Tag Archives: Dog friendly Florida

“Don’t Tread on Me” Florida License Plate and Florida history

The Gadsden flag, which is a yellow flag with a coiled snake on it. The text reads "Don't tread on me" — this is now part of the "Don't Tread on Me" Florida license plate.
The “Don’t Tread on Me” Florida license plate shows how little we know Florida history.
Public Domain

The other day I was driving and found myself behind a truck with a specialty tag. That in and of itself isn’t unusual; Florida has more than 100 specialty license plates. What caught my eye was the image on the plate: The Gadsden flag.

This made me cringe.  Not because I don’t find the beneficiary worthy (the Florida Veterans Foundation) or because the flag, to some, embodies the battle cries of those who believe the 2020 election was stolen (it was not.)

It’s because the “Don’t Tread on Me” Florida license plate shows how truly ignorant we are about Florida’s history.

A black license plate with a yellow flag next to the letters "S A M P L" — the flag is the Gadsden Flag and shows a coiled snake with the words "don't tread on me" on it. The plate also says "Florida" and "Don't Tread on Me" on it.
Early 19th-century Floridians are rolling in their graves. 
Image via the State of Florida

The Gadsden Flag

I first learned about the Gadsden flag in grade school. It represented the unity of the 13 so-called “original” colonies. The idea came from a 1754 political cartoon, called “Join, or Die” and symbolized the unity of all EuroAmericans against King George.

a black-and-white illustration of a segmented snake, with different British colony abbreviations at each segment. Below the image are the words "Join, or Die" — this is the start of the Gadsden Flag that would become the Don't Tread on Me Florida License Plate
“Join, or Die” — this is the start of the Gadsden Flag that would become the “Don’t Tread on Me” Florida license plate.
Image via the United States Library of Congress

Or did it?

Why the “Don’t Tread on Me” Florida License Plate is an Insult to History

The Gadsden flag was hoisted in 1775, as the colonies — some of the colonies — in North America prepared to declare their independence from England. Everyone knows there were 13 original colonies, and they all rallied behind this flag.

Most of that is true. The 13 colonies revolting against the Crown did, indeed, rally behind this flag. But they weren’t the original colonies. Or, more accurately, they weren’t the only colonies at this time. Other colonies apart from those so-called “original” 13 included Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, and Quebec. Caribbean colonies — the Bahamas, the BVI, Jamaica and Bermuda — also remained loyal.

And so did Florida. At the time, we were two colonies: East Florida and West Florida, and we wanted no part of a revolution. The way we saw it, it wasn’t so much “revolution” as it was “insurrection” (yes, I know) and it was, to our way of thinking, treason.

Other colonists who wanted to remain British fled either to present-day Canada or to Florida. There are a few reasons life in Florida was great for British colonists (check out that link; it’s a fascinating description of Florida during the American Revolution), but the takeaway here is that the signing of the Declaration of Independence so incensed Floridians that they  burned effigies of John Hancock and Sam Adams in the St. Augustine town square. During the war, Floridians fought for England.

So, in 1776, Florida was less concerned with being tread on than it was distancing itself from an insurrection. And make no mistake about it: What we now call the American Revolution was, indeed, an insurrection (per Merriam Webster, who defines insurrection as an “act or instance of revolting against civil authority or an established government.”)

The End of Revolution and the Gadsden Flag

The Gadsden flag, then, was not one Florida supported. It, in all likelihood, upset late-18th-century and early-19th-century Floridians. When the 13 other colonies won their independence, that flag likely chafed even more, because now the Floridas went to Spain. That’s one hell of a reward for loyalty, although this was part of the 1783 Treaty of Paris and not something England otherwise might have done. Nevertheless, every time a Floridian looked at the Gadsden flag or heard the phrase “don’t tread on me,” it’s safe to say it didn’t inspire patriotism.

Of course, today, Florida’s part of the United States. I get that. But we can’t claim that the Gadsden flag’s origin or initial purpose did anything other than stand in opposition to what Florida was at the time. It stood for things we hated.

But sure, let’s put it on a license plate. Even if, every time I see one of those plates, I won’t think about helping Florida’s veterans. Instead, I’ll remember a Florida that desperately wanted nothing to do with these United States.

Maybe not the message we want that Don’t Tread on me Florida license plate to send.

Read more Florida history you don’t know, this time about Henry Flagler and railroads.

After Irma: The Keys goes to the dogs (part six in a series)

White Gate Court is what you’d call a “human-friendly resort” — as in, it’s really a place for dogs and they tolerate humans. I wrote about it a few years ago for the summer guide, because I figure any place that loves worships dogs like I do is a place CL readers may want to visit.

They’re our next stop down US 1 as we head towards Ground Zero (Cudjoe Key, around MM 20) and I’m nervous about what I’ll find. Things have been more positive than I expected, rehab-wise, thus far, but when we tried to schedule a vacation at White Gate in late October, they still hadn’t reopened after Irma. As we motor towards the end of Islamorada, I notice more and more fences blown over and not yet put right; more land cleared where you sort of assume, after two or 20 of such lots, ill-advised landscaping may have blown over and taken out a few things. I almost don’t want to see how one of my favorite places in the Keys has fared, but I need to know.

As we pull in the (long, long) drive, the first thing I notice is a pile of rubble, but the cottages themselves remain. And — this is a bright spot, I think — many actually look better. We let the dogs out of the car (totally what you do here) and Calypso bounds towards the office, where Fred rushes out to greet her (I’d like to think it’s her animal magnetism, but in reality, it’s probably Fred’s little wiener talking). Jane, the manager, greets me warmly and shows me the property. Yes, she says, the cottages had damage, but they took the opportunity to upgrade and fix things, which is why they remained closed as long as they did (and, also, for a great deal of it, the Keys had unreliable internet and phone service). 

White Gate Court post-Hurricane Irma upgrades. Photo via Cathy Salustri.
Post-Irma: New floors, new paint, a new kitchen and bathroom repairs. Not ideal why it happened, but clearly it’s a big upgrade. Photo by Cathy Salustri.

She’d told me two years ago their biggest challenge was finding time to make upgrades, because they only have seven cottages and they remain full most of the year. Closing for the aftermath of Irma have them the chance to make repairs and upgrade.

After a tour of the property and Calypso and Fred have enough time to buddy around, I bid Jane goodbye and continue south. 

I’m hoping everything I find next has a similar happy ending, but I’m concerned it will not. 

Six months after Hurricane Irma ravaged the Florida Keys in 2017, Cathy Salustri explored the chain of islands to see what damage remained. This piece originally appeared at Creative Loafing. Read the next in the series here, or, if you haven’t yet, go back and start at the beginning.

Road Trip: Winter Park’s Alfond Inn is both hotel and art museum

The Alfond is big on art — and on helping fund Rollins students’ educations.

When I lived in Winter Park 24 years ago, I didn’t appreciate the history of the place — I was too caught up in its charm. It’s still charming, but, after doing some research on Henry Plant, I have a new appreciation for why Winter Park exists. As with many things in Florida — especially in the middle of the state — the reason goes back to the railroad.

“No,” says our boat captain as we putter around Lake Osceola and Lake Virginia, “Plant never had a hotel here.” The Winter Park Scenic Boat Tours offer great views of the small town’s stately lakeside homes, but historians their captains aren’t: Not only did Henry Plant build a hotel on Lake Osceola, he built it pretty much where they launch their boats. Seems like the kind of history a tour boat captain should know.

Rachel Simmons, the archivist at the Winter Park Public Library, did some digging and told me that Plant’s Seminole Hotel was a stone’s throw from the present-day Alfond Inn, where E. New England Ave. dead-ends on Lake Virginia. The Seminole was so large it stretched from Lake Virginia to Lake Osceola — ending, she tells me, at the Scenic Boat Tours’ current dock.

The Seminole was one of a string of hotels built across Florida as part of Henry Plant and Henry Flagler’s frenemie-ship. These two men had significant wealth, and they used it to build rival empires in Florida. The stakes were high for the burgeoning state, but for the men, Florida was their playground, a place where they could continuously one-up each other. For example: The Seminole, built in 1885, had 200 rooms. Flagler opened St. Augustine’s Ponce de Leon Hotel three years later with 400 rooms. In 1888, Plant started work on the Tampa Bay Hotel, which would have 500 rooms, with new features: a horse-racing track and 70-foot-long pool. Flagler responded in St. Augustine by opening the Alcazar with a full gymnasium, a 120-foot-long pool, a bowling alley and an archery range. Both men wanted to build the largest wooden structure in the world, and Flagler earned that honor with the 1894 Hotel Royal Poinciana in Palm Beach — but Plant came in second with the 1896 Belleview Biltmore.

Henry Plant's The Seminole

Winter Park was part of this playing field. In 1880, the census didn’t count Winter Park as a separate entity, simply as part of the larger Precinct 2, perhaps because of the lack of people. By 1890, thanks in large part to the Plant railroad, Winter Park had a population of 270. In 2010, the census counted 27,852 people — an increase of 10,000 percent. The Seminole had 250 rooms, launches, billiard rooms, a bowling alley, stables, private bathrooms and panoramic views of the wilderness from which this magnificent hotel insulated the guests. People would arrive in Winter Park courtesy of the Plant railroad, and mule-driven cars would take them to the hotel’s front door. It was an oasis of luxury at the edge of the Florida frontier, visited by the elite.

The Seminole burned down in 1902, and a second, smaller one took its place in 1912, lasting until 1970. And that, it might seem, would be the end of grand hotels built with great wealth in Winter Park.

Except it isn’t. A stone’s throw from the original Seminole, Rollins College built and owns a hotel with modern luxuries — not quite the equivalent of The Seminole, but certainly luxurious enough. The hotel’s amenities aren’t the reason we write about it, though; it’s the way the hotel operates that make this a destination in Winter Park. A $12.5 million-dollar grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation (Harold Alfond’s daughter-in-law, Barbara Lawrence Alfond, met Harold Alfond’s son, Ted, when they both attended Rollins in the 1960s) made provisions for building the 112-room hotel, with all the profit going to scholarships for Rollins students (a four-year education at Rollins costs $230,000, slightly higher than Eckerd College and slightly lower than Harvard). To date, the Alfond Inn has funded $4.9 million in scholarships for 35 students.

While Plant decorated his hotels with art and sculpture he collected in Europe (trying, one might assume, to outdo Flagler, who hired Louis Tiffany to design the interior of the Ponce de Leon hotel), the Alfond takes another tactic: The hotel is, literally, an art museum. Paintings, mixed media, photographs and sculpture adorn every floor, and not typical hotel art either. Ted and Barbara Alfond, with their curator, Abigail Ross Goodman, bought 240 pieces and donated it to the Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College. From this collection — the Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art — the Alfond rotates pieces throughout its public spaces. Jaume Plensa’s steel-and-stone “The Hermit XI” adorns the outdoor area, lit at night to showcase the steel alphabet letters that comprise the human form. The collection also includes “Sharbat Gula, Afghan Girl, Pakistan,” the stunning Steve McCurry photo that graced the cover of National Geographic. As the Alfond notes in its promotional materials, the variety within the collection is intended as a “visual syllabus” for a liberal arts education. The hotel is a grand gallery in intimate places; while waiting for the elevator, Rachel Perry’s 2010 “Lost in My Life (Wrapped Books)” enchanted me.

As with Henry Plant’s grand hotel, the Alfond welcomes the public — to eat, drink or browse. 

After all, it’s a Winter Park tradition.

If you go
The Alfond Inn
300 E. New England Ave., Winter Park.

Also in Winter Park
Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens
633 Osceola Ave., Winter Park. $5.

Bosphorous Turkish Cuisine
108 S. Park Ave., Winter Park.

This article appeared originally in Creative Loafing Tampa.