Tens of thousands of folks who know how to have a good time will converge on the ancient little city of Micanopy (pronounced mih-kah-NO-pee), Florida, the last weekend of October to help celebrate the town’s Fall Festival. There will be art and craft creations from across the South to gawk at—and then purchase, of course—local musicians will be spending the weekend setting everyone’s toes to tapping, and there will even be a get-the-adrenaline-flowing old-time auction on Saturday afternoon. With forty years of experience at it, the citizens of Micanopy know how to festival and festival big.
But Fall Festival or not, Micanopy is enough of a draw on its own. The oldest inland town in Florida, Micanopy is about as quaint and rustic and Old Florida as it gets. Practically the entire town is listed on the National Register for Historic Places, and it is not hard to see why. Antique shops, rare book shops, Southern decor shops, and big-on-character diners all live behind the town’s charming storefronts of yesteryear, while 100-year-old Church of the Redeemer competes with 170-year-old Herlong Mansion for camera-wielding admirers of both the simple and the ornate.
Bit of trivia: Where do the world’s fastest race car drivers live? Slow, little sit-on-the-front-porch-and-enjoy-the-day Micanopy, that’s where. Tom Petty lived here. Need a change of pace? This’ll do it. But don’t let the back-in-time sleepy-charm fool you: Micanopy is a movie star as well. Doc Hollywood, Cross Creek, and Top Gear were all filmed right here. It’s been a great setting for a good story for a long time.
Of course all good stories have their sadder parts, right? As with many towns across the South, Micanopy’s very name honors the people its earlier inhabitants helped to vanquish. This was once Seminole country, and Micanopy (the man) was the revered chief at the time of the town’s founding (1821). As more and more white settlers moved in, less and less peace could be preserved between the nations. In 1831 Fort Defiance was built here, providing protection as a military outpost during the Second Seminole War (1835–1842). Micanopy (the town, not the man) survived and thrived, quickly becoming an important trading post for the booming sugar cane and citrus industry of the time. The Seminoles left their names behind and moved out.
Grand gnarly oaks sporting Spanish-moss drapes stayed behind as well, standing witness to those times and the many happier events the community has known since. They were there in 1910, of course, when Natalie Simonton fell for and married enterprising Zeddy Herlong, who magically transformed the inherited farmhouse of her childhood into a Greek-revival mansion fit for a princess. The structure’s Corinthian-columned portal still opens onto the same oak, maple, and mahogany floors once bescampered by the bare feet of six other little Herlongs: Mae, Natalie, VJ, John, Dorothy, and Inez. The last named was the last to live—and die—in the house before it was converted into the area’s most popular bed-and-breakfast twenty-five years ago. The trees all agree: it is Micanopy’s finest in a town full of lovely old buildings.
But the locals haven’t just been building buildings around here. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote The Yearling near here at her home in Cross Creek and won the Pulitzer Prize for it in 1939. Across the street the Yearling restaurant has been serving Florida the best in gator, frog legs, and, of course, venison , for over sixty years, and guitar-and-harmonica-wielding Willie “the Real Deal” Green ( once opened for Eric Clapton) will serve you up the best in blues while you eat. And of course you can snap pictures of smiling gators as well as eat them: Micanopy’s 22,000-acre Paynes Prairie Park is home to roaming buffalo, wild Spanish horses, rambunctious reptiles of all sizes, and some of the most exciting exotic-bird-watching in the state. The preserved prairie looks pretty much the same as it did before the white man came, and Micanopy is proud of it.
So what’s missing? Southern art, architecture, crafts, music, books, antiques, flora, fauna, food, festival, parks, parades, and the people who make it all happen. Micanopy sure sounds like a good time to me—and from the looks of the crowd descending first weekend in November, it appears I’m not the only one who thinks so.