THE ROAD TO MONTICELLO, FLORIDA
By Anne Haw Holt
Fred Mahan Drive links historic districts in Monticello and Tallahassee, Florida. This road started as a tribal path—became known as the Old Spanish Trail and is now Route 90, once the main east-west route across the state.
In 1935 Mahan’s Nursery of Monticello, one of the largest nurseries in the Southeast, donated thousands of shrubs and trees to beautify the right-of-way along this drive. Jefferson County employed thirty-five men at 30 cents an hour to plant the shrubs, providing desperately needed jobs at a fair rate of pay for the height of the great depression.
The plantings included pyracanth, arbor vitae, crape myrtle, ligustrum and some palm trees. Recent plantings of smaller crape myrtles, from the intersection of I-10 and US 90 east of Tallahassee, to the edge of Monticello, present a spectacular range of brilliant colors throughout the summer months. For most of the year the shrubs are lush and green. In winter their bare cinnamon branches seem a work of art.
By late April and into May each year crape myrtles are covered in deep green leaves. In May the shrubs begin to produce large clumps of conical white flowers followed by old-fashioned “watermelon pinks” and later the gorgeous dark reds. When the crape myrtles are blossoming this two-lane road running east from Tallahassee to the historic City of Monticello, Florida is a never-to-be-forgotten treat, easily the most beautiful drive in Florida.
Local people love this highway. Once a road crew, apparently tired of mowing around bushes, started to use a huge chipping machine to “clear” the shrubbery from both sides of Rt. 90 east of Tallahassee. Late on a Friday afternoon after they cut down and chewed up a few crape myrtles, the men cut the machine off and left for the weekend.
Luckily, a reporter saw the machine devouring the crape myrtles and submitted a story to the local paper. The public outcry was unbelievable. Telephone lines seemed to catch fire from Monticello to Tallahassee to Washington, DC. Angry people called to demand help from their elected representatives to stop the destruction of the crepe myrtles.
Sometime Saturday or Sunday evening, someone cut the hydraulic lines, rendering the valuable machine useless. This action and subsequent news stories plus the frantic, angry telephone calls stopped the destruction and saved this beauty for us.
Please slow down a little and enjoy the show. You will see an occasional sturdy-looking palm tree tucked in behind the crape myrtles. You will even see a few overgrown and badly misshapen arbor vitae, but not a single pyracanth.