Features: Allen's Historical Cafe: Carl Allen


Carl Allen
 Carl Anderson Allen

Born: February 13, 1918
  in Auburndale, Florida
Died: March 26, 1996
  in Auburndale, Florida


Carl Anderson Allen was born in Auburndale, Florida on February 13, 1918. He was the ninth of nine children born to parents William F. and Annalou Allen, who had moved to Florida from Georgia around the turn of the century. Carl got his middle name from his father's boss and friend, E. K. Anderson, who was a local farmer and general store owner. At his death, Allen's home and Historical Cafe were just eight blocks from the place he was born some 78 years earlier.
From his humble beginnings, he had become, among other things, a successful restaurateur, a historian, an author, a collector, a folk humorist, a champion of senior citizens, and a force in local politics.
But Allen was probably most proud of his role as a promoter of bluegrass music. His death came only one week after the 20th Annual Florida State Championship Bluegrass Festival, an event which he conceived and almost single-handedly built to become what is perhaps the largest free bluegrass festival in the world. As if this weren't enough, his Historical Cafe in Auburndale, Florida, was a place where hundreds of bluegrass pickers were given an opportunity to jam and perform. For over 38 years it was a sort of bluegrass incubator where untold thousands of patrons were inoculated with the happy infection.
For many people, Carl Allen personified the Florida Cracker. In 1976 he was named Florida's "No. 1 Cracker" by the state Sertoma Club. The term "Cracker" originally described the early Florida cow "hunters" who liked to show off by crackin' their whips when the first tourists arrived by train years ago. These days the term has come to denote any rural Floridian of native birth. Having rounded up scrub cows on horseback as a kid, Allen qualified as a genuine "cracker". He wore his heritage with pride and dignity, and was known for his weekly syndicated newspaper column about life in the days when the Orange Blossom Special was a real train that brought vacationing Yankees into this neck of the groves.
Before opening his restaurant Allen's career had included stints as a cowhunter, a citrus processor, a hobo, a sheriff's deputy, and a Highway Patrol officer. In the late fifties, he opened up a bait and tackle shop on U.S. 92 just west of his Central Florida hometown. Frustrated that no restaurants in the area served catfish, he started offering catfish dinners in the store. Eventually, Carl's business card as well as his menu read, "Okeechobee cat fish and hush puppies, oysters, shrimp, frog legs, turtle, rattlesnake, armadillo, chicken, gator, quail and fried green tomatoes". As one writer put it, "A most unusual place to eat."
Carl Allen was a self-described pack rat that made him all the more valuable to his state and the preservation of its history. He had been fascinated with history since digging up some old metal tools when he was about 9 years old. His father had regaled him with tales of their possible origins.
Both the son and grandson of range-riding cow hunters, he had collected and saved everything he could get hands on from Florida's frontier days. The artifacts covered every square inch of his sprawling, five-room cafe.
The bluegrass got started in the mid-60s when some boys Carl knew from Kentucky, started hangin' around the cafe and pickin'. Local pickers started joining in and it soon got to be a regular Thursday night thing -- and just never stopped.
Around 1980, Allen added a large dining room with a full stage and sound system to accommodate regular bluegrass and gospel performances in addition to the customary Thursday night jam session.
It was on a Thursday night in 1976 that Allen got the idea to do a bluegrass festival with a competition format. By the time it was all over, he had organized a festival and dubbed it, "The Florida State Championship Bluegrass Festival". That first event was held in the middle of the street in downtown Auburndale and probably had an attendance of around one to two thousand people. The following year, he moved the festival about a block west to the gazebo in the Auburndale City Park and finally in 1994 to the grounds of "International Market World", a large flea market on the outskirts of town.
Allen explained his dedication to bluegrass in simple terms. He did it as much for fun as anything. He loved the music, he loved watching his "boys" develop as musicians and he loved "bluegrass people." Allen felt strongly that as a group, bluegrassers are a bastion of honesty and decency in a troubled society.
Carl Allen unexpectedly passed away on Tuesday, March 26, 1996 and his passing has left a void that no single man will ever be able to fill. He was truly one-of-kind and able to get things done that no one else could pull off. His shrewd business sense was surpassed only by his ability to instill loyalty in those around him. He was the only man I've ever known who could have a room overflowing with musicians, fighting for the opportunity to play for free. Maybe you'd have to be a musician to appreciate that. Believe me....that's a phenomenal feat.



Much of the information contained on this site came from various articles that were written about Carl Allen and his endeavors over the years. However-- the information contained in an article written by Bruce Kistler entitled "Of Catfish and Bluegrass - A Tribute to Carl Allen", published in the February 1997 issue of Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine was an invaluable reference and has been heavily quoted.
Also a very special "thanks" to Jewell Allen and Henry and Billie Tupper for their cooperation in helping with the overwhelming amount of material we've had to sift through. This site will continue to grow for some time. Check back often and give us a shout if you have something to contribute.

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