MICANOPY, Fla. — Monica Beth Fowler would like to set the record straight. "Tom Petty doesn't live above my shop," she declares. "I've been here for 34 years, and I would've seen him coming and going," says the owner of Delectable Collectables, regarding the rumor that has persisted (thanks, Internet!) for years.
So if you're heading to tiny Micanopy on a Petty pilgrimage, don't expect to encounter the Grammy winner or his Heartbreakers. But if you chat Micanopians up, you're likely to glean a few bits of TP trivia. After all, Petty is from nearby Gainesville, and even the ladies at the Micanopy Historical Society will vouch for the fact that he was here. In his early years as a struggling musician, "he probably slept on any couch he could find," says resident Natalie Bessette. So it's possible that he did couch-surf in Fowler's building, way back in the day. But if anybody's holding onto an old blanket, or a sweaty Petty bandanna, they're keeping it to themselves. Adding to Micanopy's street cred: Petty name-checks Micanopy (pronounced mick-uh-NO-pee, not an easy word to rhyme) in his song, "A Mind With a Heart of Its Own." (Fun fact: Florida demigod Jimmy Buffett also mentions Micanopy, in "Seminole Wind.")
Not bad for a town of 600 or so residents that measures one square mile!
Micanopy also had a brush with Hollywood, when the 1991 Michael J. Fox movie "Doc Hollywood" was filmed here. But the town reminded us more of another Fox flick, "Back to the Future," thanks to it's time-trippy, frozen-in-the-past vibe.
Driving into this central Florida town, you know you're not in Orlando anymore when you see signs advertising "Gator heads. Wind chimes." Surely not gator head wind chimes? Subdivisions and strip malls give way to green pastures dotted with horses and cattle as you drive farther north on Interstate 75. And then you see a sign for Café Risque ("We bare all") and a sprawling antiques shop, and then you've arrived in Micanopy, the oldest inland town in Florida. Micanopy was founded in 1821, but the Timucua Indians, the Spanish, and the Seminoles had gotten there first. "They say this whole area of Florida is loaded with Indian mounds," says Ann Fowler (no relation to Monica) of the Micanopy Historical Society. Seminole Chief Micanopy is the town's namesake. The Micanopy Historical Society Museum (1869 Thrasher Warehouse, Cholokka Boulevard and Bay Street, 352-466-3200, www.micanopyhistoricalsociety.com) is a great place to get your bearings. Artifacts reveal the town's history, including Seminole embroidered garments and Civil War relics.
Spend three bucks for a walking tour brochure, and take a stroll past the 30-plus buildings in Micanopy's historic downtown, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (You can also arrange a guided tour, by appointment, with the historical society.) Streets are lined with excellent examples of Florida vernacular architecture, tucked behind giant live oaks draped in sweeping curtains of Spanish moss. "We are dedicated to keeping this town authentic," says Monica Beth Fowler. "We truly are one of the last vestiges of Old Florida." Probably the grandest home in town is the circa 1845 Herlong Mansion (402 NE Cholokka Blvd., 800-437-5664, www.herlong.com , rates from $119), now open as an inn with 10 antique-filled rooms, two cottages, and an inviting porch. Not staying at the inn? A tour of the property will set you back $10.
Antiques lovers seem to find their way to Micanopy, where 17 shops are crammed with an assortment of artisan-crafted items and elderly things. Probably the oddest thing we discovered while poking through the shops was a fossilized cow patty, or as the sign described it, a "museum-quality meadow muffin," priced at $35 (but truly priceless) at Micanopy Canopy Connection (214 NE Cholokka Blvd., 352-466-0012). The 3,000-square-foot building housed a general store in the early 1900s, and now it holds the wares of 15 vendors — and is also host to a ghost or two, they say.
Although Delectable Collectables (112 Northeast Cholokka Blvd., 352-466-3327) doesn't have a famous musician living upstairs, it's definitely worth a look if you're into cameos, or collectible pottery and early glass. Owner Fowler estimates she has about 1,500 cameos in stock, including museum-quality pieces. Are cameos back in style? "They never really left," Fowler says.
If you're a fan of vintage headwear, pop into Lost Ark Antiques (103 Northeast Cholokka Blvd., 352-466-0309). The shop features a large collection of antique dolls and toys, plus glassware and quilts, but the hats — on our visit — were a standout.
Another top shop is Shady Oak Gallery & Stained Glass Studio (201 Northeast Cholokka Blvd., 352-466-3476, www.shadyoak.com), where the entrance is crowded with handcrafted Adirondack-style porch furniture, including a swinging bed. Inside, look for jewelry, pieces made by local artists, minerals and fossils, and stained glass art by Frank James, who teaches at the studio. For more local art, pop into to the Gallery Under the Oaks (207 Northeast Cholokka Blvd., 352-466-9229), where the work of area artisans is displayed in a circa 1930 log cabin.
If those stops have got your shopping motor revving, risk antiques-overload with a visit to Smiley's Antique Mall (17020 Southeast County Road 234, 352-466-0707, www.smileysantiques.com). With 200-plus dealers, the place goes on forever, and covers nearly every collectible category imaginable.
Strong as it is in the antiquing category, Micanopy has just a few options in the way of dining. There are a couple of cafes in town, and an earth-friendly general store, Mosswood Farm Store & Bakehouse (703 Northeast Cholokka Blvd., 352-466-5002, www.mosswoodfarmstore.com) that sells tasty organic fresh baked goods. The go-to spot for pizza is Blue Highway (204 Northeast Hwy. 441, 352-466-0062, www.bluehighwaypizza.com, from $10) where you can get your pie with a thin crust, Sicilian-style, or gluten-free, and an array of sides like Tuscan bean salad. When it comes to funky finds, there's Pearl Country Store & Barbecue (106A Northeast Hw. 441, 352-466-4025, www.pearlcountrystore.com), a general store set inside a gas station, with the best barbecue in Alachua County and pies made on site.
And in case you think that "Old Florida" begins and ends in downtown Micanopy, there's more to discover just up the road at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park (100 Savannah Blvd., 352-466-3397, www.floridastateparks.org/paynesprairie , $6 per car). This nearly 22,000-acre prairie basin was formed when numerous sinkholes merged into a vast wetland. Now, the extraordinary wilderness property is home to alligators, armadillos, wild horses, bison, and 271 species of birds. More than 30 miles of trails wind through a variety of ecosystems; Bolen Bluff and La Chua are top trails for wildlife spotting. We didn't plan nearly enough time to fully explore this park, but we'll be back for some hiking, and a sleepover at the campground.
Sleeping under the stars on the Great Alachua Savannah, as it's called, sounds much more fun than crashing on a friend's couch. Are you listening, Tom Petty?
Micanopy is about 10 miles south of Gainesville. For information, visit www.micanopytown.com.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.