In the days before mega-theme parks and interstate travel, two area attractions were included in most of Florida’s early tourist brochures: Wakulla Springs and Killearn Gardens. Wakulla Springs is still well known, but Killearn Gardens? This site, in the then remote northern region of Tallahassee, was donated to the state in 1953 and the name was changed to Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park in the 1970s. A 1940s brochure summary of the gardens holds true today: “Here at the plantation home of the late Alfred B. Maclay one sees the original ‘Aunt Jetty’ Camellia and the stately and rare Italian Cypress. The azalea and camellia predominate in these magnificent gardens which cover 35 acres”.
The park today covers nearly 1,200 acres on the shores of Lake Hall and the gardens are well maintained and certainly just as spectacular during the peak blooming season of January through April. The original “Aunt Jenny” Camellia and Italian cypresses are no more, but their clones live on in the park. Besides viewing the gardens, one can also swim in the lake, rent kayaks, launch stand-up paddleboards, and watch teams practice their rowing. Mountain biking, hiking and horseback riding are popular on the eight miles of trails in the adjoining Lake Overstreet tract.
South of Tallahassee, Wakulla Springs has long been a place of wonderment and awe for visitors since the earliest times, and this continues to hold true. The jungle boat tours bring nature up close to thousands of people each month and there’s nothing like a cool summer dip to help one forget about the heat.
A flash of Old Wakulla Springs came to me recently when I purchased a vintage post-card collection of the attraction. The oldest card was from the 1930s and on the back was one large signature—Johnny Weismuller. Weismuller was a former Olympic swimmer and the most famous of the Tarzan actors. In 1941, he was featured in parts of two movies filmed at the springs—“Tarzan’s Secret Treasure” and “Tarzan’s New York Adventure”. I assume someone got his autograph there during filming, especially since several locals served as extras for the movies. After that find, I wonder (in jest) if anyone has an original paw print from the “Creature from the Black Lagoon”, also filmed at the springs.
There is one Tallahassee area attraction that is listed on the “Florida’s Lost Tourist Attractions” website—the Garden of Mystery. But nothing is said about it except for the name. What it really was, where it was located, and when it operated is a mystery to me. Maybe I’ll come across an old-timer who can shed some enlightenment.