I just read Emily Suzanne Clark‘s fascinating post about the Garden of Eden Park, a nature park founded in the 1950s by Elvy Edison Calloway, a Baptist lawyer who believed that the biblical Garden of Eden was located in the Florida panhandle.
The park no longer exists (the land is now a hiking trail), but Clark has found some very entertaining photos of it taken in 1953. Some of the photos capture signs identifying the exact location of Adam and Eve’s house and the place where Noah built his ark. (Did that happen in the Garden of Eden?).
Here is a taste of her post at Religion in American History:
Callaway himself was an interesting figure. If you curious for more on Callaway, check out this essay by Killing the Buddha editor Brook Wilensky-Lanford. Callaway is also a figure in her 2011 book Paradise Lust. Callaway came to the conclusion that this part of the Florida panhandle was the biblical Garden of Eden because of the topographic similarities between the area and the descriptions in the Bible. The Apalachicola River is fed by four small tributary rivers in a manner that for Callaway rivaled and surpassed the Tigris and Euphrates. Furthermore, the area is home to some rare plants. Most notably, the torreya tree – a rare tree that bears a striking similarity to the gopher wood tree that Noah used to build the ark. Floridians claim that the torreya tree is one of the world’s rarest trees, and as one of the world’s oldest trees, it seems a strong contender for the biblical gopher wood tree.
When Callaway opened the Garden of Eden Park, it was filled with signs that informed park hikers what happened where. The signs are gone, but one can still peruse through a collection of photographs from 1953 on the Florida Memory site. The photos are great, and they are what convinced me to make the drive to Bristol and hike the trail. (Side note: many hiking sites claim this to be a strenuous hike. It’s not. My hiking partner and I had to drive onto Florida’s Torreya State Park for more hiking, and of course, more torreya trees!).