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Oh, no! not another
Yep, you'll have to bear with my attempt at narrative once again.
When I was advised of the May 19th meeting of ex-cadets in Jacksonville, I knew I had to go. After talking to Tim Tyndall several times, I became motivated to get involved (more than just a web page). Tim sent me directions to Charlie Mussallem's facility in Jacksonville (THAT'S a story for another time.....WOW!) and he suggested that I come up via I-4 to I-95 into Jacksonville. Well, after being an experienced traveler going to Jacksonville for the Florida-Georgia football game I decided to ignore his advice and came up via I-75 to U.S. 301 (which was closed for detour) to I-10. Even with the construction, a detour, and a bridge snafu in Jacksonville, I arrived at the Waffle House and met Tim for the first time in about 30 years.
The meeting that we had at Charlie's place went very well. I will not go into the details, as I am sure Tim will continue the "Reeepoooort" on his page (go here). At 3:30 we called it a day and each went our separate way. When I got in my pickup I had the urge to go home a different way. I decided to take the "easy way" home and travel by interstate (I-95 to I-4) so I headed south. After about 10 miles I realized actually how close I was going to come to the "ole homestead" of FMS and Sky Harbor Station. It didn't take long to make my mind up and decided to try and find the place.
I got off I-95 at U.S. 92 and headed the 15 miles west to DeLand. Now, Tim Tyndall had told me that there was a Highway Patrol Station on U.S. 92 where the Knight's Inn used to be, so I was forewarned. I also knew that I could look for the friendly "Airport" signs, and that is what ultimately alerted me to the access road to Sky Harbor Station, so I turned right.
Now, some people will say I'm crazy, or that Sky Harbor Station is too close to Cassadega, but I felt an intense aura around the place as I drove onto the property. Even though there is no sign of any of the classroom buildings, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I was in the right place. I do believe that Col. Ward's house still stands, but I didn't take a picture. From what I remember there was a short, barely-traveled "alley" that ran from the road in front of the classrooms , past Ward's and on to the road that passed the barracks. Anyway, that alley doesn't seem to be there, but the structure that is there reminds me somewhat of Ward's house.
From the road that was in front of the classroom buildings I turned right , passing in front of where the administration building used to be on one side and the Canteen on the other. No sign of either building. I passed the parade grounds on my right and the athletic field on my left. Neither looks familiar, but the crawling feeling down my spine was unmistakable. This is what the parade ground looks like now:
This picture is taken as if I were standing on the road that passed the admin building, beside the corner of Howard Hall. In the old days, the admin building MAY have been visible on the extreme right (got it?).
I turned on the road that ran in front of the barracks to find nothing that I recognized, until I came to the Mess Hall. It is still there, albeit changed significantly. I know It may be weird, but what gave it away is the size and the large louvered windows in the front. Someone had cut a garage into the front (and ultimately I found in back as well) and they are working on cars there. I slowed and got some strange looks from some "good ole boys" that were hanging around the entrance. Even in my truck I felt out of place. Ha! I did pause briefly to snap this picture:
Yeah, I know, it's not a good picture, but "dueling Banjos" was playing in my head and I decided to start moving again.
I continued past the Mess Hall, beyond the empty field where Alleyne Hall used to be; no signs of anything recognizable. When I got to the end of that street (corner Alleyne Hall and the gym) I turned left to go behind where the barracks used to be. On my immediate right there was a raised open area that I am certain was the pool, although it;s just now a grass impression in the earth. I turned left again to travel behind where the barracks used to be. Still nothing that I could pinpoint that was a part of the old school. I passed where Bull Ring used to be and then the Smoking Ring. Then, I saw the following structure:
I know the road in the immediate foreground didn't used to be paved, but I am sure that this structure is the "maintenance" structure that was physically attached to Howard Hall behind the library. You wouldn't believe the aura or the presence I felt when I saw it; you would have to see it yourself. It is still the white color with black trim around the windows and I am sure it's the only piece of any of the barracks buildings that stands today.
I didn't believe that cruising all of the roads again would reveal anything that I missed, so I left Sky Harbor Station and drove into DeLand, deciding to pick up I-4 there off S.R. 44. I couldn't find Tom's Pizza (I was going to get a slice to see if it is as good as I remember). So, it was back to interstate and home, but it took all the way to Orlando for that haunting feeling to leave me. Thank goodness I haven't been having nightmares!