Melrose, Fla., population 4,669, has exactly one traffic light.
The good citizens enjoy as well a post office, a library, a grocery store, a barber shop, 10 churches, 2 beauty parlors, a book store, five restaurants and a sports bar.
For at least 150 years, this tiny little town that sits almost exactly halfway between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico and exactly at the four corners of Alachua, Bradford, Clay and Putnam counties (State Rd. 26 at State Rd. 21) has been its own kind of Greater Jacksonville tourist attraction.
Originally called Banana because of groves banana trees growing along the banks of Etoniah creek, the first settlement was raised up around a mill.
Sometime after the Civil War, nobody knows exactly when or why, families began settling in and around Melrose, which soon became known as Shake Rag, horse for racing and the many race horses who came with the new settlers.
Melrose officially became Melrose on May 10, 1877. Named for Melrose, Scotland, and, again, no one will admit remembering why, the itty-bitty crossroads town was made more respectable for and by the local ladies.
Then came the rich Yankee tourists.
During its heyday from the 1880s through the early 20th century, like Green Cove Springs and St. Augustine, Melrose was a party mecca.
Tourists enjoyed boating, swimming, and skiing on area lakes – Santa Fe, Swan, Rosa, Serena, Ashley, Winnot, and Melrose – as well as the St. Johns River.
Of course they found Melrose because of the Shake Rags race course and stayed for the weather and the amenities.
Nowadays, Melrose is growing into an artists’ community, with three – count ‘em, Bellamy Road, the Melrose Bay Art Gallery and the Shaker Rag Art & Culture Center – art galleries and an ever-increasing gaggle of artists, dancers, musicians and craftspeople calling the area home.
Visit town almost any day of the week and there’s some interesting, and of course artsy, to do: Kundalini Yoga on Wednesday evenings at 6 p.m., coffee clatches at the art galleries, Jam session/pot luck dinners every Monday at 5 p.m. and barn dances every Friday starting at 7 p.m.
Or you can hang with the local beekeepers on Thursday evenings.
This loving preserved corner of Old Florida is made even more special by its most famous resident – maybe ever.
Meet Paul Berger
A long-time resident of Greater Melrose, Paul Berger is a very retiring man.
He’s also very insanely famous.
Simply put, he was Martin® Guitars in the 1960s and 1970s.
A protégé of Mr. Martin, Sr., Mr. Paul is the only person to whom Martin® gave his permission and his blessing to build a private line of guitars to Martin specs as long as Berger doesn't use the Martin® logo.
By all accounts, Mr. Paul is self-effacing and somewhat reticent about his famous clients.
So much so that you suspect he secretly sits in his quiet and whispers their names for pleasure.
Hang on to your hats.
Berger has built, repaired or restored guitars for some of rock and folk’s biggest names ever:
- Elvis Presley
- Paul McCartney
- Paul Simon
- Gamble Rogers
- Peter Paul & Mary
- Johnny Cash
- Merle Haggard
- Charlie Pride
- Arlo Guthrie
- Waylon Jennings
- Hank Williams, Jr.
- Roy Clark
- Hank Snow
- Gordon Lightfoot
Building great guitars for Martin® wasn’t enough, however.
He also ran the repair shop and has restored most of the guitars from Martin’s® golden era, the 1930s and 1940s, as well as many instruments that date to the turn of the 20th century.
When Mr. Paul left Martin® to start his own line of guitars, and he resolved to build some of the best guitars anywhere.
And he builds them still.
©2013 All rights reserved.
OFFICIAL BIO: K Truitt is a second-generation, native Floridian born in Jacksonville. Truitt worked in public higher education for 25 years and knows newspaper publishing, printing and graphic design. Contact: email@example.com