Mr. B. and I are on the road a lot, poking around the upper half of the state of Florida. We both like exploring, although we often do so for different reasons. Mr. B. is more aligned with nature and I am more aligned with funky signage or with “artistic” displays of personal eccentricities. We meet in the middle most of the time, but I keep track of our adventures so that he isn’t slighted by things like the Citrus Tower.
Sometimes we are too slow off the mark to take a long drive, so we nose around locally. Since Saturday was one of those days, Mr. B. suggested that we check out the Old Bellamy Road, a limerock road dating from 1824 that was the superhighway of its day. The road was constructed to follow the old Mission Trail and it ran from Pensacola to St. Augustine. It takes its name from John Bellamy, who built that part of the road between St. Augustine and Tallahassee.
By the Civil War, the road was being bypassed for newer roadways.
The Alachua County part of Old Bellamy Road begins just a few miles northwest of Mr. B.’s spread in Alachua, making it easy for us to explore on a lazy day. Originally it was the Main Street for Newnansville, a defunct city within whose historic boundaries Mr. B.’s land now sits.
We started bumping down the road under that wonderful Florida verdancy in all its shades of green. Old Bellamy Road was the perfect country drive and we were happy to cruise along at a rate only slightly more than that of a wagon, thinking that we were going to eventually bump over to the edge of O’Leno State Park. Even though we were in Mr. B’s neighborhood, we used my Florida Gazetteer as a guide. It appeared that we would be able to travel the length of the road without having to detour.
The land bordering the road was gorgeous and serene. You might as well have been back in 1824 for the lack of traffic; one could easily imagine traversing its length in a buckboard. A mile or so down the road, the road curved and dipped as it approached a rise. At the top of the rise was a brand-new, rather large white sedan whose driver stopped to allow us to approach and pass. I drove by and waved, acknowledging the driver’s courtesy. As the sedan passed, I noticed it had a large antenna sprouting from its trunk. “That’s a cop,” I told Mr. B.
I passed the sedan and continued thumping down the road, briefly stopping to take a picture of a derelict shack, and then I noticed that the white sedan had turned around and was now right behind me, following too close.
“The cops are following me,” I said.
Mr. B. suggested that I pull over and let the guy pass. There was no reason to think the police would be following us. My plates are up to date, I’ve not kited any checks, and neither Mr. B. nor I were, to the best of our knowledge, wanted criminals. I pulled over and let the sedan pass. He drove off far too fast and he kicked up a cloud of dust as he did.
A few hundred yards later, Bellamy Road ended in a paved county road. The Gazetteer was wrong and so was the Alachua County Scenic Roads Web site . Like so many roads in Florida that are never correctly mapped, Old Bellamy Road ended and then picked up again slightly to the southwest, after you had crossed the paved county road.
We stopped to take a picture of the historical marker, and then we continued along for a couple of hundred feet. Here was the church pictured on the Scenic Roads Web site and here was the white sedan in the church’s yard, parked alongside a squad car from the Alachua County Sheriff’s department.
Hmmm, I said.
We passed the cop cars and as soon as we had, still in front of the church, I looked in the rearview mirror and saw them pull out of the yard.
“The cops are following us,” was my brilliant deduction.
“No way,” Mr. B. said. “Why would they follow us?”
“They’re pulling us over,” I replied.
The white car pulled up in back of us while the marked car pulled alongside. I rolled down the window. I said something brilliant like “HOWDY!” and then waited expectantly.
The cop rolled down his window, and I announced that we were taking a scenic drive. “Howdy, I’m your friendly Fresh-Squeezed Florida blogger, the picture of curious innocence, just out for a scenic drive.” (I didn’t really say this. It would have just complicated matters.)
Mr. B. jumped in to say that he lived locally and that this road had been marked as an Alachua County Scenic Road. Still, there was room for doubt on the cop’s part. That comes with the territory. We might be cleverly garrulous in our attempt to cover up the real reason we were on Old Bellamy Road. We didn’t know at that point that Old Bellamy dead-ended just beyond the church, which probably made the cops wonder what we were doing on it. They knew the road ended and we did not. They had us boxed in just in case we turned out to be persons of interest.
Surely our recent activities had been well within the boundaries of the law, hadn’t they? Visions of bad Southern cops, historically rather upsetting, ran through my mind. Big ole redneck cops with bullwhips and happy trigger fingers, the local pokey, justice meted out not by the law but by personal discretion and inclinations towards sadism…
“We’re planning an ambush,” the cop explained.
Of course! That explained everything. There must be felons, probably armed and terribly dangerous, hiding in the otherwise bucolic Old Bellamy Road. Or an illegal still, or a stolen pig. That says it all.
“It’s a stolen semi,” he added. “Out of county. We’re gonna stake it out and ambush the guy.” He smiled. You could tell it was a slow Saturday.
“Really?” I asked. I wanted to volunteer that we would look for it. But sanity got the better of me and I said we’d turn around and leave.
“No, y’all can go ahead.” He still allowed the possibility that we might be connected to the crime.
I didn’t really want to, so I volunteered to let the cops go ahead. I said that I didn’t want to get in the way. With my luck, the thief would come out with guns blazing. They moved on, and we waited a minute or so and then continued. Just beyond the church was the semi with the cops parked next to it. The truck was in someone’s front yard. It wasn’t hidden and neither was the intended stakeout and ambush. I gather that the cops planned to just wait there until the thief arrived home, at which point they would arrest him. This was charming and very well thought out. I’d have planned something far more elaborate, like hiding the cars behind the church and creeping into the woods between the church and the house and surprising the guy as he was eating his barbecue dinner, but I have seen too many movies and I take far too many creative and colorful licenses.
So there they were, parked next to a big red semi, and there we were, learning that Old Bellamy Road had once again ended. We turned around in the thief’s driveway and slowly bumped back the way we had came. Old Bellamy Road was a dead end. Eventually, we picked our way across another county road to the last third of it, which did not end at O’Leno State Park but on the road into High Springs.
Later, I thanked Mr. B. for suggesting Old Bellamy Road as a short local trip. Imagine, I said, if we’d gotten up early enough to go to the zoo. We’d have missed the ambush. We’d have had a Coke and maybe a hotdog, and we’d have taken some pictures that might or might not have had lens flare in them, a monkey would have screeched at us, and we’d have gone home far less fulfilled.
With that thought in mind, we puttered down to High Springs, very, very satisfied.
Old Bellamy Road: *****
Florida Gazetteer: ***1/2 (The guide has gone down in my rankings. This marks the second time in one week that it has not indicated a road that is chopped into sections. Or that a dam exists where none does at all, which will be subject of a future post.)
The marker at the second leg of Old Bellamy Road.
An eminently trustworthy face. Trust me.