More Cedar Key
Bushnell, FL - Events of Wednesday, March 19, 2014
We were hungry when we finished our tour of Southern Cross Sea Farms because it was mid afternoon, so we immediately headed to Tony's Seafood in downtown Cedar Key.
The speciality of Tony's, clam chowder, was highly recommended by former New Englanders and fellow full-timers, Rob and Linda, of My Quantum Discovery. Tony's is a three-time World Champion at the Clam Chowder Cook-Off in Newport, RI. When a restaurant from Florida wins a competition in the middle of clam chowder country, you know their chowder has to be good. The reason they only won three times is apparently because the recipe was retired to the Cook-Off Hall of Fame after the third win.
We both had a cup of clam chowder ($4.99), and we split a fried clam strip appetizer ($7.99) and a fried fish sandwich with potato salad for our side dish ($9.99).
The clam chowder was absolutely outstanding. It was loaded with clams that were tender and sweet, and the chowder was rich and creamy. We had chowder several times when we visited New England last summer, and we had none that was even close to being as good as Tony's. In fact, we can't remember having chowder as good as Tony's - EVER!
The rest of the food, however, was so-so. The breading on the fried clam strips was too thick in our opinion, the clams had almost no flavor, and they were tough. The fish sandwich wasn't bad, but it didn't have much flavor either. The potato salad looked appetizing, but it was also bland.
The clam chowder at Tony's is definitely worth the stop, but we recommend having either a bowl of chowder ($7.99) or a jumbo bowl (around $12) and skipping the rest. Stop at McDonalds on your way home if you're still hungry.
Right across the street from Tony's is the Cedar Key Historical Society Museum, so we stopped in after our late lunch to learn about the history of Cedar Key. Admission is only $2 per person.
The museum covers the history of Cedar Key all the way back to prehistoric times with the mastodon teeth they have on display. They also have a few artifacts from various Native American groups that have inhabited the area.
Cedar Key was inhabited by Native Americans dating back to at least 500 BC. The Spanish used Cedar Key as a watering stop for their ships on their way from Mexico back to Spain in the 1500s and 1600s, and pirates like Captain Kidd and Jean Lafitte also stopped there. The first permanent habitation of Cedar Key by non-natives began in 1839 when the U.S. Army established a fort and depot there. The Army abandoned the fort following a severe hurricane in 1842.
About the same time the military left Cedar Key, land grants were becoming available to settlers, and the area began to grow. Cedar Key soon became an important port for shipping lumber and other goods to the north.
Because ships leaving the port at Cedar Key had to sail all the way around the tip of Florida, Augustus Steele, who is credited with being the founder of Cedar Key and who also was a Florida State Legislator, became close allies with David Yulee, who was the first U.S. Senator from Florida and president of the Florida Railroad. The pair worked to obtain permission from the Florida legislature to build a railroad from Fernandina on the east coast of Florida near Jacksonville to Cedar Key. The railroad was completed in March, 1861.
The Civil War broke out the month after the railroad was completed. In 1862, the U.S. Navy captured Cedar Key destroying many of the buildings including the railroad depot. They also ripped up and destroyed tracks.
After the Civil War, Eberhard Faber and the Eagle Pencil Company both built lumber mills in the area to produce cedar slats. The railroad was eventually repaired so the slats could easily be shipped to northern factories for making pencils.
Although pencils were never actually made at Cedar Key, the museum had a display showing the steps in their manufacture. A slat similar to what was produced at Cedar Key is shown at the upper left in the next photo. The slat was grooved to receive graphite (center left), then the graphite was added (bottom left). At the top right, two slats have been glued together sandwiching the graphite between. The sandwich then had the outside contoured to begin forming the hexagonal shape of the pencils (center right). Shown at the bottom right are the final steps of separating, painting, marking and adding the metal ferule and eraser.
In 1867, John Muir the famed naturalist, walked 1,000 miles from Louisville, KY to Cedar Key. He wrote about the walk and about Cedar Key in his book A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf, which was published in 1916 after his death.
When Henry Plant completed his railroad to Tampa in 1886, it took shipping away from Cedar Key, and the area began an economic decline. In September, 1896, a strong hurricane struck Cedar Key killing about 100 people and destroying many of the cedar trees and many buildings including the two lumber mills. If that weren't enough, a fire in in the town of Cedar Key in December, 1886, caused even more damage.
By the turn of the century, fishing, oystering and sponging had become important activities. The museum also had a display of models showing various types of boats used around Cedar Key for fishing.
The museum also owns the house next door that once belonged to Dr. Daniel Andrews. Dr. Andrews was a dentist from Indiana who gave up his practice and moved to Cedar Key in 1909 to go into the business of manufacturing palm fiber, which was used for brushes and brooms. The company was called the Standard Manufacturing Company, a.k.a. the Fiber Factory. The house, which once served as the factory office as well as the Andrews family residence, was donated to the museum by the Andrews family and moved to the site adjacent to the museum in 1995.
Palm fiber is made from the base of the leaves of young sabal palm trees which grow abundantly in Florida. The crown of the tree was harvested, and the leaf bases, called boots (shown to the right in the photo below), were removed.
After soaking the boots in water to soften them, they were fed through hackles to separate the fibers.
The fibers were combed, cut to length, bundled and shipped to brush and broom manufacturers all over the United States and in several foreign countries.
In addition to manufacturing palm fiber, Dr. Andrews also patented the design of whisk brooms, which were sold under the Donax brand. There were several sizes and styles of whisk brooms made at the Fiber Factory.
There were three palm fiber factories in the world, all of which were in Florida. The Standard Manufacturing Company was the largest and the only one to also manufacture brushes.
The process of extracting palm fiber is very time consuming, labor intensive and expensive. The advent of cheaper synthetic fibers combined with heavy damage to the factory by a hurricane in 1950 forced the Standard Manufacturing Company to close in 1952. The other two palm fiber manufacturers soon followed suit.
The visit to the museum was very interesting. Everyone there was eager to tell us the story of Cedar Key. The octogenarian volunteer we met in the Andrews house was born, raised, and spent much of his adult life as Cedar Key resident, and he had lots of interesting stories to tell.
After the museum, we took a walk up the street. It looks like Cedar Key has a fairly vibrant artist community because there were several galleries, one of which had outdoor displays of art including the mosaic fisherman in the photo below.
There was also a mosaic cormorant outside the shop that Paul especially liked.
We then headed to Dock Street at the waterfront. Dock Street is where most of the restaurants, souvenir shops and night spots are located.
Charter fishing boats dock at the pier at the eastern end of Dock Street. There are also kayak rentals and a boat launch. We saw lots of pelicans hanging out around fishing boats looking for discards from fishermen cleaning fish.
Cedar Key reminded us a little of Key West, although not on as grand a scale. Both are pretty laid back, both have an emphasis on fishing and water sports, and both have somewhat of an artistic vibe.
One thing that is very different about Cedar Key is the absence of crystal-clear, blue-green water that surrounds the Florida Keys. As we mentioned in our last post, the thing that makes this such a good area for clam farming is all the algae in the water, which makes the water brownish and cloudy.
We headed back to the car from the pier and made our way back to Blueberry Hill. We relaxed for day or so, then went on another outing. Stay tuned.