Aerial photo of Melrose Bay looking through the pass to Lake Santa Fe. (Photo credit: Walter Volkmann, AIBOTIX America.)
Living in Melrose
The town that straddles three counties and a remarkably diverse population
I’ve lived in the lake area community of Melrose since 1980, when my husband and I bought 10 acres of wooded land south of Lake Melrose. My deep love for this area and my true contentment in living here has only grown significantly over time.
Melrose is a wonderful place to live! From the air, it’s a swiss cheese of lakes—east and west, north and south—the most significant being beautiful Lake Santa Fe, the headwaters of the Santa Fe River. The lake encompasses 6000 acres with a deep bottom; it’s fed by springs and ringed with cypress trees. Researchers consider it one of the most stable lakes in Florida. You don’t need to live on the lake itself to enjoy it. We have spent many happy times enjoying sunset boat rides, sailing or swimming there.
Melrose is near two major bike trails, the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail and the Palatka-Lake Butler State Trail that goes from Keystone Heights to Florahome. It’s an easy hour’s drive to Crescent Beach or St. Augustine. Being closer to the ocean was one reason we chose to live here.
Melrose is a short 20-minute commute to downtown Gainesville and only 35 minutes to the University of Florida, so many people make their home here and work in Gainesville. There are numerous lifestyle choices in this historic town that includes 79 buildings on the Historic Register, or in the surrounding farmlands and rural areas. It is still possible to buy acreage for an affordable price here and still be within a five-minute drive to the town.
Melrose is noted for its many pecan groves and there are blueberry farms (and even a butterfly farm) in Earleton, a beautiful area on the west side of Lake Santa Fe. What I find lovely is the complete absence of subdivisions, gated communities, or strip mall shopping centers. The pace of life is quiet and serene, and you can get to know the folks who run everything from the post office, hardware store, Williamson’s family run grocery, and Chiappini’s, the famous landmark gas station and gathering place.
What I have also found remarkable about Melrose is the level of tolerance and acceptance. What ties us together here is our love of community, and this bond unites people across divisions of race, religion or political persuasion. Anyone who chooses to be active in this community is not only welcomed, but also embraced.
In 1997, I created the Melrose Bay Art Gallery—a cooperative fine arts gallery housed in a historic building—with a small group of artist friends. At the time, the townspeople looked on us as something of an oddity; however, those days are long gone and the arts scene is a source of pride and recognition. Melrose Gallery has been joined by Bellamy Road, a nonprofit foundation devoted to fine art, literature and film, as well as Shake Rag Cultural Center, a lively gallery, performing arts space and dance hall housed in a grand old church. Our one-stoplight town is now a thriving fine arts destination!
article contributed by Harriet Huss