Overnight Booms


Photo courtesy of Tavares.org

The news this morning that the small Florida city of Tavares was rocked by explosions from a propane plant during the night was alarming for a lot of reasons. Only about 20 miles from my home, Tavares is a city I’ve grown to enjoy and admire since my move to Florida. In recent years, the city has totally reinvented itself from a non-descript county government seat into a vibrant place that invited visitors and seaplanes. Yes, you read that correctly. Seaplanes! At first people chuckled when they heard the new tagline, “America’s Seaplane City,” but it’s the city that is getting the last laugh as seaplanes glide onto Lake Dora daily from all over the world creating a tourist boom of sorts.

The new visitors needed something to do and the city accommodated with the new downtown Waterfront Entertainment District. A variety of restaurants are all within walking distance, including a very upscale ALS (Air, Land, Sea) Top Shelf where I ate the best steak I’ve ever had anywhere.  I’ve enjoyed people-watching from the patio of Ruby Street Grille. A beer at O’Keefe’s Irish Pub is a Tavares tradition, and the family-owned Casa Mia Café has one of the best wine lists in town.

Orange Blossom Cannonball

Photo by Mary Ann DeSantis

And somehow during this Renaissance, Tavares managed to wrangle the Orange Blossom Cannonball train from its more upscale neighbor Mount Dora. Rides leave from the new rail station at Wooten Park on Saturdays and Sundays. One of my most memorable excursions was a special trip just for photographers.  Throughout the morning, we got on and off the train, which has been used in numerous movies, to take pictures of the old steam locomotive coming around a curve in the track or through a citrus grove.  And, of course, we were held up by a gang of desperadoes – all in fun, of course. Throughout the fall, the Orange Blossom Cannonball offers a variety of special interest excursions and I can’t wait to check out some of the new offerings like the Wine & Tapas Train.

Then there was the day I stumbled into the old Lake County Courthouse and found the Historical Museum tucked into several first floor rooms. The treasure trove of Old Florida and Civil War memorabilia kept me mesmerized for hour or so, vowing to return when I had more time.

And every year, more and more festivals are held on the Tavares side of Lake Dora. In mid-September, “Rifles, Rails & History: Steaming Back to the North and South” will feature the Orange Blossom Cannonball during a three-day festival. In October, pumpkins with be falling from the sky during the Seaplane Base Monster Splash on October 26.

Tavares boomed into an interesting town seemingly overnight although city leaders have been working on its image and new identity for quite awhile. A recession may have slowed some of the plans but it didn’t stop the progress.

When I heard that last night’s noisy booms were coming from Tavares, my heart was sad because I was afraid all the work might have been for naught. Then I heard that the explosions were contained to the Blue Rhino plant south of the city with no fatalities. Throughout the night the city came together to support those who were injured and to shelter the families who had to evacuate temporarily. The news images showed a progressive and caring community that extended beyond the waterfront. The façade did not crack as this city took take care of its own.