CRESTVIEW — School's out and the kids are screaming for something to do. Dr. Brian Rucker has a suggestion: Take a drive into our regional heritage.
The University of West Florida history professor's recently published "Treasures of the Panhandle: A Journey Through West Florida" is more than a lively history lesson.
"It's a guide for eco and heritage tourism," Rucker said. "It's a celebration of the place we call home."
Rucker said his book fills the void left by other Florida guides.
"Every time you read a book about Florida, it always stops at Tallahassee," he said. "I got tired of our area being the bastard stepchild of Florida. We have a long history here."
Without leaving Okaloosa County, cultural tourists can choose from many destinations, beginning with the Carver-Hill Museum in Crestview and Baker Block Museum.
Heading south, Rucker recommends the U.S. Air Force Armament Museum, noting, "For people who like things that go 'boom,' this is the place."
The Heritage Museum of Northwest Florida in Valparaiso and the Indian Temple Mound Heritage Park and Cultural Center in Fort Walton Beach also rate a visit, Rucker said.
The Indian temple mound is the last of several, one of which was lost when bulldozed to put in a bowling alley in the 1950s — "because that's 'progress,'" he said.
Head west, young man
Newspaperman Horace Greeley's advice to "go west" is also appropriate for seekers of local history.
Traveling U.S. Highway 90 west toward Milton takes visitors into the heart of Northwest Florida's once booming timber and turpentine industry.
Along the way, motorists drive parallel to a restored section of the first paved highway in the area. The Old Brick Road, or Highway 1, was a brick-paved section of the Old Spanish Trail.
"People came from Pensacola in their Model T's just to ride up and down a paved road at 35 miles per hour," Rucker said.
At the site of the region's first industrial park, Arcadia Mills Archaeological Site in Milton, visitors follow an elevated walkway and sense the large scale of the long lost sawmill, turpentine still and cotton gin complex.
Downtown Milton's historic center includes the L&N Railroad depot museum. The same railroad served Crestview, which is marked on several pieces of equipment displayed.
Like Milton, DeFuniak Springs’ historic downtown is ideal for Victorian architecture lovers, Rucker said. A stroll around Lake DeFuniak is a wander through history.
In addition to a promenade of picturesque railroad industrialists' homes, historic structures include the stately Florida Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood and several elegant churches.
DeFuniak's 1882 L&N Railroad Depot is also now a regional history and culture museum.
With the 1972 horror film "Frogs," Hollywood made famous Eden Gardens State Park, the stately 1890s Greek-revival plantation home.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.