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Cedar Key 50th Annual Fine Arts Festival

Permanent Linkby RichardDevine on Mon Apr 07, 2014 11:55 am

Cedar Key is holding its 50th Annual Fine Arts Festival April 12 and 13. This beautiful little fishing village and artist community is located just off Florida’s west coast about 50 miles southwest of Gainesville, Florida.
Cedar Key’s history is a story of boom and bust, and boom again, the area tormented by both economic and natural disasters, but has persisted and has ultimately become a magnet for artists and tourists alike.
Cedar Key has probably been inhabited by Native Americans since about 500 BC. The Timucua Indians lived in the area from 200 AD to about 1000 AD. Evidence of their presence can be found in the form of shell mounds scattered about the islands of the area. Spanish explorers pretty much replaced the Indian population by 1500 through wars and disease, and Spain remained in control of Florida in general until 1815, when Spain traded Florida to the US in return for a US promise to stay away from Texas. We know how that played out.
In 1842 Congress encouraged settlement of Florida by passing the Armed Occupation and Settlement Act, giving 160 acres to anyone who farmed five acres of land for five years. The first lighthouse was built on Seahorse Key after Florida was admitted to statehood in 1845. Wealthy Plantation owners were also attracted to the Keys and used them as a resort of sorts until the Civil War. The original settlement was started on an outer island named Atsena Otie in 1843, but after a terrible hurricane destroyed nearly everything in 1896, the settlement was moved to a more protected island..
David Yulee Levy started construction on a cross Florida railroad in 1856, beginning in Fernandina Beach on Florida’s east coast, just south of Jacksonville, and completed the rail line to Cedar Key in 1861. By the time of the Civil War there were 215 men, women and children living on Cedar Key. Growth and construction pretty much stopped during the war. A Union blockade of the area in 1862 shut down all fishing and the rail and port were destroyed.
It seems fitting that this small community so well known for its art festival should have really taken off after the pencil manufacturer, Eberhard Faber, bought land there and started grinding out pencils from locally harvested Cedar trees after 1859. Another factory built by the Eagle Pencil Company opened on nearby Way Key. In 1869, with the Civil War over, the township of Cedar Key was incorporated, and started to grow. Tourism began to increase and many of the 400 residents made a living in the fishing, green turtle and oyster industries. That burst of prosperity came to an end in the 1890’s with the depletion of timber and seafood, and the oyster beds gave out just after the turn of the century. A hurricane and fire in 1896 wrote the final chapter, destroying the manufacturing plants, and if that wasn’t bad enough, the railroad was redirected to Tampa.
In 1867 the famous naturalist John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, completed a 1000 mile trek from Indianapolis to the Cedar Keys. President Herbert Hoover, after the depletion of the oyster beds, dedicated a large area as the Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuge (Muir would have been pleased about that). In 1989 more than 80,000 acres in and around Cedar Key were added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1995 a Federal program helped many of the local fisherman by retraining them to grow clams. Today that industry has been instrumental in reviving the area.
Many of the earliest structures on Cedar Key were destroyed, but a number of interesting historic buildings still exist and are still being used. The two earliest buildings constructed on Cedar Key were the Cedar Key United Methodist Church and the Island Hotel in 1855. The 13 room Hotel, still standing today, is supposed to be haunted, with guests from the past walking the hallways.
Edward Lutterloh built a residence and store in the early 1870’s and those buildings can still be seen today. In fact, the residence is now home to the Cedar Key Historical Society Museum.
The White House Annex was built by the Florida Town Company sometime between 1884 and 1890. It was later purchased by S. T. White, who operated it as a rooming house for a while, then sold it to C. C. Widden, who ran it as the White House Hotel. It’s interesting to note that beneath the building is the largest Indian shell midden in Cedar Key.
The J. Ira Gore Residence, on the corner of 2nd and F streets, served as the headquarters of the local newspaper, The Florida State Journal, in the 1870’s.
The wooden, two story School House Building at 658 4th St, circa 1880, was the area’s principal school until 1915 when a new brick school was built on another site. The Schoolhouse was bought in 1936 and is now used as a private residence.
The Eagle Cedar Mill Company built a house on the southwest corner of 3rd and F streets in 1880 for one of its employees. The structure was later purchased by Boaz Wadley in 1919 and it stayed in the family until 1991, when it was turned into the Cedar Key Bed and Breakfast.
The festival, called Old Florida Celebration of the Arts, is a juried art show exhibiting the works of 100 artists who’ll be competing for $10,000 in prizes. There will be plenty of food and sightseeing as well, so plan to go and spend a day or more and take in the area’s history.

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