Camping in February! What were we thinking? But our friends wanted to go to north Florida so we were all for it. Our destination was a small town called Carrabelle FL just east of Apalachicola. I think I might have seen it in the blink of an eye on the way to Pensacola once. It’s a long part of the panhandle called “The Forgotten Coast,” one of the last stretches of beautiful unspoiled beaches, and less developed. It is not crowded with high rises or strip malls, just quiet towns along Hwy 98. “The Forgotten Coast” to the east is noted by St. Marks below Tallahassee and continues along the coastline westward to Mexico Beach, about an hour from Panama City. Mexico Beach you may remember was almost wiped off the map by Hurricane Michael in October of 2018. You will still see ruined beach houses and piers as you drive along the shoreline.
Carrabelle was our camping destination. Later we would go out on day trips to Apalachicola, St. George Island, Port St. Joe, and more. But first Carrabelle had some interesting places to see. I love lighthouses so I went to climb the 138 steps of their Crooked River Lighthouse. It was built in 1895. The iron exposed beam “skeleton tower” has been at the same site all these years. The twisting spiral steps within it are made for one person. The final 20 half- steps are a challenge but worth it. Beautiful view! I can’t imagine the daily trips up and down these stairs in the days before the Fresnel lens was developed. Back then a light keeper had to climb all those steps holding cans of oil –his main job was to keep multiple lamps burning.
Also in Carrabelle is the quirky bottle house at 604 SE Ave F. It is a work in progress by Leon Wiesener, a former art professor and set painter. Something to keep him busy in his retirement years. The backyard square building contains 6,000 bottles of various kinds held with cement. There is also a 15 ft. tall lighthouse made of bottles and a few other pieces of yard art. Anytime the gate is unlocked you are free to browse around and take photos.
On Hwy 98 in Carrabelle is the World’s Smallest Police Station. It is in a phone booth. Before the early 1960’s an officer had to make a call from an open call box. Outside and in all kinds of weather. Someone came up with the idea of a permanent and dry solution. The police phone was moved to an old phone booth in 1963 and now has become a town landmark and photo opportunity.
On a rainy day I discovered some of the museums in town. The Camp Gordon Johnston Museum is an interesting look at WWII. The camp was an Army training center from 1942 to 1946. Over those years almost a quarter million soldiers were trained in amphibious operations along the shores of Carrabelle Beach, Dog Island, and St. George Island. They have some great displays of uniforms, tent setups, models, weapons, and equipment. The Carrabelle History Museum at 106 Ave B SE is also worth a stop. It’s located in an old City Hall building from the 1930’s. The museum shows a very personal side of town, with many stories about the early residents, local heroes, and lots of memorabilia. One exhibit worth noting is about the steamship SS Tarpon. This ship made weekly runs from Mobile and Pensacola to Apalachicola and Carrabelle from 1902 to 1937. ( 1,735 trips in all) The SS Tarpon was considered one of the most reliable and dependable ships serving the panhandle. However in 1937 it was overloaded with cargo and sunk in a freak storm. 18 out of 31 aboard perished that day. The shipwreck is still located about 8 miles off the coast of Panama City in 95 feet of water.