This post was written by David Bulit, author of Lost Miami: Stories and Secrets of Magic City Ruins
For years, I have been exploring and photographing abandoned places, mostly in the state of Florida where I currently live. What attracts to these places is a multitude of reasons; the decayed beauty, the forgotten history, the lost architecture. Much of my work and the work of other explorers in the state can be found on my website, www.abandonedfl.com.
The Victorian Treehouse
Built in the early-70s, this incredibly thought out tree house is part of a larger complex and former nursery business. The 3-story miniature house includes bedrooms, bathrooms and even a kitchen. Sadly, it had deteriorated over the years and is too far gone to repair.
Around 2014, photos of the tree house went viral, making rounds through news outlets, websites and blogs. It’s become very known for being such a wondrous and unique house left to rot along with the rest of the property. The current owners have cattle on the property and are not pleased with the attention, warning any would be trespassers that if caught, they will be arrested and charged. This hasn’t stopped people from visiting the property to see the house with their very own eyes.
Arthur G. Dozier School Dorms
The Florida School for Boys, better known as the infamous Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, was a reform school in the town of Marianna and for a time, it was the largest juvenile reform school in the country.
Since it’s opening in January 1900, the school gained a reputation for abuse, beatings, rapes, torture, and even murder of students by the staff.
An inspection in 1903 reported that boys at the school were commonly kept in leg irons. In 1968, Governor Claude Kirk visited the school and found overcrowding and poor conditions, saying that “somebody should’ve blown the whistle a long time ago”.
In 1982, another inspection revealed that boys were hogtied and kept in isolation for weeks at a time. In 1985, new information emerged that ex-inmates of the school were tortured by being handcuffed and hung from the bars of their cells, sometimes for over an hour.
In 2007, the acting superintendent and one other employee were fired following allegations of abuse. In 2009, the school failed its annual inspection, finding a large number of complaints by inmates, including mistreatment and abuse by the guards. In report published by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2010, they found many of the boys were subject to sexual misconduct by the staff.
The state decided to close the facility in 2011, citing “budgetary limitations”.
The North Campus was for blacks only before its integration in 1968. Behind the old campus was “Boot Hill Cemetery” where many of the boys who died at the school were buried. Even though there were pipe markers, they didn’t actually mark graves.
In 2013, the bodies buried there were exhumed by the University of South Florida, to indentify the bodies and to determine if the cause of death were from injury, illness or murder. In January 2014, USF announced that excavations yielded 55 bodies, twice the number official records say were there. Since then, only three of the bodies have been identified, one of which was a boy who was reported missing since 1940.
Aerojet-Dade Rocket Fabrication and Development Facility
Back in the 60s, the Soviet Union and United States would compete against each other for space supremacy in spaceflight capability and ultimately, who would be the first to land on the moon.
NASA hired a couple of companies to design and construct a rocket that would take a crew to the moon, one of these companies being Aerojet, a rocket and missile propulsion manufacturer.
Aerojet acquired land for the plant that would build such a rocket just south of Florida and less than 5 miles from the entrance to Everglades National Park. Outsourcing the construction of the rocket chamber to Sun Ship and Dry Dock and manufacturing the fuel at the facility, they were able to perform three test firings between September 25, 1965 and June 17, 1967. The final test firing used a modified nozzle and control system which made produce over 6 million pounds of thrust, making the largest solid-fuel rocket ever fired.
Despite this achievement, NASA decided to go with liquid fueled rockets from Aerojet’s competitor, causing the workers of the Everglades plant to be laid off. Aerojet mothballed the facility hoping NASA would change their minds but eventually closed it down.
Over the following years, the facility was used by the CIA and various other agencies for training before its complete abandonment after Hurricane Andrew. This attracted vandals, scrappers, and adventure seekers to the site in later years.
Located a few miles south of the main facility, the rocket chamber used in the last firing still remains in the test silo to this day.
William J. Howey moved to Winter Haven in 1908 and amassed a fortune there perfecting his citrus farming and sales program techniques. People flocked to the town considering him Florida’s greatest citrus developer and by 1925 the “Town of Howey” was incorporated. The name was changed to “Howey-in-the-Hills” to reflect the location of the town in an area of rolling hills which he dubbed the “Florida Alps”.
In 1927, construction of his mansion was completed; a 20-room 7,200 square foot mansion at the cost of $250,000, around $3.2 million today after inflation.
Howey died of a heart attack on June 7, 1938 at the age of 62. His wife, Mary Grace Hastings, lived in the Howey mansion until her death on December 18, 1981 and was laid to rest in the family mausoleum on the mansion grounds along with William and their daughter Lois.
The mansion was bought by Marvel Zona and her husband in 1984. After her husband’s passing in 2000, she was approached by would-be buyers and convinced her to take out a loan to pay off the mortgage of the home so it would be easier to sell. Unable to pay it off, she lost the mansion and her second home in North Carolina.
Currently on the market, there has been a lot of interest in purchasing the mansion and turning it into a museum but due to legal issues with the parties who own the mansion, the mansion continues to sit vacant.
Old Bahia Honda Rail Bridge
Not really abandoned per-say, but more of a relic of the past. Located on the west end of Bahia Honda Key, the bridge was originally built between 1905 and 1912 by Henry Flagler as part of the Overseas Railroad. It was intended to carry a single track of the Florida East Coast Railway across the Big Spanish Channel from Bahia Honda Key to Spanish Harbor Key. Due to the channel’s depth, being 24-feet at its deepest point, the Bahia Honda Bridge was built with a steel truss construction as opposed to a concrete arch form that was predominate throughout the Overseas Railway.
The bridge was destroyed during the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 and then later purchased by the State of Florida. Rather than rebuilding the bridge, the existing foundations were repaired and were converted to become part of the Overseas Highway in 1938 by adding the deck on top of the existing truss. The bridge served as the primary mode of transport to the lower keys and as the main evacuation route.
In 1980, a new four-lane bridge was constructed just a few hundred yards north of the old bridge, replacing the old route. Two of the truss spans of the old bridge were later removed to allow boat traffic.
The original bridge still remains, though it has fallen into a state of disrepair and signs warning boats of falling debris. Maintained by Bahia Honda State Park, the easternmost section of the bridge is open to pedestrian traffic and provides a scenic overview of the area.