Book Review

‘The Road to Picolata’ by Tracy Upchurch


Tracy Upchurch, long recognized in St. Augustine as a lawyer, public servant and history professor, has found a new passion ignited by the awakening of his literary muse. Upchurch’s first historic novel, “The Road to Picolata,” was published last year when Upchurch’s lifelong dream of writing, and his ardent interest in history, merged.

The scene is western St. Johns County (Picolata) where Confederate soldiers are defending their soil from Union aggression.

The protagonist is Henry Whitlock, a 14-year-old boy discovering himself as he dutifully cares for Daniel Allen, a critically injured Confederate soldier and a young boy himself. The tension is increased when Henry’s controlling stepfather, an unyielding minister with Union loyalties is determined to find his son at all costs. Abraham and his wife, Mariah, venture out into the country to find Henry and, instead, find the horror of war and the complexities of uncommon relationships.

With the cadence of a raconteur, Upchurch imparts the tale of Henry and Daniel as the two boys struggle with pain and devotion, war and hope. Adult characters find wisdom from the actions of the two young men as they all look for solutions to dismal situations war had created.

“The Road to Picolata” could be a coming-of-age story or it could be a war story. When the reader considers the dilemma Henry’s stepfather is in, it also becomes a “life relationships” story. Abraham and Mariah fight their own battles as conflicting beliefs are met head on with soldiers and country-bred misfits alike.

Most importantly, the book provides a story with historic credence. Picolata is an authentic location along the St. Johns River in western St. Johns County. Upchurch describes Florida in the 1800s with colorful details. He also expresses the terror of war and the agony of injuries. The story is short, but don’t be fooled, it is long with meaning.

The eye-catching cover of the book represents an existing painting providing a nostalgic look into real Florida of the 1800s. The illustration invites us to open the book to visit the scenic landscape as richly described by the author.

Upchurch chose his love of St. Johns County and knowledge of Florida history to pen his first historic novel. But he could have selected a theme with law, patriotism or politics. His great-grandfather, John J. Upchurch, served in both the Florida and Georgia legislatures. His grandfather Frank D. Upchurch Sr. was a veteran of WWI, practiced law in St, Augustine and served as a state representative and senator. Frank Sr. also was a mayor of St. Augustine as was his son Hamilton, and later Tracy.

Hamilton Upchurch, Tracy’s father, was a veteran of WWII, served on the St. Augustine City Commission, was a two -term mayor and served four years in the Florida House of Representatives. Hamilton’s brother, Frank Jr., and son Hamilton Davis Upchurch Jr. were also involved in legal practices.

Tracy not only followed in the footsteps of a family of law and civic service but also walks in a path that embraces history. Frank Sr. was a key player in the establishment of the St. Augustine Preservation Board. Tracy is a trustee for the St. Augustine Historical Society.

Let’s hope that Upchurch’s muse will stay alert and guide him through more story-telling adventures. Judging by the quality of this book, his readers will demand more from Upchurch.

Karen Harvey is a local author.