By. Chris Stritzel
You are driving down Florida's famous Highway 30A and you pass through a small town with some fast food stores, gas stations and a Grocery Store with a Pig on the sign (Piggly Wiggly) You don't think nothing of it and continue down 30A. The town you just passed through is Port St. Joe, Florida. The town has a population less than 3500 people per the 2010 Census. It also has a lot of history to go along with it. So the question is... why haven't you heard of Port St. Joe?
Here's the answer.
West of the town is Tyndall Air Force Base - Panama City. To the East is Apalachicola, and to the South is Cape San Blas. While Panama City, Tyndall Air Force Base and Apalachicola will ruing bells in some people's heads, the towns in between these three (Mexico City, Port St. Joe and Cape San Blas), are known as the "Forgotten Coast" of Florida. This section of the state showcases those who choose to stop and look around what the famous beach cities used to look like before the high-rises and commercialization of those other cities. In these three beach/bay side towns, there are no high-rises or chain hotels, everything here is locally owned and large beach side homes.
Back in the town of Port St. Joe (largest out of Mexico Beach and Cape San Blas), away from the Fast Food joints on the main road (30A/Monument Avenue), is many things that really give the town its character. Here, you will find NO "Touristy" Souvenir Shops (Alvin's Island and Surf Style) but local restaurants and stores to give the town its historic charm and beauty. All of Downtown Port St. Joe's Buildings are historic and most are occupied or awaiting a tenant to open up. It never used to be this way however.
After Hurricane Ivan in 2004, the civic government along with many concerned residents came together to restore the city and fix it up. They did exactly that and the success continues to today where historic landmark restorations are happening as well as new businesses opening up.
Many of the historic structures that could be saved were saved and brought back to life. Many of the new uses for these buildings are shops, restaurants, office space, dental offices and doctors offices. New construction here is "low key" and comes in the form of homes. Some of the most recent construction projects in their downtown are the Port Cottages (10 of them), Piggly Wiggly Expansion and the Lighthouse Park Project. While no others are planned at the moment, it is expected to continue as the city has many restorations that need to be completed first.
The most notable of the restorations is the historic Port Theater on Reid Avenue. The old Movie Theater is being converted into a concert venue. While rundown now, the civic government and a group of private investors are working hard to restore the old theater and make it the new "go-to" place for entertainment in the whole city. Along Reid Avenue, only one abandoned building remains and the future of it remains unclear.
Finally, There is the Lighthouse. It was moved from Cape San Blas along with two houses because they were sinking into the sandy, ocean side land. They were moved VIA truck and now stand in Lighthouse Park on the Southern Edge of Downtown along the Bay. The most important fixture of this project is the historic Lighthouse. Now the tallest structure in the town, visitors can climb to the top of the Lighthouse for $3-$5 and observe the Bay and the Town as a whole. Furthermore, a Museum for the Lighthouse is in the works next door to where the Souvenir Shop recently opened.
In all Port St. Joe offers visitors with the opportunity to escape from it all. Get away from the traffic and people and relax in a laid back "southern style" town where everyone is friendly and helpful. In the end, you'll come home feeling happy and laid back. But, if you are wanting the big city feel, you can always visit Panama City 60 miles to the East.
Lets make the "Forgotten Coast" remembered again!
SPONSORED BY: The Port Inn + Cottages, City of Port St. Joe , Port Theater Restoration Group, and The Cape San Blas Lighthouse Association
Travel is a new way to learn about cities and how they do things. We will write stories fitting to Cities and Towns that can either be heard of or not heard of. All Cities and Towns we choose will be nice and have "that feature" to it that takes the cake. These can either be hospitality, things to do, location and history.