One of the many gems found in the history museum at the Imogene is an orange-painted megaphone that features the words, “Milton High School” in black letters. It harks back to when the school was the home of the “Swamp Angels.”

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This occasional series highlights interesting places that are north of the NWF Daily News office and the coast.

MILTON – History buffs likely will feel right at home amid all of the architectural eye-candy that fills downtown Milton.

The city, after all, was incorporated in 1844 and is one of the oldest cities in Florida. Its historic district, which includes more than two dozen sites, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

An illuminating way to start a tour of the old mill town is by visiting the Imogene Theatre on Caroline Street. With walls that are four bricks thick, the building is the only three-story structure in Milton and houses the nonprofit Santa Rosa Historical Society and its Museum of Local History.

The Imogene opened in October 1913, almost five years after the great Milton fire destroyed most of the downtown commercial district on Jan. 11, 1909. That blaze followed three fires that wreaked havoc in the commercial area in 1885 and 1892.

For most of its life, the building avoided such tragedy. In 1938, it became the city’s first building to feature central air. It showed movies such as “Gone With The Wind” and “The Wizard Of OZ,” and housed the Milton Post Office for almost 30 years.

The Imogene closed in 1946 and remained shut until the Historical Society bought, renovated and reopened it in the mid-1980s.

But the building suffered a catastrophe on Jan. 6, 2009, when yet another huge blaze destroyed a half block of downtown buildings. The Imogene suffered major smoke and water damage, as well as fire damage to its east-side balcony.

The fire occurred “almost 100 years to the day” of the 1909 blaze, Historical Society President Richard Baldwin noted recently. He said the 2009 fire was caused by a coffee burner that had been left on in a coffeehouse next door to the Imogene, which he said is now in the “end stage” of its latest renovations.

Pieces of yesteryear

One of the many gems found in the history museum at the Imogene is an orange-painted megaphone that features the words, “Milton High School” in black letters. It harks back to when the school was the home of the “Swamp Angels.” The school's alumni include the late Paul Amos, one of the co-founders of the Aflac insurance company.

The museum also has an exhibit featuring a childhood dress of Imogene Gooch, whose family bought the theatre in 1921. After her parents took it over, Imogene entertained an audience by dancing on stage to the tune of “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.” A record of the song is found on the museum’s historic record-player.

Baldwin also pointed out a museum wall that contains a large mural titled “Loading Pulpwood.” This artwork was created as part of the Work Projects Administration for Milton’s 1941 post office.

Baldwin said the mural, which shows various black men working under the supervision of a white foreman, was covered up at the post office during segregation.

Other notable sites

The Santa Rosa County Courthouse, which opened in 1927, stands across Caroline Street from the Imogene. The courthouse was built with expensive yellow bricks and used to have a jail on top, Baldwin said.

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Milton’s vast array of historic buildings also includes the castle-like Mount Pilgrim African Missionary Baptist Church on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive (formerly known as Clara Street). The church was built in 1916 and is now part of the Florida Black Heritage Trail.

One of Milton’s most striking homes is the Milligan-Whitmire House on Berryhill Street. It was built in 1889 by confederate Capt. Rufus Milligan and is known as the “gingerbread house.”

Next door is the handsome W.J. Williams House, which was built in 1887. It’s “steamboat house” nickname stems from its front veranda that looks like the deck of a riverboat.

At the entrance to downtown and next to the bridge over the Blackwater River stands the Fisher & Hamilton Building, which was built in 1877. It might be the oldest brick structure between Pensacola and Marianna, according to the Main Street Milton organization.

And down on Henry Street stands the L&N Depot, which was built in 1909 and houses the West Florida Railroad Museum. Its overall complex includes a display of various train cars, including a former Pullman sleeper car.

Visitor info.

Free tours of the Santa Rosa Historical Society’s Museum of Local History in the Imogene Theatre are available from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the first and third Friday of each month. Baldwin also can arrange tours at other times as long as he receives several days’ notice. He can be reached at 850-324-2875.

To learn more, visit www.santarosahistoricalsociety.com.

Free tours of the West Florida Railroad Museum are available from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. For more information, call 850-623-3645, send an email to conductor@wfrm.org, or visit www.wfrm.org.