Saturday, October 29, 2011

A cow town, re-created

I'm fasincinated by Osceola County because it has such extreme contrasts. It's where old Florida cattle country collides with the kingdom of the mouse. In Patrick Smith's epic tale of pioneer Florida, "A Land Remembered", the cattle raising protagonist visits Osceola's largest town Kissimmee often, as it was one of the few towns accessible to cowmen in Florida's interior. The cattle industry is still part a big part of life in Kissimmee but its more and more obscured by the glare of the mouse. It's hard to imagine any town in Florida has had as many demographic changes in the last 40 years.

A Cracker homestead in Kissimmee.

Note the whip held by the gentleman in front. Some assert that the crack of the whips
used by Florida Cowmen is where the term "Cracker" comes from.

A Parade in downtown Kissimmee- the Silver Spurs Rodeo
is an on-going Osceola County tradition.
Images from the Florida State Archives.

One of the best ways to get a glimpse into the Florida Cracker lifestyle of the 1800s is at Osceola County's Pioneer Village and Museum. Located surprisingly close to the tourist corridor on 192, this collection of archival buildings is a breath fresh air from the tacky architecture just blocks away. Two old Cracker houses are closest to the road, the Tyson and Lanier homesteads. The Tyson house has been turned into a general store, complete with artifacts from Narcosee's post office. Next door, the Lanier homestead is set up with actual furnishings of the period and one can get a sense of what it must have been like to live in Florida in the late 1800s. On the Fall day I was there, the weather was perfect and it seemed like a pretty good way to live. But I can't imagine what it would be like in the summer.

Another highlight for me was the one-room schoolroom. Complete with books and desks it's very quaint. Other buildings include a wash house, a smoke house, a blacksmith shop, a citrus parking house and a small museum.

Across the street is the Mary Kendall Nature Preserve, part of the Shingle Creek Regional Park. This 78 acre area has boardwalks and trails that leads to 2 more Cracker structures, the restored Stefee homestead and the Caretaker's house. Both were closed on my visit, but the walk was beautiful and serene and I was happy that this little piece of old Florida had been preserved. Visiting the Preserve and the Pioneer Village made for a memorable afternoon and I left with more insight and appreciation for life in nineteenth century Central Florida.

About a hundred yards from the preserve, lies ground zero for Central Florida tourism.

1 comment:

  1. Parts of Kissimmee is one of those old Florida towns. When I'm driving through some of the pastures I think about those old Florida cattle drives and wonder how they did it.