County Road 234: A road less traveled

Traffic passes by a sign designating County Road 234, just south of the intersection at State Road 20, a Florida Scenic Highway, in Rochelle.

Erica Brough/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, May 31, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 30, 2013 at 12:48 p.m.

An historic community shrouded by oaks, an old cemetery whose inhabitants include a former governor, wildlands, a rail trail — it's all on a stretch of Alachua County Road 234 anchored on one end by a beer cave and on the other by some of the best barbecue and pizza in the region.

The entire length of CR 234 links a wide swath of the county from east to west. It is a favorite with area cyclists because of its scenery and relatively light traffic.

But the segment that starts on Hawthorne Road and ends on U.S. 441 at Micanopy is especially nice — so nice that it's part of the state scenic highway system.

It's easy to find. Just look for the camouflage-painted Cantley's Outpost at the flashing caution light a few miles south of Gainesville on Hawthorne Road.

For a long time the store was known as Tim's Fast Nickel until it was bought by new owners recently. It remains a small store for staples and a social hub for residents of Rochelle and Windsor.

And it now has a beer cave — a walk-in cooler guarded by a taxidermied fox and coyote.

"My husband used to come in here years ago. There used to be a pool table," Heather Moore said recently from behind the counter. "People come in and let us know how convenient it is — not having to go to Hawthorne or Gainesville."

While the four-laned Hawthorne Road is a wide-open expanse, a hundred yards west of Cantley's Outpost on CR 234 is the tree-shaded peace of Rochelle.

The community was originally named Perry Junction after one of the community's founders, former governor Madison Starke Perry. Rochelle was a thriving settlement in the 1800s, with citrus a major crop. Several historic buildings including an old school house can be found.

Today, Rochelle still is home to members of the extended Hall family, African-Americans whose forebearers pioneered the town. The 125-year-old Hall Chapel United Methodist Church is on CR 234.

"I love Rochelle. It's nice, quiet, peaceful. I get to hear all of the owls — the great horned owls and the barred owls," said Al Hutchinson, a member of the Hall family. "I get peace of mind. No stress, just peace of mind."

Out of Rochelle, CR 234 takes a right curve and joins with County Road 2082 for a short distance. It branches off to the left at a clearing that serves as a grass parking area where CR 234 crosses the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail, a paved 16-mile former train track that draws more than 50,000 users a year.

The area also is the trailhead for paths into the 360-acre Prairie Creek Preserve bought by the Alachua Conservation Trust, a nonprofit that purchases land for preservation.

ACT's headquarters, including a lodge and an eco-friendly cemetery for green burials, is on CR 234, a few miles west of the parking area.

And a short distance west of that is Camp's Canal, which flows from Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. It's a fishing spot for some, while a section of the Lochloosa Wildlife Management area on the south side of CR 234 is popular with hunters during various game seasons.

Another canopied section along the curvy, hilly road brings travelers to Oak Ridge Cemetery. Among its many graves is that of Perry, who also was a planter, legislator and soldier before he died in 1865.

The road twists southwestward for several more miles, passing along Paynes Prairie in some spots, before joining U.S. 441 at the flashing light in Micanopy.

Just to the south is the Blue Highway pizzeria, a prime destination for diners.

Pearl's Country Store is at the intersection. In addition to the usual beer, soft drinks and potato chips, Pearl's has fine wines, handmade soaps and a barbecue restaurant that also draws fans from the region.

"The barbecue is one of the best around. The vegetables are super and the macaroni and cheese is the best ever," said Williston's Richard Jamison. "I stop here every chance I get. I ride 234 all of the time on my motorcycle. I love it."

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