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FLORIDA'S ROADSIDE GHOSTS: LEWIS PLANTATION
FLORIDA'S ROADSIDE GHOSTS: LEWIS PLANTATION

One of the most bizarre Florida roadside attractions was located two miles south of Brooksville, Florida along the Dixie Highway (US 41). Pearce Lewis owned 25 acres on the west side of the highway and had previously operated a turpentine still.  But when supply exceeded demand in the mid-1930s, Lewis was faced with finding an alternative for the property.  His idea was to create an attraction with its roots firmly entrenched in good old timey Southern racisim. What visitor to Florida wouldn't want to behold a post-Civil War plantation run by freed slaves?  Thus was born the Lewis Plantation and Turpentine Still.  Lewis hired local African-Americans to portray poverty strickened "Negroes."  It was sort of like a real-life Country Bear Jamboree...only offensive. The attraction was filled with every stereotype a visitor could desire, from the "Mammy" to  "pickaninnies at play."  Egads!

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                                  Original Lewis Plantation postcard and travel brochure (c. 1950s)

Adding to the mystique of this very odd concept is the fact that it was an extremely successful and profitable venture for Lewis. Obviously, it was not your standard roadside attraction, but visitors ponied up 15 cents for a ride in a wagon pulled by a mule and more often than not, the tour guide was Lewis himself.  Meanwhile, local black actors pretended to be impoverished freed slaves to the delight of visitors.  Lewis added a restaurant serving Southern vittles, plus the mandatory Florida gift shop.  Changing attitudes and the Civil Rights movemnent spelled the beginning of the end for the Lewis Plantation.  By the late 1950s, it was no longer "amusing" to partake of such an attraction, and before the 1960s arrived, the Lewis Plantation was gone.

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                      Entrance To Lewis Plantation (1940s) *Photo courtesy of State Archives of Florida

Today the site of the Lewis Plantation sits vacant, overgrown with Florida flora and fauna.  Unlike most of the Dixie Highway throughout the state, the area is void of retail development.  A few original buildings remain scattered amongst a collection of unoccupied 1970s aluminum mobile homes, each indivdually numbered for who knows what reason. The site looks exactly like any other 25-acre piece of real estate in Florida, and if one were not attempting to seek it out for inspection, one would never know that this was a significant footnote to the Florida roadside attraction industry.

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         The main building housed the restaurant and gift shop.  Today it is home to overgrowth and snakes.

 

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