Florida Reptile Land

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Postcard of Main Entrance

It's the eternal problem for the tourism entrepreneur: no matter how many tourists drive past your business, their wallets fat with money to spend on food, gasoline, and souvenirs, it doesn't mean diddly if they don't stop and buy from you instead of the few hundred similar businesses scattered up and down the highway.

For many roadside stands in the 1950's and early 1960's the answer was animals. A few cages, a gator pit, several snakes bought from Ross Allen or captured out back, and they were in business. The "Zoo" was offered for free to get people inside. Once there, of course, it was inevitable that Dad would get thirsty, Mom would want that pecan log, and Junior would just have to have that rubber snake -- and they might as well gas up, as long as they're here, too.

Such an attraction was Florida Reptile Land, on the once popular Highway 301 in Lawtey, about 35 miles Southwest of Jacksonville. (Another Florida Reptile Land, which shared the same postcard photo, operated on Hwy. 19-98 about 18 miles south of Perry.) A free zoo with "Over 100 Different kinds of animals from all parts of the world" was advertised to the curious traveler, along with Gifts, Novelties, Pecans, Candies, Tropical Jellies, Milk Shakes, Orange Juice, Coffee, and Hot Dogs -- which was, of course, the real business of the stand. Note the colorful blades spinning in the wind on a wire over the shop, and the Have-A-Tampa ad painted on the car in the parking lot, both once popular attention getting devices you don't see much anymore.

Today tourists are likely to bypass either highway on I-95 or I-75, and get their gas from some self-service gas station with nothing more to recommend it than being close to an exit, while their food money goes to a fast food chain with nary a pecan log in site.

Postcard image from the author's collection.

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