Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Ghost Town Ride


The orange trees are in blossom.  The fragrance is one the most fantastic smells anywhere.  You just want to draw a deep breath, keep breathing in and never let it out.  To ride through central Florida in the spring time is made even more special because of the orange blossoms.

Today’s ride was a real treat.  My idea was to take the ghost town ride I had planned for a few weeks ago.  The cumulus clouds had built until they formed a near overcast, yet there seemed to be plenty of thermal lift. At almost any time you could see countless hawks, turkey vultures, black vultures and an occasional eagle.  There are many other birds in this area as well and I saw turkeys, cranes, herons, storks, and swallow tail kites too.  As I stopped to take pictures in Kenansville, a couple of tiger butterflies floated by bobbing in the slight breeze and disappeared behind the remains of the old post office.
Kenansville Post Office

Kenansville may best be considered a near ghost town.  It was a late 1800s cattle town on a section of railroad that Henry Flagler built.  When the railroad pulled out, the town struggled to survive.  Today, there is still an abandoned bank and school house.  The school had 100 students in 1920, 29 in 1922, but in 1962 its’ doors closed for 30 years.  It reopened in 1992 but finally closed for good in 2003. 
School House

Elvis Presley made several trips to central Florida and Kenansville has a lasting bit of notoriety because of those trips.  Kenansville is the home to the Heartbreak Hotel.  It is said that the name of the hotel was the inspiration to the Elvis song, Heartbreak Hotel.

From the Heartbreak Hotel, it is about a 25 mile ride to Yeehaw Junction, a town with another stop over made famous, or infamous, from its’ past.  Yeehaw Junctions’ last remaining establishment is the Desert Inn and Motel.  The Desert Inn and Motel was once the local brothel but now houses a restaurant and motel.  This is a place to stop by and enjoy a cool drink while you take in the unique decorations and history.  On this last visit, there were luncheon tables set outside as well as an outdoor pool table that was getting a workout from the locals.  In the past I have seen chickens scratching around outside, but they were not seen this time.  There is always a steady flow of customers in and out of the Desert Inn.  It is worthy of a stop if you are in the area and one you will remember for quite some time.

After leaving Yeehaw Junction, I chugged my way north to see if I could find Lokosee.  Lokosee was a turpentine producing town along the railway and has been abandoned since the railroad closed.  The old town is now grown over but lives on at least in name as the Lokosee ranch.  From Lokosee I continued north looking for Nittaw.
Nittaw Residents


Roadside Table
I found an old road sign for Nittaw Ln but that is about all that is left of this former saw mill town.  There were a few cattle where the town once stood, so I guess Nittaw is not really a ghost town, its’ inhabitants have just changed.  Further up the road is Illiahaw.  Illiahaw (derived from the Indian word for orange) was another stop on a railway and the last building still standing is the railway substation.  Illiahaw was also a turpentine town, but when the trees were gone, the town went as well.  Today, the railway substation stands on the edge of an orange orchard.  There is also one of the last remaining roadside tables nearby.  For those not old enough to remember them, roadside tables were placed along roads at various intervals to provide travelers a place to rest and picnic.  All this was before interstates and our modern day version of the roadside table, the rest stop.
Illiahaw Railroad Substation


The last ghost town stop for the day was Holopaw.  Holopaw was essentially a company owned town for a large sawmill operation.  The town once had 2000 residents but it is mostly gone now.  The railroad pulled out at about the same time the trees played out and now the town is but a few houses and abandoned buildings.  One bright spot for motorcyclists is Holopaw Corvette.  Don’t let the name fool you.  Holopaw Corvette is home to the local URAL and Royal Enfield dealer.  I have to tell you that there could not be a more fitting dealer location for these bikes.  Stop in and check this shop out.

Well that is it, the smell of orange blossoms, and the sight of so many birds and cattle, six central Florida ghost towns, and perfect weather.  What a wonderful day on the bike.


  1. Backroad, looks and sounds like a great, quiet exploration. I pulled up MapSource and was able to follow along, each of the places you mention visible on the map.

    I knew about Mr. Flagler's railroad but had no idea about the trees and turpentine.

    Seeking out old rail lines is something I enjoy up here where it sometimes gets cold :) Further north, there were many rail lines, some of them narrow gauge, that pulled logs out of the northern forests. In our more southern parts of the state, there were many rail lines that served local agriculture until the highways and trucks took over. USGS Topo maps are great sources of old abandoned lines, often showing up with dashed lines, much like the roads on Mapsource show the streets in Holopaw.

    All I really knew of FL was Daytona, New Smyrna Beach and Orlando....thanks for the tour!

    1. Thanks Coop. I'll take a look at the USGS maps. I have been using the Atlas & Gazetteer set of maps for a number of years. They aften show old towns and railways that no langer exist. I have made a commitment to look at the things people look past at the local level. It is easy for many to think there is nothing around them of interest, when most often places, like life, have hidden beauty and interesting pasts.