Historic Photos of Florida Ghost Towns, new from Turner Publishing, pairs beautiful black and white archival photos with detailed commentary by Steve Rajtar to offer a counter-narrative to the traditional history of Florida. Florida’s history is often told in terms of exponential growth, focusing on the Sunshine State’s ecological bounty as a reason for immigration and tourism. Ghost Towns takes a look at the many historical sites in Florida that were destroyed, absorbed, or abandoned as the state bounded to modernity. Rajtar and his editors have organized the book around all the different ways that a town might become a ghost town, including economic (company closings, plantation declines, railroad expansion), sociopolitical (absorption, abandonment, government mandates), and natural (fires, floods, hurricanes).
Appropriate for its title, there’s something haunting about many of the images in the book. Like all images from the past, they speak for what no longer exists, but there’s something melancholy here too. Take for example this 1897 image of the Lamb family from the ironically-named plantation township of Hopewell. Their dour expressions communicate a sense of the difficulties of an agrarian life in Florida over a century ago — more Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings than Miami Vice. What happened to these people after their farms collapsed? Where are their descendants today?
Historic Photos of Florida Ghost Towns will be a welcome addition to any Florida history buff’s library, as well as a handsome book for any Floridian’s coffee table. It’s also a worthy document to testify to an an alternate and often overlooked element of Florida history. Florida has a rich, storied past, and Ghost Towns helps to honor that. As the state heads into an uncertain future, the book also might make some of us reappraise our own cities’ chances of withstanding the test of time. Recommended.