Park is in Palatka.

Established in 1934

The town of Welaka (pop. 586) is the home of the Welaka National Fish Hatchery, the only national fish hatchery in Florida.

Observation tower

Crescent City (pop. 1,780) was the birthplace of A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979), founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and civil rights leader.

The Fort Gates Ferry, a one-mile auto ferry across the St. Johns River, is the oldest operating car ferry in Florida.

Closed on Tuesdays

NEXT: FLAGLER COUNTY

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Florida: Marion County

Marion County is south of Alachua County. It’s one of 16 Marion counties and one of the many named for Revolutionary War General Francis Marion of South Carolina.

As portrayed by Leslie Nielsen

The county’s population has grown from 69,030 in 1970 to 331,298 in 2010.

The rolling hills of Marion County are best-known today for their thoroughbred horse farms, with more than 1,200 farms in the county. Affirmed, the 1978 Triple Crown winner, was bred and raised in Marion County.

The thoroughbred industry began there in the 1940s.

The county seat of Marion County is Ocala (pop. 57,468).

Lexington, Kentucky, also claims this title.

The Marion Theatre in downtown Ocala dates from 1941 and still shows first-run movies.

Streamline Moderne style

Ocala Union Station was built in 1917. Its only passenger service today is bus service.

Including Amtrak buses

Don “Big Daddy” Garlits, the “Father of Drag Racing,” has his Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala.

Almost 300 cars

The Royal Guardsmen, an Ocala-based band, had a hit in 1966 with “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron.”

Silver Springs was one of Florida’s first tourist attractions, beginning in the late 1800s, with glass-bottom boats, a “Jungle Cruise” ride, and an amusement park.

Now part of the state park system.

NEXT: PUTNAM COUNTY

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Florida: Alachua County

Alachua County (pop. 247,336) is south of Bradford County. The word “Alachua” may have been derived from a Timucua Indian word meaning “sinkhole.”

The county’s best-known sinkhole is in Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park. A 200-step stairway leads to the bottom of the 120-foot-deep sinkhole. It got its name from its resemblance to the storage bin of a mill.

Water at the bottom

The county seat of Alachua County is the city of Gainesville (pop. 124,741), home of the University of Florida – largest university in the state, with about 49,000 students, and one of the 10 largest in the U.S.

The university has the largest occupied bat house in North America, with about 300,000 Brazilian free-tailed bats in residence.

They fly out at dusk to feed.

Professor Robert Cade led the research team that in 1965 invented Gatorade – to help Florida Gator football players overcome dehydration in the hot, humid climate. The university eventually made many millions of dollars in royalties.

The beginning of the sports drink industry

The Hippodrome State Theatre in downtown Gainesville was built in 1911 as a U.S. post office and courthouse. It’s now the home of a regional professional theater.

Also a cinema showing independent films

Musician Tom Petty was born in Gainesville in 1950, and his Heartbreakers started their career there in 1976.

The 34th Street Wall is a Gainesville landmark – a 1,000-foot retaining wall that has been covered with up to 250 layers of graffiti since its construction in 1979.

Technically illegal, but unenforced

The city of Alachua (pop. 9,059) is the home of the largest Hare Krishna community in the Western Hemisphere.

Founded in 1977

Musician Bo Diddley (born 1928) lived for many years in the city of Archer (pop. 1,118) and died there in 2008. His real name was Ellas Otha Bates.

The unincorporated community of Cross Creek was the longtime home of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896-1953), author of “The Yearling,” which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1939. A 1983 film was based on her memoirs.

NEXT: MARION COUNTY

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Florida: Union County

Union County (pop. 15,535), west of Bradford County, is Florida’s smallest county.

240 square miles

It was not named for labor unions or for the North in the Civil War; it was named for the widespread agreement that a new county should be carved from the western part of Bradford County, in 1921.

It’s one of 17 Union counties.

The county seat of Union County is the city of Lake Butler (pop. 1,897).

Union County Courthouse (1936)

The former courthouse is now the Lake Butler Woman’s Club. It was moved to its current site when the new courthouse was built.

Built in 1923

The city of Lake Butler is on the south side of Butler Lake.

There’s an annual bass fishing tournament.

The Union Correctional Institution, near the town of Raiford, dates from 1913. It is Florida’s oldest correctional institution.

Known informally as “Raiford.”

Lynyrd Skynyrd’s posthumous album “Legend” (1987) had a song called “Four Walls of Raiford.”

NEXT: ALACHUA COUNTY

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Florida: Bradford County

Bradford County (pop. 28,520), west of Clay County, is Florida’s third-smallest county in square miles.

The only other Bradford County is in Pennsylvania, along the Susquehanna River.

Florida’s is flatter

The county seat of Bradford County is the city of Starke (pop. 5,449). The former courthouse now houses the Bradford County Historical Museum and a branch of Santa Fe College.

Built in 1902

The Florida Twin Theatre in Starke, built in 1941, shows first-run movies.

Twinned in the 1980s

The Woman’s Club of Starke building dates from 1922. The organization was originally known as the Mother’s Club, and only mothers were allowed to join.

At one time it was a library.

Starke was in the news in 2013, when the American Atheists organization installed a monument in front of the Courthouse, adjacent to a year-old Ten Commandments monument.

After court-ordered mediation

The Florida State Prison (1961) is northwest of Starke, surrounded by several other prisons.

NEXT: UNION COUNTY

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Florida: Clay County

Clay County, west of St. Johns County across the St. Johns River, is one of 18 Clay counties and one of the 15 named for Henry Clay (1777-1852), U.S. senator from Kentucky.

Within easy commuting distance of Jacksonville, Clay County has grown from a population of 32,059 in 1970 to 190,895 in 2010.

Much of the western part of the county is in Camp Blanding (1939), the primary military reservation and training base for the Florida National Guard.

It opened in 1940.

The county seat of Clay County is the city of Green Cove Springs (pop. 6,908), named for a bend in the St. Johns River where the trees are perpetually green.

The spring

In the late 1800s, before the railroads starting carrying tourists to South Florida, Green Cove Springs had more than a dozen hotels near the spring, known then as “The Original Fountain of Youth.”

The old Clay County Courthouse was built in 1889 and used as a courthouse until 1977.

On the National Register of Historic Places

The Clay Theatre in Green Cove Springs opened in 1919 as the Palace Opera House. It closed in 2014.

Green Cove Springs was the birthplace of Charles E. Merrill (1885-1956), co-founder of Merrill Lynch and Company.

Now part of Bank of America

The town of Penney Farms (pop. 749) was founded in 1926 by businessman J.C. Penney as an experimental farming village. The site is now the Penney Retirement Community.

An interdenominational Christian community

NEXT: BRADFORD COUNTY

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Florida: St. Johns County

St. Johns County (pop. 190,039) is south of Duval County. Its population has grown from 30,727 in 1970.

One of Florida’s two original counties

Its county seat, St. Augustine (pop. 12,975), is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the continental United States. It’s been a major tourist destination since the late 19th century.

The Ponce de Leon Hotel (1888) was built by Henry Flagler, a founder of Standard Oil and an early leader in the development of Florida’s Atlantic Coast. It is now part of Flagler College (1968).

A four-year, liberal arts college

Across the street from the former Ponce de Leon Hotel is the former Hotel Alcazar (1887), which now contains the St. Augustine City Hall and the Lightner Museum.

Also built by Flagler

The Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the continental U.S., was built from 1672 to 1695, when Florida was part of the Spanish Empire.

Now a national monument

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine is the oldest church in Florida. It was established in 1565 and rebuilt in the 18th century.

Still an active church

Bayfront Mini Golf is Florida’s oldest miniature golf course.

It opened in 1949.

Nombre de Dios, a Spanish Catholic mission founded in 1587, has a 204-foot cross that may be the world’s tallest free-standing cross.

208 feet

Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park may have been the site of Ponce de Leon’s Florida landing in 1513.

The St. Augustine Light (1874) is an active lighthouse and a museum.

Stairway to the top

The St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park, which opened in 1893, now has ziplines that pass over the alligators and crocodiles.

23 species of crocodilians

The World Golf Hall of Fame is in World Golf Village, north of St. Augustine. The headquarters of the PGA Tour is nearby in Ponte Vedra Beach.

17th hole at Sawgrass

NEXT: CLAY COUNTY

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Florida: Duval County

Duval County (pop. 864,263) is south of Nassau County. The only other Duval County is in southern Texas.

Almost all of the county is within the city limits of Jacksonville (pop. 821,784). The city and county consolidated their governments in 1968.

The largest city, in square miles, in the contiguous U.S.

In population, Jacksonville is the 11th-largest city in the U.S. (and the largest in Florida), but only the 40th-largest metropolitan area.

It’s on the St. Johns River.

The former Union Station (1919) is now part of the Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center.

The Convention Center opened in 1986.

Downtown Jacksonville has a 2.5-mile automated people mover, known as the Jacksonville Skyway. It opened in 1989 and is free of charge.

It crosses the river.

The Florida Theatre opened in 1927. It now hosts a variety of concerts and other events.

Originally a movie palace

The University of North Florida opened in Jacksonville in 1972. It now has about 16,000 students.

One of 12 public universities in Florida

In the 1920s, Jacksonville had more than 30 movies studios and was the “Winter Film Capital of the World.” Norman Studios was known for its silent films featuring African-American actors.

Undergoing restoration

In 1901, much of Jacksonville was destroyed by a fire that has been called the largest urban fire in the southeastern U.S.

More than 2,000 buildings were destroyed.

Singer Pat Boone was born in Jacksonville in 1934. His family moved to Nashville when he was 2 years old.

Naval Station Mayport, at the mouth of the St. Johns River, is the third-largest concentration of naval surface fleet in the U.S.

Ships and aircraft

Jacksonville has an orange, 20-foot dinosaur that was formerly part of a miniature golf course.

The adjacent city of Jacksonville Beach (pop. 21,362) is the eastern terminus of U.S. Route 90, which goes west to Van Horn, Texas – about 120 miles east of El Paso.

Surfer statue, Jacksonville Beach

NEXT: ST. JOHNS COUNTY

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Florida: Nassau County

Nassau County (pop. 73,314) is in Florida’s northeastern corner, projecting into Georgia. The population has grown from 20,626 in 1970.

The county was named for the Duchy of Nassau, now in west-central Germany. The only other Nassau County is on Long Island, New York.

Nassau Castle, Germany

The county seat of Nassau County is the city of Fernandina Beach (pop. 11,487), located on 13-mile-long Amelia Island.

Historic Courthouse (1891)

The 1988 movie “The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking” was filmed in Fernandina Beach.

Pippi’s house

Amelia Island is called “The Isle of 8 Flags” – it’s the only place in the U.S. that has had the flags of eight different nations flown over it.

The Amelia Island Light, built in 1838, is the oldest existing lighthouse in Florida. It marks the entrance to the St. Marys River.

Open to the public on Saturdays

The Amelia Island Museum of History is in the former Nassau County Jail.

The building dates from 1938.

Fort Clinch State Park is at the northern end of Amelia Island. The fort, dating from 1847, was the site of one Civil War battle, when Union forces captured it in 1862.

Popular for fishing and hiking

Near the town of Callahan (pop. 962), there is a giant golf ball at the intersection of Deerfield Country Club Road and State Road 115.

Near Deerfield Lakes Golf Club

NEXT: DUVAL COUNTY

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Florida: Baker County

Baker County (pop. 27,115) is east of Columbia County, on the border with Georgia. It is one of three Baker counties in the U.S.

The 126-mile St. Marys River begins in the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia and dips into Florida, forming the border between the states until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean.

The county seat of Baker County is the city of Macclenny (pop. 6,374). The former courthouse is now the library.

Built in 1908

Macclenny was named for local businessman Carr McClenny – but the city’s name had to be changed because the post office did not allow capital letters in the middle of a word.

In the unincorporated community of Olustee, the former train depot is now the visitor center for the Osceola National Forest.

The depot has been relocated twice.

The Battle of Olustee, in 1864, was the largest Civil War battle fought in Florida. Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park commemorates the event.

Reenactments are held annually.

NEXT: NASSAU COUNTY

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Florida: Columbia County

Columbia County (pop. 67,531) is north of Gilchrist County, on the border with Georgia. Its population has grown from 20,077 in 1960.

One of eight Columbia counties

With its rivers and natural springs, Columbia County calls itself “The Freshwater Capital of America.” The Santa Fe River is in the south, and the Suwannee River is in the north.

Santa Fe River

The county seat of Columbia County is the city of Lake City (pop. 12,046), which was originally known as Alligator Town.

Columbia County Courthouse (1905)

Lake City has several lakes within the city limits, including Alligator Lake. This alligator was photographed at Lake DeSoto – not Alligator Lake.

Only about 3.5 feet long

Lake City is located near the intersection of Interstate 75 (the major route to Florida from Michigan, Ohio, and Atlanta) and Interstate 10 (the major route to Florida from California and Texas).

The former Columbia County High School, built in 1921, now contains administrative offices for the school district.

On the National Register of Historic Places

George Allen “Pat” Summerall (1930-2013), NFL player and TV sportscaster, was born in Lake City and played football, basketball, baseball, and tennis at Columbia County High School.

There are about 100 natural springs within 50 miles of Lake City.

Ichetucknee Springs State Park

The six-mile Ichetucknee River is extremely popular for innertubing. Seasonal shuttle service is available for riders.

Year-round (water) temperature of 72 degrees

A few miles east, at O’Leno State Park, the Santa Fe River disappears into a sinkhole – and reappears 3.5 miles away at River Rise Preserve State Park.

O’Leno

NEXT: BAKER COUNTY

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Florida: Gilchrist County

Gilchrist County (pop. 16,939) is north of Levy County. It’s the only Gilchrist County in the U.S.

The county was named for Albert W. Gilchrist, governor of Florida from 1909 to 1913. He was a civil engineer, real estate dealer, orange grower, and Army officer before going into politics.

That’s now Florida State University.

The county seat of Gilchrist County is the city of Trenton (pop. 2,002). The courthouse was a Works Project Administration project in 1933.

Two-story, red brick

The Trenton Church of Christ (1920) was built of Florida field limestone and rubble masonry. It now houses meetings of the Gilchrist County Board of County Commissioners.

The church now meets in another building.

Country music singer Easton Corbin was born and raised in Trenton.

Born in 1982

The 32-mile Nature Coast State Trail has a trailhead at the old Trenton Depot, built in 1905 for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad.

No more trains

As in other counties in this part of the state, Gilchrist County has a variety of natural springs that are popular for swimming.

Hart Springs Park

Canoeing, tubing, kayaking, and swimming are popular on the Suwannee and Santa Fe rivers.

On the Suwannee

NEXT: COLUMBIA COUNTY

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Florida: Levy County

Levy County (pop. 40,801) is on the Gulf of Mexico, south of Dixie County. It’s the only Levy County in the U.S.

Levy County in 1902

The county was named for David Levy (1810-1886), the first Jewish member of the U.S. Senate.

His family was of Moroccan origin.

The county seat of Levy County is the town of Bronson (pop 1,113).

Levy County Courthouse (1937)

The largest city in Levy County is Williston (pop. 2,768), home of Two Tails Ranch – an exotic animal refuge that currently has four elephants.

Tours are available.

The city of Fanning Springs (pop. 764) is on the Suwannee River. U.S. Highway 98 runs through town; the south side of the highway is in Levy County, and the north side is in Gilchrist County.

Fanning Springs State Park

South of Fanning Springs, on the Suwannee River, is Manatee Springs State Park, named for the manatees that are seen most often there in fall and winter.

Constant 72-degree temperature

Cedar Key (pop. 702) consists of several small islands in the Gulf of Mexico, reached via State Highway 24.

Known for its seafood restaurants

Cedar Key has been badly damaged by hurricanes, including Hurricane Easy (1950) and Hurricane Elena (1985).

Damage from an 1896 hurricane

Much of Elvis Presley’s 1962 movie “Follow That Dream” was filmed in the Levy County town of Inglis (pop. 1,325). Part of County Road 40 was renamed the “Follow That Dream Parkway” in honor of Elvis.

Inglis was again in the news in 2001 when the mayor issued a proclamation banning Satan from town. The proclamation was later rescinded.

NEXT: GILCHRIST COUNTY

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Florida: Dixie County

Dixie County (pop. 16,422) is bordered by the Steinhatchee River on the west, the Suwannee River on the east, and the Gulf of Mexico on the south.

It’s the only Dixie County.

Dixie County is in the middle of the eight-county area known as the “Nature Coast” – a term created in 1991 to promote this less-developed area of Florida.

The county seat of Dixie County is the city of Cross City (pop. 1,737), which got its name because two roads crossed there.

The town of Horseshoe Beach (pop. 169) is south of Cross City, on the Gulf of Mexico.

They call it “Florida’s Last Frontier.”

The nine-mile Dixie Mainline Trail goes on an old logging road, paralleling the coast southeast from Horseshoe Beach to the fishing village of Suwannee. Biking, hiking, and slow driving (25 mph maximum) are allowed.

The trail opened in 1998.

Suwannee is located near the mouth of the Suwannee River.

Kayaking is very popular.

In the unincorporated community of Old Town, the former Old Town Elementary School (1910) is now the home of the Dixie County Cultural Center.

Operated by the Historical Society

Near Old Town, the steamship “City of Hawkinsville” was abandoned in the Suwannee River in 1922. It is now a Florida Underwater Archaeological Preserve, and can be visited by certified divers.

Visible from the surface

NEXT: LEVY COUNTY
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Florida: Lafayette County

Lafayette County (pop. 8,870) has the second-smallest population of any county in Florida. Its eastern border is the Suwannee River.

It is one of five Lafayette counties and one Lafayette Parish, all named for Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette, Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1854).

The county seat of Lafayette County is the town of Mayo (pop. 1,218), the third-smallest county seat in Florida.

Lafayette County Courthouse (1908)

The former courthouse in Mayo is now a bed and breakfast called Le Chateau de Lafayette.

Built in 1894

Just north of Mayo, on State Road 51, is the 420-foot Hal W. Adams Bridge (1947), the first suspension bridge built in Florida.

Over the Suwannee River

Lafayette Blue Springs State Park, seven miles north of Mayo, has one of the state’s largest natural springs.

Also fishing on the Suwannee River

Troy Spring State Park, east of Mayo, has the remains of the Confederate steamship Madison at the bottom of the spring.

Popular with scuba divers

NEXT: DIXIE COUNTY

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