Saturday, February 17, 2018
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Neighborhood Profile: The small-down allure of historic downtown Brooksville

BROOKSVILLE

Bob Martinez grew up in Brooksville, a town of about 7,000 almost smack-dab near the geographic center of Florida. Well, he grew up after the age of 12 here. That's when his parents, who lived in Manhattan, packed up the family, bought a small hotel to run and moved to Brooksville.

His father had grown up here, and the pull of this quaint, historic town was just too great to ignore even within the skyscraping walls of Manhattan.

Martinez did the same thing. He graduated from high school and the University of Florida and then moved to big-city Tampa.

"Like growing up in any small town, when you're 20, you can't wait to get out and when you're 40, you can't wait to get back," the former advertising salesman for the Tampa Tribune said.

He lasted nine years outside his beloved hometown. Then he came back.

He and his wife, Barbara, who met at the newspaper 36 years ago, have two grown children, Leslie, who lives in Gainesville, and Danny in Brooksville. They have a new granddaughter — their first — Lucy, who is their daughter's child.

They bought their charming house on a picturesque, tree-lined brick street of Hernando's county seat 27 years ago.

Martinez, 67, sold ads for the newspaper in Hernando County until "retiring" to start his own business doing something he knew more than a little about — publishing.

More than 10 years ago, Martinez launched Old Brooksville in Photos & Stories, a monthly booklet.

Each volume centers on a particular aspect of Brooksville's past, like Hernando High School's football history, Brooksville's famous visitors, and the Elvis edition, in which Martinez talked about the many times the singer with slicked-back hair and swiveling hips visited.

(He would not relinquish a copy of that volume. "It's too valuable," he said.)

It's almost hard to understand how someone can be so passionate about a place, but Martinez is. He rattles through historical facts about the city, established in 1840 and known for its citrus crops, faster than a listener can keep up. But his enthusiasm is so great, one hangs on every word.

He tells the story of how Brooksville got its name. Apparently it was named after a South Carolina senator who beat a Massachusetts senator with a cane so badly, he put him in the hospital.

Those settlers thought the deed so noble — the Massachusetts senator was badmouthing the South, describing slavery as a harlot — that they named the town after him.

The city had a boom time in 1885 when the railroad connecting it to Tampa was finished, giving it a destination for its citrus crops.

Now, the only destination Martinez thinks about (in addition to Gainesville to visit Lucy) is where to distribute his free monthly magazine. It's worth a visit to Brooksville just to pick one up.

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