When I was a kid in the ’70s, our family used to drive north to Tampa or south down to Miami on U.S. Route 41. U.S. 41 runs from the border of Georgia near Lake City down to Miami. It has even been the subject of an Allman Brothers tune written by Sarasota resident Dickey Betts (“And I was born in the back seat of a Greyhound bus rollin’ down Highway 41”.) This stretch of road known in parts as Tamiami Trail. This is the original Florida highway before Interstate 75 was complete, where many Old Florida Treasures can still be found just outside your windshield.
Old Florida Laid Back Drive
One of the odd sites driving to Tampa back then was the Apollo Beach water tower with the Kraft company name painted on it. Driving south, I came across the Shell Factory with its giant shell hanging from the sign. Since then, seeing old oddities along the road have held an interest. Recently, I took a drive down to Ft. Myers and got off the rat race of I-75 to the calmness of 41. It is still so old Florida and a relaxing road to drive. Sadly, many old businesses have disappeared with the years, but here and there, new subdivisions have sprung up. There are still a few old businesses hangin’ round from throughout the years.
As I drove through Punta Gorda, I saw a giant cowboy boot! I turned around to grab a photo and discovered a roadside bar called “Hawgz & Dawgz.” Sadly, because of Covid-19, it is closed, but reviews show it to be a fun place to catch some live music and sit outside or shoot pool inside. As I made my way south heading to Ft. Myers Beach, I saw the Shell Factory sign an Old Florida Treasure for sure! I pulled in to get a shot of that giant shell still hanging from the sign. They were open, and a few people were milling around. This landmark has been there for 80 years, which is real old Florida! Open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and it has a nature park with over 400 animals, gift shop and Christmas House.
Old Florida Treasures Continue
Heading on McGregor Blvd in Ft. Myers, I passed a giant Buddha sitting on the side of the road. My research brought me to one of my favorite websites for travelers who drive around these massive United States! Roadside America has all kinds of great info on odd tourist attractions when driving the U.S. It took me to a great place called “Peggy Sue’s Diner,” which is on the drive on US 15 from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. What a treasure I would have probably missed otherwise. In researching, I found out that the “Big Buddha” is the remnant of the mascot of a Chinese restaurant in the 1970s called “The Bamboo Inn.” Currently, the Buddha is rockin’ for a live music venue, “Buddha Live.”
Chipmunks Oh My!
Moving along to the beach, I see a motel called “Fountain Cottages Inn” with statues of “The Chipmunks” greeting beachgoers! Yes, Alvin, Simon & Theodore on surfboards! What in the world? I pulled over and took some shots of this adorable oddity. Why are they there? I called the owner, Tom Portmann, who told me he purchased the motel in 2018, and they were there. Apparently, the previous owner got the statues from a Chipmunk movie premiere, and they were throwing them away! He loved the Chipmunks as a kid and brought them to the motel. Tom wasn’t sure he should leave them up, but he asked his neighbors, and they said they loved them, and he should keep them. He said the tourists who stay there and their children love them. Many people stop by on their way to Ft. Myers Beach to take photos of the adorable trio!
Driving along Ft. Myers Beach main drag, Estero Drive, there is a miniature red lighthouse made of shells in front of a beach motel, another exciting find. Wow, I can’t wait to take another drive on U.S. 41 and see what other interesting Old Florida Treasures I will find. Take a trip down some of the side county and state roads in America, you will be surprised what treasures you might find from the past!
Photos by Vicky Sullivan