Going Back to Mayo Part II: Back in Mayo Again

Back in Mayo means obligatory selfie with the Mayo Water Tower. July 2020.

Considering how much down-time 2020 has afforded us, I found myself surprisingly mobile this year. It turns out that driving across the country is a good socially-distanced activity, even when passing through states which are, with a lot of help from psychopathic governors and yell-talking Boomers who still think they have a shot with that 20-something bartender, COVID-addled nightmares.

Speaking of Florida, I found myself back in Mayo, the seat of the state’s thinly populated Lafayette County. The whole county’s population sits well under 10,000, and the Republican Party ticket dominated over 85% of the vote, among the most lopsided differential in the state. I hate to paint any state as “Red” or “Blue,” considering how Georgia proved that nothing is permanent, but Florida really feels like the quintessential nest for Trumpism (see previous paragraph). I’m still unconvinced that boats can operate in Tampa Bay unless they are flying at least two MAGA flags. Further into this tangent, the preponderance of Trump boat parades led some right-wing pundits to express sheer shock at their Dear Leader losing based upon this gaudy empirical evidence. It’s almost like they learned nothing from the 1936 Literary Digest election poll, but some a bizarre inverse version focusing on people whose identity and self-worth is expressed through boat ownership (that I’m not qualified to conduct).

Five years ago, I wrote about how some colleagues and I first wound up in Mayo in 2010 while interviewing locals about 2001 wildfires. In March 2015, my friend and I stopped through on a scenic drive between Tallahassee and Gainesville. A number of shops and eateries that I recalled from 2010 were no longer there, including one prominent smokehouse, which I believe had turned into a pizza place of dubious functioning status.

The supposed (according to a December 2020 Google Search) home of Casa Frias. In 2015, this building housed a cafe-restaurant with a bizarrely misspelled “Ya’ll” on the entrance.

I only had time to grab lunch at a corner cafe (apparently defunct, even as of this writing 5 months later), take a few photos of the amazing Lafayette County Court House (and Chateau de Lafayette across the street, seen in this post’s cover photo), and stop into the Dust Catcher thrift shop, run by Vi Johnson.

Vi Johnson reads on a slow day at the Dust Catcher Thrift, Mayo FL, July 2020.

I chatted with Vi for a few minutes before purchasing a one-time-use camera from 1999 and getting back on the road. Despite owning the building, Vi was hoping that somebody would buy her out, considering how many books and curios she had accumulated with no real hope for moving otherwise. Similar to many similar towns I’ve found via the Ben Irving Postcard Project (Belding, MI, for example), the Interstate Highways had long since redirected most traffic away from FL-27, sapping the tiny municipality of any real potential for sustainable economic gains. As if that wasn’t already an insurmountable challenge to any local entrepreneurs, she added, the opening of Dollar stores at opposing ends of Main Street “absolutely killed” her. Additionally, the biggest local company, a logging concern, had successfully petitioned to remove most of the parallel parking spots from Main Street in order to give their mammoth trucks unfettered access to tear through the mostly-vacant downtown. I’m not injecting any personal opinion here when I type that it’s a sad state of affairs.

Anyway, the last thing I want to do is look down my nose at small towns that are, through no fault of their own, aging out and clinging to life. I finally read Chris Arnade’s book Dignity this fall, and in it, he outlines the danger of romanticizing the struggles of those “left behind” in America. I also struggle with my love of small towns, considering how I have never really lived in one. As I’ve also written here, I grew up in a town that loved throwing that label around, but considering how much money (both New England-auld and 90’s nouveau-riche) swirls through the place, I would refrain from slapping John Cougar Mellencamp in the background of a video about it (more on that coming in 2021).

If anybody reads this and happens to know somebody opening up a retro-style café or bar, I have a lead on a functioning, vintage soda fountain for sale in North Florida. You can’t see much of it in this photo (below), but it’s under there, I promise, and it’s a classic.

The Hotel Quincy: A Panhandle Mystery (Part 3: Solved)

Read Part One (Before I Visited Quincy) HERE
Read Part Two (After I Visited Quincy, but still had a lot of questions) HERE

The Hotel Quincy (Quincy, FL) sometime in the 1950’s. Courtesy of David Gardner and the Gadsden County Chamber of Commerce.

You are currently reading part three, and I am elated. Last week, I got on the phone with David Gardner of the Gadsden County Chamber of Commerce, and after we hung up, we felt like we’d known one another for years. As it turned out, Gardner used to work for Visit Florida, and we shared a deep appreciation for American Jewish culture and these histories that reside on the fringes of the twenty-first century.

Perhaps as importantly, Gardner did have some material to share about the Hotel Quincy, including an April 1972 feature about Mrs. Frank W. Lloyd from the Tallahassee Democrat. Her family had owned the hotel from 1928 until 1951 (as I’d found in that 1951 Democrat blurb in Part 1), and she lamented how the development of the Interstate pulled traffic away from Quincy in the 1950’s. The article (which has no visible byline) also confirms it: the hotel was demolished circa 1962.

It also turns out that, yes, my guesstimate of where the lobby once stood in Part 2 was accurate. Here was my photo recreation:

Here is another photo postcard depicting the outside of the Hotel Quincy, published in 1940, two years after Irving mailed that postcard above:

Hotel Quincy (Quincy, FL) Postcard, 1940. Courtesy of David Gardner and the Gadsden County Chamber of Commerce.

It’s apparent that the new owners, who bought the place in 1951, got rid of the Plantation-style stacked front porch (but not the rocking chairs) and repainted it to make it match the white-washed Modernist architecture that was in vogue down in Miami. It’s odd, since Quincy has always presented itself as quintessentially “Southern,” which tended to define itself against whatever happened below Gainesville.

Zherti Jasa, a former student and future star architect, put it into a helpful perspective.

“I don’t know if there’s a specific reason why people stopped designing the stacked porches like in the hotel,” she said, “but I would think that the facade is what became more prevalent. Simplicity was the name of the game. They were trying to get away from any decorative ornamentation that resembled any European classical or Roman styles and so on and so forth. The architectural styles typically represent a political and cultural movement of that time.”

So, there we have it. I’m hardly done thinking about or seeking new information about the Hotel Quincy, but as I said, I’m elated how much I was able to unlock using those twentieth-century methods of phone, email, and just stopping through. I still think it’s strange how there aren’t more publicly accessible resources about a building that formed such a heart of what was, in its time, a cosmopolitan town.

Thanks again to David and Zherti for their help in putting the mystery of the panhandle to bed. And thanks to you for reading this.