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Adventures in Vintageland

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Where The Amish Go in Winter

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It’s hard to imagine the hard-working Amish lolling about on beaches, but for nearly 100 years, the Amish and Mennonites have been doing just that in Pinecraft, Florida.

In the mid-1920s, Amish farmers tried to grow celery here and while that venture was unsuccessful, the warm climate had its appeal. Soon enough, Pioneer Trails buses were transporting the Amish from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois to Florida for the winter. At first, there were only rustic campsites, but building increased in the 1940s and 1950s, and streets were paved, and today there’s a winter community of several thousand people. There are shops, homes, churches, and even a post office (While it closed earlier this summer, efforts are underway to save it). Meanwhile, the city of Sarasota grew up around it.

        You know you’re in Pinecraft, though, because the streets are filled with tricycles and bicycles--buggies and horses are against the law here—and you see men with beards and women in traditional Amish clothing. Some work as hard as ever here, building furniture, growing vegetables, or quilting blankets while others play badminton, shuffleboard, volleyball, or fish. Some enjoy the sun at nearby Siesta Key beach—wearing both the usual garb and modern bathing suits.

For non-Amish tourists, the pay-off, undoubtedly, has been the food. Several restaurants known particularly for their “scratch-made” food and pies have intense local followings, given the lines outside. Yoder’s, which opened in 1975, is the most famous restaurant here, and offers 33 different pies. Der Dutchman is part of a chain of Amish restaurants which opened just a few years later; it offers a similar variety of pies plus a celebrated buffet breakfast. (Both are closed on Sundays and no alcohol is served.)  Big Olaf’s Creamery is the place to go for ice cream. There’s also a weekly farmer’s market which sells Amish fruits, vegetables, and canned goods, along with high quality Amish furniture.

Today, some Amish beach-lovers are opting to rent in Siesta Key, and rents are rising in Pinecraft. Tourist shops are opening up. There’s talk of keeping Pinecraft as it once was. Better visit soon. 

The Ancient Spanish Monastery: The Oldest Building in the New World Was Built in the Old One

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A 12th century Spanish monastery in North Miami Beach was shipped here, stone by stone, in 11,000 crates--and spent a lot of time in Brooklyn, too.

The cloisters and the outbuildings are part of a Cistercian monastery completed in 1141 near Segovia, Spain, and named after St. Bernard de Clairvaux. Saint Bernard was a charismatic leader who influenced the rise of the Cistercian order and whose writings became the basis of most mysticism. He was also a political force, boldly taking on anyone who disagreed with him. 

The monastery named after him fell into ruin after 700 years and by the early part of the twentieth century, it was being used primarily as a granary and stable. Enter wealthy American media magnate Willian Randolph Hearst who wanted them for San Simeon, his estate in California. He bought the buildings, had them dismantled, the stones numbered, wrapped in hay, and packed into 11,000 wooden crates, and shipped to America for his estate in California, San Simeon. But just then Hearst found himself in financial straits due to lavish spending and over-expansion, so the crates languished in a Brooklyn warehouse until the 1950s.

That’s when two enterprising men bought the crates at auction and had the pieces put back together—at a cost of $20 million dollars. Time called it the “biggest jigsaw puzzle in history.” Their intention was to build a tourist attraction near Miami named “The Ancient Spanish Monastery.”


The buildings were saved from this fate by the gift of a generous donor to the Episcopal Church in the 1960s. Today, it’s surrounded by lush tropical landscaping and looks very much like it was always situated here. You can attend services in the St. Bernard de Clairvaux Episcopal Church on Sundays, wander the lovely gardens and view the statues, attend a medieval concert, or even schedule your wedding.  

The Wildman of the Loxahatchee River--You Can Still Visit his Camp

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At 6’4” tall and 240 pounds, handsome Vincent Nostokovich looked like he’d stepped out of a Tarzan movie. And, like Tarzan, he lived in the jungle with his animals.

Trapper Nelson or the Wildman of the Loxahatchee, as he was called, arrived in Hobe Sound, Florida in 1930, built a log cabin for himself in the swampy northern Everglades, on the banks of the Loxahatchee River, and survived by fishing, trapping animals, and selling their furs.

He would often go to a nearby Fish Camp to join his friends. Legends quickly developed about him. His appetite was gargantuan; he reportedly ate entire pies at one sitting. He rarely wore shirts or shoes. Women loved him and he loved them back—especially heiresses with real estate to their names.

He eventually amassed over 800 acres and opened a zoo where he wrestled alligators as part of the show--and that was when his troubles began. The state of Florida intervened, first claiming he owed taxes—he sold acres of land to pay that debt. Then they claimed his zoo was unsanitary and closed him down completely. (It’s difficult to get the full story, though, as the “facts’ differ.)

In any case, the closure of his zoo was a disaster for Trapper, and not surprisingly, perhaps, he grew increasingly convinced there was a plot to drive him from his land. He also worried about his health. After a while, he didn’t even trust his friends and required them to send him letters or postcards before visiting.

On June, 1968, his friends found him dead from a gunshot wound to the stomach. A lot of people thought he had been murdered--they questioned how he could have physically managed that and why he wouldn’t have shot himself elsewhere had he seriously intended to kill himself. A police investigation ruled his death a suicide, however.

And once Trapper Nelson was dead, the state DID take over his land, just as he had feared. Today, you can visit his camp, other buildings, and see the animal cages as part of Jonathan Dickinson State Park.