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Florida Magazine

MICANOPY'S HERLONG MANSION:

A NORTH CENTRAL SECRET

Much of north central Florida seems to have stopped in an earlier decade and that's just fine with visitors and residents. This is certainly true in Micanopy and the town's Herlong Mansion, a small-town B&B with a big-time reputation.

Whether you're visiting for a peaceful getaway or using The Herlong Mansion as a base to thoroughly explore what tourism officials aptly call 'Original Florida,' Micanopy and the historic accommodations provide a perfect introduction to another side of the Sunshine State.

Located just 12 miles south of bustling Gainesville and literally minutes from the speeding vehicles on I-75, Micanopy is the oldest inland town in Florida. It's located on an old Timucuan native American village, which was discovered by Hernando de Soto in 1539. The charming tree-lined Cholokka Boulevard features more than a dozen friendly antiques shops, all located within easy walking distance of The Herlong Mansion.

Sonny Howard is the owner/operator of The Herlong Mansion and he has established a renovated oasis from an earlier era. The original two-story mid-Victorian house was built around 1845, with a detached kitchen connected to the house by a covered walkway. In 1910, this original structure was encased within a brick Classic Revival imitation of a southern Colonial design. The history of the Herlong family can be found throughout the house. The rest is living history available for all to enjoy.

Four huge two-story Roman Corinthian columns immediately draw the visitor to the warmth of the inn. The verandahs on both floors, complete with rocking chairs and porch swings, are a further draw. Once inside, Sonny reminds guests that they should treat their stay at The Herlong Mansion as if it were their own home or the home of a close friend. This truly is a side of 'Original Florida' that you won't find in big cities or chain hotels.

Sonny completely renovated the house and the rooms, adding many modern amenities without changing the flavor of the building. He now offers twelve different accommodations possibilities. The Herlong Suite is typical of the possibilities, with a king-size canopy bed, a fireplace with gas logs, a sitting room, a large original tile bathroom, and French doors opening onto the verandah.

Some of the other widely varied options include: Amber's Suite (tub for two, fireplace, private porch); Mae's Room (king-size canopy bed); Pink's Room (two antique double cast iron beds); Brother's Room (antique brass and copper bed, private rear sitting porch); Inez's Suite (elegant sitting area, hot tub in an alcove with leaded glass windows); and several more moderately-priced choices. Incredibly, Sonny has also renovated two nearby outbuildings as wonderful little cottages. Wherever you stay, you'll feel like you're home.

In keeping with the home-like atmosphere, complimentary refreshments are available in the huge kitchen refrigerator. Cookies and fruit await famished explorers on the buffet. In the evening, a complimentary after-dinner drink brings a pleasant end to the day. The rooms don't feature television, but there is a TV and VCR in the music room, where many visitors enjoy watching videos of "Cross Creek" and "Doc Hollywood," which were both filmed in and around Micanopy.

In the mornings, a gourmet breakfast is served in the dining room, where on any given morning you may have fresh fruit, crepes, warm muffins, and much more. Afterward, Sonny will happily tell historic stories about the house and Micanopy, including some about the mansion's resident ghost, Inez. You'll soon feel like you're part of the Herlong family.

As a base for exploring the area, The Herlong Mansion is perfectly located. Along with antiquing, nearby possibilities include the Marjorie Kinnnan Rawlings State Historic Site over in Cross Creek, the peaceful Paynes Prairie State Preserve just around the corner, and the college life and culture of Gainesville, home of the University of Florida. A bit further afield, active travelers might enjoy the outdoors outpost of High Springs, where serious shopping, canoeing, and nearby Ginnie Springs snorkeling and scuba diving are big business and pleasure.

Even further afield, yet still convenient for daytrips, Sonny recommends the Ocala and Ocala National Forest; Lake City's Florida Sports Hall of Fame & Tourist Welcome Center; and the Stephen Foster State Folk Culture Center up in White Springs. Micanopy's proximity to I-75 make all of these trips easy.

For meals, nearby Gainesville offers a wide range of possibilities, thanks to the university. Even closer, Sonny highly recommends The Wild Flowers Cafe and The Cottage Cafe, both just out on the main highway.

From a peaceful escape to lengthy (or maybe permanent) exploration, The Herlong Mansion will feel like home. If they're full, Sonny can recommend other area accommodations. Wherever you stay, the 'Original Florida' awaits visitors (and those who choose to stay forever).

--Contact The Herlong Mansion at Cholokka Blvd., Micanopy, FL 32667; 352-466-3322.

--For general information about the region, contact The Original Florida, P.O. Box 1300, Lake City, FL 32056-1300;          352-758-1555.

--For further information about Alachua County, contact the Visitors & Convention Bureau of Alachua County, 30 East          University Ave., Gainesville, FL 32601; 352-374-5231.