A half-hour west of Tallahassee, Quincy is a 200-year-old city with a lot of unique stories to reveal. One compelling one is that dozens of mostly humble local residents struck rich in the Coca-Cola boom of the 1920s.
As late as the 1980s that wealth was still sluicing through the city, when the Leaf Theater here became a performing arts stage.
Meanwhile, as early as the 1820s, shade-grown, Cuban cigar wrapper tobacco was a big economical driver. The prosperity created by that crop is still evident in an historic district bursting with grand Antebellum and Victorian mansions.
Something else that stood out to me about Quincy is the courthouse square. Seldom seen in Florida, this a lovely centerpiece for the city, with fine old buildings everywhere you look.
1. Quincy, Florida Historic District
As a priority, I think all first-time visitors should spend an hour or two moseying around Quincy’s historic district.
Contained by roughly Corry, Clark, Stewart and Sharon streets, this district features close to 150 contributing buildings. If you like historic architecture there’s a lot to see, and Quincy Main Street has published a detailed tour that you can download.
This has more than 50 items and takes you north into the beautiful, live oak-lined residential streets. Given the age of the city and the wealth that poured in via the tobacco trade, Quincy has its fair share of Antebellum architecture.
Some prominent mansions are the Smallwood-White House (1843), Stockton-Curry House (1842), and the Stockton-Malone House (1849), commonly held as the finest example at 326 North Adams Street.
2. Downtown Square
I’ve saved another entry to talk about the leafy courthouse square that has knitted Quincy’s downtown together for two centuries. One thing that makes it noteworthy is that there simply aren’t many squares like this remaining in Florida.
The current Classical Revival Gadsden County Courthouse (1913) is the county’s fifth courthouse and the fourth to be built at this exact site, going back to 1827. On all four sides of the square are rows of preserved old commercial buildings, with a handful of small businesses.
A few standouts are the Bell and Bates Building (1912), home to the Gadsden Arts Center and Museum, the A. L. Wilson Building (1896), and the Old Quincy State Bank Building & Opera House (1893).
3. Gadsden Arts Center & Museum
The handsome 1912 Bell and Bates Building on courthouse square is home to an AAM-accredited art museum.
The history of this institution goes back to 1989, with a juried exhibition organized by local artist Beth Appleton. The center took shape in the 2000s, and was accredited in the 2010s, adding the ‘museum’ to its name.
The focus of the permanent collection is on contemporary art from the Southeastern United States, in particular Southern vernacular art. The building has five galleries, hosting solo and well-curated themed exhibitions all year, as well as a shop.
I caught a fascinating one, at Present Tense: Critical Conversations on Contemporary Landscapes. This contrasted David Hockney’s 15 Canvas Study of the Grand Canyon with work by Florida artists at various stages of their careers.
4. Lake Talquin State Forest
Spread across more than a dozen parcels, Lake Talquin State Forest encompasses almost 20,000 acres of nature on or near the shores of Lake Talquin. Several of these properties are within a 15-minute drive of downtown.
I’ll spend a little longer talking about the Bear Creek Educational Forest close by. But elsewhere you’ve got the W.D. Lines Trails for mountain biking, and the High Bluff Recreation Area, which has a boat launch.
Both tracts offer plenty of hiking trails, High Bluff in particular, as well as RV and tent campsites.
5. Quincy Music Theatre
West of the square on Washington St is an elegant Art Deco theater, dating back to 1949. The Leaf Theater was opened by actor/entertainer Roy Rogers (1911-1998), and was named as a tribute to the local shade tobacco industry, still a big part of the economy at the time.
The Leaf eventually closed in 1980 but was soon restored. Part of the funding for this work came from relatives of Quincy’s Coca-Cola stockholders.
The building was then handed over to Quincy Music Theatre in 1983. For 40+ years this group has put on Broadway-style shows and children’s entertainment, with up to seven productions a year.
I was lucky enough to catch Hello, Dolly! when I was here, and loved catching up with Dolly Gallagher Levi again.
6. School of Human Flight
If you ever wanted to experience the thrill of skydiving for the first time, the School of Human Flight has been in the tandem skydiving game since 1994.
Based at Quincy Municipal Airport this is the longest-running business of its kind in North Florida. In the last 30+ years they’ve conducted thousands of jumps for people from all over the region.
What I like most about the School of Human Flight is the time they take to make sure you’re safe, informed and excited about what’s about to happen. Families can come along and sit in on the training.
During the jump you get to familiarize yourself with the freefall body position, and then the parachute opens at 5,000 feet and you can really enjoy the bird’s eye view of North Florida.
7. Bear Creek Educational Forest
My favorite local spot for hiking is an outlying 500-acre parcel, in the care of Lake Talquin State Forest. On a typical day you can visit to hike the well-maintained trails.
You’ve got the Bear Creek Loop, which passes through deep woods, crossing several creeks. Even more scenic is the Ravine Trail, presenting some terrain not often found in Florida, as you make your way up and down some sharp slopes.
As an educational forest, this place has a rich array of programs, both out on the trails, and at indoor and outdoor classrooms. These cover anything from tree identification to the water cycle and orienteering.
8. Pat Thomas Park
For an easy escape to nature, I’d head to this park among the pines on the western shore of Lake Talquin. Pat Thomas Park is a favored camping location, with sites for both RVs and tents. These include electric and water hookups, as well as firepits.
Naturally, the lake is the main attraction, and this is the perfect base for fishing, boating and kayaking.
You’ve got a boat ramp right here, as well as a pier if you want to fish from the shore. Close to the water is a large picnic pavilion, and I love how this connects with a little boardwalk/overlook. One of the best things you can do here is get up early and see the sun come up.
9. Joe Budd Wildlife Management Area
A ten-minute drive from Quincy will get you to this WMA on the northern shore of Lake Talquin. As with a lot of the nature around Quincy, the Joe Budd Wildlife Management Area has topography that is alien to much of Florida.
On foot, bicycle or horse, you can navigate rolling former pasture and pine-oak forest, with large swaths bedded with an understory of palmetto.
There’s a beautiful stand of old-growing longleaf pine here. Meanwhile, on the slopes, look out for rare wildflowers like silky camellia and orange azalea. For me, this is the best time to come for a walk.
Of course, during the season, hunting takes precedence at the Joe Budd Wildlife Management Area. So it’s worth keeping up to date with the calendar via the FWC and planning accordingly.
10. Jackson Heights Park (Tim Lane Park)
A little confusing, but this park, home to the Quincy Parks and Recreation Department, goes by a few different names. Still, the name at the entrance when I took a look was Tim Lane Park.
Anyway, whatever the name, this park brims with active recreation for all ages. I saw a baseball field, two basketball courts (one full, one half-court), and playground equipment.
One of the newer additions when I wrote this article was a wonderful splash pad. This is accompanied by picnic tables and a set of shade canopies for parents and caregivers.
11. Quincy Porchfest
If I had to pick the perfect time to see the Quincy Historic District it would be in mid-March when the whole neighborhood is filled with live music.
The Quincy Porchfest has been going for more than a decade now, and was the first festival of its kind in Florida when it was launched. What you get are lots of little live music performances at various locations throughout the afternoon.
These are hosted by churches, businesses and a number of private residences. Part of the fun is exploring, and seeing the community at its best. You’ll also find food trucks and a beer garden, usually a couple of blocks north of the courthouse Square.
12. Golf Club of Quincy
This semi-private course is five minutes out of town on gorgeous rambling terrain with skyscraping pines. Indeed, one of the things that literally stands out for me is the topography.
The layout at the Golf Club of Quincy is generally straight, but there are lots of changes in topography to keep you engaged. There’s a slope rating of 125 if you’re playing from the tips, while you’ll have to deal with a few isolated water hazards.
This is most memorable on #4, a par 3 over a large lake, with a tricky green that slopes from front to back. Another thing going for this course is affordability, at just $18 (walking) on weekdays at the time of writing.
13. Quincy Farmers’ Market
Something that caught me by surprise is that there’s a farmers’ market in Quincy. This is limited to the second Thursday of the month 3 pm to 7 pm.
The venue is First Presbyterian Church on N. Madison St, and the market is limited to non-commercial growers. So these are essentially backyard farmers, accompanied by an array of other food and craft-related small businesses.
So as well as fruit, vegetables and plants I saw fruit jams, goat milk cheese, pickles, syrups, baked treats, farm-raised meats, as well as a handful of food trucks.
Quincy can feel out of the way, but you’re less than half an hour from Florida’s state capital. As it happens, the Capitol is a good place to start. You’ve got the new, monolithic building, rising 22 stories, with a panoramic view of the city from the top.
This looms over the Old Capitol (1845), with preserved chambers and museum exhibits charting Florida’s political history.
Meanwhile, Tallahassee is home to not one but two important schools, at Florida State University and Florida A&M, contributing a lot to the city’s culture and sports scenes. FSU has a truly beautiful campus, with lots of Collegiate Gothic architecture, typified by the likes of the Westcott Building and Dodd Hall.
And I’ve barely scratched the surface. In town are other essential attractions like the Tallahassee Museum, the Tallahassee Automobile Museum, Alfred B. Maclay Gardens, and the Mission San Luis historic site.
15. Havana History & Heritage Society
Since the shade tobacco business was once so important to Quincy, I reckon it’s worth heading over to the town of Havana for a bit more insight. Fifteen minutes east of Quincy, Havana got its name in 1906 as a tribute to its massive shade tobacco crop.
As well as dealing with a variety of topics relevant to Gadsen County, like slavery and The Old Spanish Trail, the museum goes into depth on shade tobacco.
You’ll learn about the origins of this business in the area, as well as the unique cultivation methods, with a recreation of a curing barn, used to dry out the leaves.