There was that one time, in the camper, we drove to Florida.
Florida, Missouri, that is.
Kim has, but I’ve never been to Florida, the state.
I’ve seen pictures and watched YouTube videos of the abundant RV camping, the beautiful aqua blue water, and white sandy beaches. I’ve always dreamed of taking the RV all the way down the A1A to Key West and taking a selfie by that big red and black buoy thing with the writing on it that’s always in the shade when backlit people get their pictures taken next to it.
Come to think of it, I’d never been to Florida, Missouri either.
And since getting to Florida, Missouri was a lot cheaper and closer to home than Florida, the state, we made the short side trip during a multi-day journey along the Great River Road that follows the fabled Mississippi River. https://experiencemississippiriver.com/
I felt a mysterious pull to go there and walk, or at least drive on the hallowed ground of the town where one of my witty writing and cigar smoking heroes was born.
It was November 30, 1835, in Florida, MO when, under the celestial glow of Halley’s Comet, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known to the masses as Mark Twain was born. The two-room cabin sheltered eight people – Twain’s parents and his five siblings.
Twain wrote of his birth in Florida, Mo. -“The village contained a hundred people, and I increased the population by 1 per cent. It is more than many of the best men in history could have done for a town.”
Twain didn’t stay long in Florida. His family moved to Hannibal, MO in 1839 to seek out better opportunities when he was 5 years old. https://www.visithannibal.com/
Twain made many return journeys to Florida. He was known to use his boyhood hometown and the people who resided there as inspiration for many of his famous tales, including “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
Another interesting fact about Florida, MO is the town’s involvement in the Civil War. The area around Florida was the scene of two small battles during the conflict. The first happened in July 1861.The second Civil War action near Florida occurred about one year later on July 22, 1862.
Those of you that would desire to make the pilgrimage to Twain’s birth town should travel expecting to see pretty much nothing of the original town. There are few signs remaining of the original settlement. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida,_Missouri
There is a large rock sign at the intersection of Missouri Route 107 and State Route U. Framed with old railroad ties, “FLORIDA” is spelled out in large letters made of white rocks on a dark grey background.
The village was never very big. It reached its peak population of 280 residents in 1880. Following World War II, the few remaining businesses closed, and families moved away, just as the Clemens family did in 1839, to find better opportunities in the cities.
As a matter of fact, the population was down to nine residents according to the 2000 United States Census, and by 2010 the population was listed as zero and Florida officially noted as uninhabited.
Back to Mark Twain’s legacy. The village of Florida and neighboring Stoutsville have a few points of interest for Mark Twain fans. There are a few old buildings in the actual village of Florida, but don’t think you are going to find a Casey’s or Kwik Trip for gas and a slice of pizza!
There is a red granite monument and plaque that marks the original location of the Clemens’ family cabin. The historic grey clapboard structure was moved from Florida into a climate-controlled museum setting at the nearby town of Stoutsville, MO. https://mostateparks.com/park/mark-twain-birthplace-state-historic-site
That vintage cabin is preserved for all to see, along with some bedroom furnishings, within the walls of the Mark Twain Birthplace Memorial Museum and Research Library, as part of the Mark Twain Birthplace State Historic Site created in 1960.
Unfortunately, during our visit, the museum was closed. But it’s said to house a number of exhibits detailing Mark Twain’s remarkable life featuring first editions of his works, including a handwritten manuscript of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”
Also in the area is Mark Twain Lake, created in the Mid-1960s when some of the valuable farmland around the area was permanently flooded with hopes of creating new recreational and tourism opportunities in the region. The man-made Mark Twain Lake has become a draw for tourists wishing to camp, boat and fish. Many of the county road signs in the park carry on with the Twain theme.
The 2,775-acre Mark Twain State Park offers some great camping in three different campgrounds – Puma, Coyote and Badger – with a special-use camping area, a group camp area and spacious family campsites. Sites are basic or electric only with potable water nearby.
A number of the campsites have electric pedestals with 50-amp service. There is a dump station that is shared between the three different campgrounds.
Showers and restrooms, laundry and firewood are available for campers as well. Firepits and picnic tables are at each campsite.
The Puma Campground also features six camper cabins. The log cabins can house up to four adults and two children each with a queen bed, full-size futon and a carpeted loft for sleeping bags.
You can now reserve a Missouri State Parks campsite or cabin up to 12 months in advance. Weekends require a two-night stay minimum. Contact the park: https://mostateparks.com/page/61718/make-reservation for more information.
And a reminder, if your time spent in the Florida area wasn’t enough excitement for you, just hop back on Missouri Route 107 for a few miles then head west on Highway 154. It won’t be long until you will drive right through the middle of downtown Paris.
Paris, Missouri, that is.