~ Palatka, Florida ~
Palatka is a small, inland river town that is located between interstates 95 and 75, but is not really convenient to either one. It is the seat of “left out” Putnam County, which actually borders five different metropolitan areas – Jacksonville, Palm Coast, Daytona Beach, Ocala, and Gainesville – and yet belongs to none. In the early days of Florida tourism, when ladies carried parasols, men wore monocles, and everyone dressed in layered, formal clothing that was way too unbearably hot for Florida’s climate, vacationers would take riverboats down the St. Johns River from Jacksonville to Palatka. Since those days, many places in neighboring counties have seen tremendous growth in both population and tourism, but not Palatka. While the city does have pockets of commercial growth, Palatka seems to be content with remaining a relatively quiet, rural community where the folks go “fishin’,” “huntin’,” “muddin’,” and enjoy other recreational pursuits not requiring the letter “g” on the end when pronounced in Southern vernacular. The city has a few store fronts and a little waterfront area along the St. Johns in its quiet downtown. US Route 17 is the primary commercial corridor through town, although other state highways do converge here.
As for attractions, Palatka is home to the Ravine State Gardens, which I understand to be a beautiful place (particularly when the azaleas are in bloom), but I have not been there. Given the city’s location about half-way between Jacksonville and Sanford, Palatka also attracts boaters and fisherman who travel the St. Johns for pleasure. As for events, Palatka is the starting point for the Mug Race, the world’s longest inland sailing regatta. Every May, colorful sails dot the St. Johns as teams race from Palatka, up the north-flowing river, to the city limits of Jacksonville. The city’s other annual event (which I might not have known about if our local news stations didn’t sometimes send weathermen down to cover it) is the Blue Crab Festival. If it’s anything like the many other small town festivals celebrated across America then it probably involves a lot of eating fried food and listening to country music -- or “eatin’, pickin’, and grinnin’.”
The only time I came through Palatka was back many years ago when I was a kid. My parents went out of their way after a visit to St. Augustine to drive my brother and I through Palatka so that we could see where my mom used to live. She lived here for a few years with her parents before going to Jacksonville for college, where she met my dad. My grandparents also moved from there decades ago.
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