You can’t leave Tallahassee. It pulls you back.
I don’t know why, nor do I know who first made that observation. Maybe it’s the people here. Or maybe it’s the canopy roads. I’m sure there are canopy roads in other places, but I haven’t seen them.
Whatever the attraction, I’m joining a lot of other people who lived here, moved away, and then returned.
Tallahassee is not the place where I grew up, but I call it my hometown because it grew on me. The place where I was born and grew up is Huntington, W.Va. I spent a month there a while back, seeing old friends (the few who haven’t moved to Florida), walking the streets of my old neighborhood, seeing the old school and, finally, deciding I would not live there again.
Things have changed there, and not for the better. The population (49,000) is a little more than half what it was when I lived there. Meanwhile, Tallahassee continues to grow and change for the better.
When I first came to Tallahassee so long ago, it really didn’t compare favorably to that West Virginia hometown. Huntington was bigger, it had two daily newspapers, and both were better than theTallahassee Democrat. I viewed Tallahassee as a sleepy, rinky-dink afternoon-newspaper town.
Nothing like the Tallahassee of today.
It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that downtown Tallahassee in the mid 1960s bore some similarity to downtown Monticello today. If you wanted to take your family to dinner, you went to Morrison’s cafeteria at the corner of Pensacola and Adams streets. For special occasions, you went to the Silver Slipper.
On July 4, we went to Lake Ella to watch the fireworks and hear Malcolm Johnson, editor of the Democrat, read the Declaration of Independence.
A friend drove out Thomasville Road to see what was happening at some place called Killearn Estates and he told me it wouldn’t amount to anything because “it’s too far from town.” Thomasville Road was still just two lanes and there was no traffic light at the Timberlane Road intersection. Slowly, the city grew and change came, although old-timers grumbled about it. The joke often heard was that Tallahassee was being dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th century.
My family was part of that change. One daughter went to Bellevue for eighth grade, but Bellevue was new and didn’t open on time, so she went to the business school building at Florida State for the first three weeks. (Bill Montford was then a teacher at Bellevue, and later principal.)
My West Virginia hometown was changing, too. It was losing people, the downtown that once had stores filled with shoppers now seemed deserted, and the city no longer had the feel of a good place to live. It still has its beauty, as with its vast parks, but it has blemishes, too, and abandoned houses. The city rouses from its slumber five or six times a year on Marshall University football Saturdays.
So, two hometowns, one in which I was born, grew up, went to college, and the other my adopted hometown where I put down roots years ago and spent most of my adult life.
I think of Tallahassee now as my hometown. It’s no surprise to me that someone rated it the number one retirement city.