On the Road Again!!! A Geocaching Road Trip Along the Florida Panhandle: Part 3, Apalachicola

Getting Back to Normal

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Looking at a map of Florida, that portion where the eastern panhandle approaches the peninsula is often referenced as the “Forgotten Coast.”  That phrase is a trademark registered by the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce in the early 1990s for promotional purposes.  It encompasses the coastal area from Mexico Beach to St. Marks.  The point is to highlight this quiet and relatively uninhabited section of Florida for marketing, promotion, commerce, and tourism.  We specifically elected to stay in Apalachicola for a few days in order to explore this area.

So, what did we see???

Departing Panama City, we drove through Tyndall AFB noting that construction is still underway as repairs continue following 2018’s Hurricane Michael.  The damage was extensive.  Michael roared through the Florida Coast and up into Georgia.  Mexico Beach was nearly demolished.  So, too, Tyndall AFB.  It is now over 2 years later (Michael came ashore October 10, 2018) and the repairs and reconstruction continue!!!   Here are some photos:

Michael made landfall as a category 5 hurricane near Tyndall AFB, just southeast of Panama City, around 12:30pm on October 10, 2018.
In many areas, Hurricane Michael’s damage is still visible.
The devastation was immense. Construction is ongoing all along the coast. Michael nearly wiped out Mexico Beach and parts of Panama City.
At Tyndall AFB the damage was catastrophic. The reconstruction continues.
In the background, you can see the aircraft, back on display, even as the debris continues to pile up for removal.
Normal operations were quickly resumed. That control tower was probably one of the first things to be rebuilt!!!
When we got to Mexico Beach, the storm’s consequences were even more evident. Some houses are just gone, probably to never return. Some buildings have been repaired but most required demolition and rebuild.
Here, the entire home is gone. The pad and land are for sale
Here, you can see progression. The house on the left is redone. The house in the middle is being repaired. But the house on the right is just gone, reduced to pilings, and the lot is for sale!!!
It takes time to get it all done. Lots and lots of time!!! But hooray, this house is far enough along to have the landscaping installed!!! That must feel wonderful!!!
And then the repaired and operating successes come into view!
We don’t know what Mexico Beach looked like in 2018 before the storm. But this is just what the Gulf Coast looked like in the 1970s when we first came to the area. Lots of white sand. Clear skies. Open sea!!! But minus the signs and porta-potty!!!
Here is the iconic Emerald Sea and white sand.
And for those who love this beach and lifestyle, the work goes on.

Now, a little history about Port St. Joe and Apalachicola

Port St. Joe, founded in 1835 by prominent businessmen from Apalachicola, became a major seaport for Apalachicola.  The Apalachicola Northern Railroad came in 1909.  Major highways are nearby.  The Intracoastal Waterway connects from St. Marks, Florida to Brownsville, Texas.  Barges moved inland on various rivers including the Mississippi, Tombigbee, and Apalachicola Rivers.  This entire area was a hubbub of commercial activity:  lumber mills, saltworks, fishing, sponges, cotton from the North.  And Apalachicola was the center of it all. 

Apalachicola prides itself as authentic “Old Florida” with its New England roots, charming southern traditions, and laid-back attitude.  It’s a seafood town and is often referred to as “Oyster City.”  The locals call it “Apalach.”  Here’s the windshield tour of Port St. Joe, Apalachicola and St. George Island:

Before arriving in Apalachicola, we had an opportunity to tour Port St. Joe and the Cape San Blas Lighthouse. There have been 4 lights since 1847-3 on the cape until 1882 when the 3rd was destroyed in a storm.
This “skeletal” tower was constructed in 1883 and shipped to the cape. The ship sank! The light was salvaged. Finally, in 2014, everything just moved inland in Port St. Joe!!! Whew!!! what a tumultuous history!!!
Port St. Joe has been a bustling port city for Apalachicola since 1835. The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway is here. The Mississippi, Tombigbee, and Apalachicola Rivers all run through it. At one time, so did the Apalachicola Northern Railroad.
Downtown Port St. Joe.
The Port Theater was built in 1938. It survived many hurricanes–including Michael in 2018. But the damage took a toll and the theater has not yet reopened.
Arriving in Apalachicola, we checked-in to the Coombs Inn. James Coombs was a highly successful businessman when he built “the most elegant house in Apalachicola” in 1905. Six years later, the house caught fire but was saved! It could be repaired!
The family moved into a hotel to wait out the repairs. But Mrs. Coombs died 10 days later; of a broken heart, it was said. Three weeks after that, Mr. Coombs died also. Both are buried in the Chestnut Street Cemetery within view of their beloved home!!
We had issues with the hotel–to be fair, mostly Covid related. But we have decided, next time we visit Apalachicola, we will stay instead at the Gibson Inn (Originally built as the Franklin Hotel in 1907.)
Built by James Fulton Buck in 1907 and originally named The Franklin Hotel, Gibson Inn was one of the most luxurious on the panhandle. This is where the Coombs family came after the fire. (Ebyabe , Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-2.5 & older versions (2.0 and 1.0)
Downtown Apalachicola is compact and easily walkable.
The main streets were designed to be wide and grand.
We discovered the Hole in The Wall raw bar and enjoyed the fresh shrimp and joyful company of owner, Danny and our server, Barbara. (green building seen on the right) Further up the street, the 2nd floor, Up to No Good Tavern served a yummy baked brie.
On the riverfront, Up The Creek Raw Bar is a pleasant location to sample the Apalachicola specialty–OYSTERS!!!!
And then we spotted the houseboats next door!!! What a cool place to live.
And they have a nice river view, too!!!
And then there’s the shopping!!! The Grady Building, located in the heart of the Historic Riverfront District, once housed the French Consulate!!! It is now a great place for unique gifts!!!
The old, red brick cotton warehouses along the riverfront are now condos and charming boutiques.
Organized in 1835, Trinity Episcopal Church is the 2nd oldest in Florida. And it is one of the 1st prefabricated structures in the state. It was built in New York, shipped to Apalachicola, and then assembled in 1837.
In 1850, Dr. John Gorrie developed and patented the ice-making machine, a cold-air process of refrigeration. His goal was to treat fever patients. But he also wound up laying the groundwork for development of modern refrigeration and air conditioning.
This overview of Apalachicola was snapped as we started off on a day trip to St. George Island.
This barrier island is known for its unspoiled and uncrowded beaches. But then, there’s the St. George Light. Erected in 1852, it collapsed into the Gulf waters in 2005. It was reconstructed, here in the middle of the island, in 2008.
These are cottage rentals. Looks like fun.
We ended our day on St. George Island with a stop at The Blue Parrot.
A nice way to end the day.

What’s next???

Our next installment, part 4 Tallahassee, will conclude the adventures of our Florida Panhandle Road Trip.  The state capital is lovely, and the geocaching was fun!!! 

We’ll show you!!!

We’ll also report on the challenges encountered traveling during Covid times!!!

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