September 5 finally arrived, and we left Virginia for a 12 hour drive to Florida to present our research and information about this website at the Jefferson County Pubic Library in Monticello (yes, you read that right). Beautiful weather all the way down, and even a brief shower right at the state line couldn’t dampen our spirits!
We had a busy day planned for September 6, which began with a drive from where we were staying on the gulf coast south of Tallahassee to Monticello. The big surprise on the way up was the sudden change about half way up in terrain. We crossed an intersection and there was an immediate shift from the flat sandy plain to hills with very different vegetation – pretty dramatic. And a lot of road signs appeared saying, “Hills Block View”…
Our first destination was the Casa Bianca Missionary Baptist Church. Studying the history of the church is one thing, but actually being there really gave us a sense of place books cannot communicate. It is a very pretty church in a pleasant country location. And we didn’t know it when we got there, but our next destination was only a few hundred yards away!
Miranda taking photos, and some church history-
A major goal was to try to find the location of the Casa Bianca plantation main house. We knew there were two roads, Casa Bianca Road, and Casa Bianca Ridge Road – likely candidates, and Ridge Road is almost directly across the highway from the church, so we took that first. From the highway the road looks more like a driveway, but after driving in just a few yards we saw that the “driveway” parted into two lanes to go around an old live oak, right in front of it was a bronze marker on a post. It was immediately apparent that this marker commemorated the plantation, and when we walked up to it we saw that it included a familiar image of the plantation house, as well as its exact location 238 yards further along the road. This information was very useful later, during our presentation.
It was time for lunch, and a visit to the village of Monticello. We found a great place to eat, Electric City which is a very Greek small diner, and as soon as we entered the other patrons started volunteering suggestions as what to order- actually just one suggestion; get the chicken salad! And it was great, according to Miranda – I opted for a gyro. After lunch we continued the walking tour we began right after we parked. Monticello is an interesting, and historic village. And with a population of less than 3000, has more interesting things to see than you might expect. For one thing, a 19th century 200 seat opera house, still going strong today! And in the photo below, you can see the county courthouse reflected in its doors.
The courthouse was another destination. The clerk’s office has been very helpful, sending us many copies of documents we needed, but now Miranda would have the opportunity to “browse” the collection, which turned out to be even more valuable than we had hoped (pretty much everything about this trip turned out that way). I had one particular question I wanted to explore, and was fortunate enough to find a relevant document also. All in all a real opportunity for us.
We had spent some time at the library earlier in the day, meeting staff and setting up for the presentation (no starting with a blue screen, please!), and now it was time to head back to finish our preparations. With everything ready, it was time to wait and see if anyone would show up. We heard from one of the librarians that there was a lot of interest, but we still had no idea of what to expect.
Right before 6 people started arriving, and the when we asked the first two who came in how they had heard about our talk we learned that it was through the church, and it turned out almost everyone who came had a church connection. One however was a woman we had met that afternoon on our walk around Monticello. She was a member of the board of the local historical society, and very graciously gave us a tour of their home in the Wirick-Simmons house, although it was closed that day.