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Sopchoppy Time Travel

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Sopchoppy Train DepotWho knew we could slip so easily back into time the way we did that day? I had arrived at the Sopchoppy Depot one Saturday morning and settled myself on the steps facing Rose Avenue. From this vantage position I could watch the quaint rural town on the southwest edge of Wakulla County come to midmorning life. Now and then a pick-up truck rattled by, its occupants running leisurely the errands that waited for Saturday mornings. Next door shopkeeper Pat Bishop swept the porch of Posh Java in preparation of the day. The kitties-in-residence darted across the front lawn where soon Jack Simmons of Crescent Moon Organic Farm would set up with other vendors for the weekly grower’s market. Directly across the road I watched as a car pulled into the sandy parking lot of the Senior Citizen’s Thrift Store. A small dog leaps out as the car door opensjack russell and speeds like a bullet aimed deliberately in my direction across the quiet street. This little furry ball of energy lands squarely beside me, wags his lively tail and looks up eagerly for a scratch behind his ears. Now how could I refuse?

Lawhon HouseNo sooner had he gotten his scratch that he bounded back down the stairs and ran to the empty hardware store across Railroad Avenue. I watched him intently so totally captivated by the antics of this amusing little dog racing hither and thither through the lazy streets. When I finally turned away my attention and looked back up, things around me somehow seemed different. It felt like time had stopped in its tracks. Soon I realized I had the ability to actually see the Sopchoppy coined “35 miles and 100 years southwest of Tallahassee.” Indeed, alongside the depot my eyes could make out the tracks on which the GF&A Railway trains ran for 19.3 miles down to the railroad terminus at the coastal town of Carrabelle. And in front of me were the side tracks that carried passengers by mule-driven tramway through piney woods to the healing warm sulfur springsbottles at the Bistro of neighboring Panacea. Down the dusty road to my right I could see men sitting on the corner ‘Loafer’s Bench’ in front of the Lawhon general store. I must have missed the sight of Mr. Ed walking the short distance as he did each and every morning except Sundays, from his clapboard house on my left over to his store. I know in real time this shop is now filled with Lisa’s Timeless Treasures, but for this frozen moment, inside the customers milled about catching up on the weekly gossip as they crossed off items from their shopping lists. Around on Municipal Avenue hair was being cut in the busy little barbershop. The bank next-door was closed on account of Saturday, but the pharmacy on the corner was open for business as usual. Sopchoppy was bustling and I was there in the midst as witness!

SopchppyRailroad signMy fellow passengers by now had joined me in front of the handsome depot. All of us would spend the day together on our travel transport back in time. From behind the depot, up walks our guide Richard Hardin smiling broadly as he greets us with genuine Southern warmth. Richard is the sixth generation of family in this area. His personal penchant for sharing what he knows about Sopchoppy history – which is quite a lot for the amount of time this small town has existed – makes him the perfect guide for the morning trip. Our next 90 minutes will be filled to the brim with 100 plus years of local history while we tour the depot and other preserved or restored buildings, many on the National Register of Historic Places. We will examine vintage photographs, look at authentic artifacts, listen to colorful anecdotes, and meet other locals past and present as we stroll through the streets of this well preserved charming historic town.

Sopchoppy GymnasiumShortly before noon we break for lunch. Some of my fellow passengers will choose to dine at Backwoods Bistro. Others will wander in to Posh Java for organic fare. Still others may decide to purchase picnic supplies at the Sopchoppy IGA and drive the short distance to Myron B. Hodge City Park for a lovely lunch along the banks of the beautiful Sopchoppy River. Afterward we all meet back at the depot to follow Richard on a brief tour through the grounds of the Old Sopchoppy High School used as a public school from 1924 until 1996. We will view the impressive Historic Sopchoppy High School Gymnasium constructed entirelyTowles House of limestone, where appreciative audiences are delighted by live entertainment at the Sopchoppy Opry the last Saturday of almost every month since its inaugural performance in 2000. Onward we travel through the gates of the city park past two more historic buildings before we finally arrive at river’s edge where we wait to board the ‘Wakulla Explorer’ for the second half of our journey back into time.

Bridge Sopchoppy RiverSoon Certified Green Guide and Master Capt. Joey Tillman welcomes us aboard his very quiet, comfortable 30 foot, partially covered, solar powered ‘green’ pontoon boat for a 2 hour cruise along the picturesque twisting Sopchoppy River. In this undisturbed blackwater river fed by wild swamps once swam large sturgeon so plentiful they were commercially harvested for their caviar, and bass so abundant that fishing was a local way of life. More than ample opportunity is given to view the wildlife and native vegetation as this area is a center hub of nature, water and biodiversity, and the river itself is currently under federal consideration as a designated Wild and Scenic River. Capt. Joey will enlighten and entertain as he details more of the rich areaSopchoppy River history. We will make stops along the waterway for crabbing, worm gruntin' and turpentine collection demonstrations. In these turpentine woods bordering both sides of the river to this day live many talented artists and musicians. If we listen very closely in the silence of our peaceful upstream cruise, we will almost hear the faint sounds of traditional and original tunes wafting through the wild azalea, tupelo and centuries-old cypress that densely line these earthen banks. This must certainly be easy time travel at its best!

As the locals say, “Sopchoppy and easy living go together.” Thank goodness for the dedication and sweat that has gone into the continuing preservation that makes it so simple for us to discover the history and experience the nature of charming Sopchoppy, Florida.

Spend the day transported back in regional time on the Sopchoppy Eco-Heritage Tour held usually one Saturday each month. Our last tour of the season is scheduled for November 17, 2012.

 

Last Updated ( Sunday, 11 November 2012 09:52 )