Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Cracker home of Laura Riding Jackson

I must admit I heard about the poet Laura Riding Jackson's House before I heard of her. I saw a photo of her Wabasso Florida home in a book, and sought it out on a trip to Vero in April. I found myself there again this month and was struck by the similarities between her house and her lifestyle and that of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.

Like Rawlings, Riding Jackson was a northerner who chose to live in rural Florida and try her hand in the citrus business. Soon after college at Cornell, Riding Jackson became associated with a group of poets known as "the Fugitives" who were "defenders of formal techniques in poetry and were preoccupied with defending the traditional values of the agrarian South against the effects of urban industrialization." She lived in New York, England and Spain before moving to tiny Wabasso in 1943. With her husband Schuyler Brinckerhoff Jackson she worked on a project called "A Dictionary of Related Meanings" that was published posthumously in 1991. Despite renouncing poetry at one point in her long writing career, she published "more than a dozen volumes of poetry". She also published fiction under the pseudonym Madeleine Vara.

Her home was moved to the current site at the Environmental Learning Center after Riding Jackson sold the property it was situated on towards the end of her life. According to the non-profit Laura Riding Jackson Foundation, the home was "was moved to save it as a focal point for the study of literature, philosophy and history, as an example of a disappearing architectural style, and as a symbol of an older, more environmentally-sensitive way of life."

The house's setting is one of the main differences from Rawling's home - it lacks context sitting in an empty field by itself, while Rawlings house in Cross Creek still sits in its original location. The two-story, 1,400 square foot house seems more compact that Rawlings home, but it shares the same Cracker vibe of simplicity. For me it seemed difficult to get a sense of the home's owner by peering through the windows of the locked house. I wonder if there is a connection between these two well known literary figures beyond their choice to live in Cracker houses in small towns in Florida? It is interesting that after seeing much of the world, they both choose a rural lifestyle.

For me, when I look out the window from my old Florida home and see moss-draped live oaks or a majestic hawk searching for dinner, I feel a connection to my environment. While I don't have the simplicity of small town living, I revel in that feeling of connectedness with the natural world. I know that living on a small lake in Central Florida has changed the way I view the world forever. Perhaps these two writers felt the same way.

Yes And No
by Laura Riding Jackson

Across a continent imaginary
Because it cannot be discovered now
Upon this fully apprehended planet—
No more applicants considered,
Alas, alas—

Ran an animal unzoological,
Without a fate, without a fact,
Its private history intact
Against the travesty
Of an anatomy.

Not visible not invisible,
Removed by dayless night,
Did it ever fly its ground
Out of fancy into light,
Into space to replace
Its unwritable decease?

Ah, the minutes twinkle in and out
And in and out come and go
One by one, none by none,
What we know, what we don't know.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Cloudy Cross Creek

Mom and Dad Ephemera live a half hour from Cross Creek, and I've wanted to stop by this old Florida town for some time. And since I started an Old Florida Facebook page, I'm always looking for new images from Florida's past.

Cross Creek is home to author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and the town doesn't appear to have changed much since she wrote about it in her novels. My first stop was her house, and on this cloudy day the interior was closed for maintenance. I took that as a good sign for two reasons: 1.) I'll have to visit again when it's open, and 2.) In these days of every tightening state budgets, they can still afford to maintain this wonderful Cracker home (her home is a state park).

Rawlings moved to this rural community in North Central Florida in 1928. On the front porch of this house she wrote her literary classic The Yearling. Today you can see her home and farm much like it was when she was there.

Chicken and ducks wander the citrus grove near Rawlings House

Rawlings barn still houses a tractor and much
of the equipment used to keep up the farm

A yellow 1940 Oldsmobile is parked in the carport

Looking towards the house from the barn

Screen doors and screen porches made living in Florida
in the days before air conditioning tolerable

The garden behind the house

The tenant house was home to the help that worked for Rawlings.
Idella Parker, Rawlings' maid, claimed that fellow Florida writer
Zora Neale Hurston visited Rawlings and stayed in the tenant house.

The front porch of the tenant house

Down the road from Rawlings home is the Yearling Restaurant, a Florida institution I remember fondly from childhood. I recall dining on fried catfish, softshell turtle and frog legs. Oh and delicious hush puppies! Re-opened after being closed for a lengthy period, the parking lot was full on this Labor Day weekend. Another place I'll have to return to for a more in-depth visit.

Further down the road I stopped to photograph the sign for Twin Lakes Fish Camp. Florida's rivers and lakes used to have an abundance of places like this, as sportsmen were drawn to fish and hunt in the state's wilder regions. Today they are rare survivors from a simpler times.

Beyond Cross Creek lies the small town of Evinston, home to the state's oldest post office located in its small general store. The US Postal Service, in retraction mode as the market for "snail mail" continues to shrink, is planning to close the little office, which may be the death of the town. And so it goes for Old Florida in the 21st century.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Quick stop in tiny Citra

Like Orange City, Citra is a small town with an old US highway going through it, (US 301), that was centered around the growing of citrus. The town's most distinctive feature today is the wonderful Citrus Shop, which has been in business since 1936. My stop last weekend fell during the citrus off season, so I could only take photos of the building and the signs and plan a return trip later in the Fall.

The freeze of 1894 forced many 19th century citrus growers further south.
Image from the State Archives of Florida.

This wonderful Baptist church was built in 1893.

This former bank appears to be in the midst of restoration.

What I enjoy about little towns like Orange City and Citra is that they have in large part escaped the out-of-control growth and bland homogenization that plagues the rest of Florida. There are contemporary structures, but here and there are wonderful historic structures without fanfare or celebration. And the landscape outside of town, especially around Citra, is pure Old Florida. It has a rural feeling with wonderful moss draped live oaks and large palmetto stands instead of strip malls and convenience stores.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Preserving the Orange City Historic District

The Florida Trust added the Orange City Historic District to its list of most threatened historic sites stating "some of the sites in the district have suffered neglect or hurricane damage and a potential rezoning along the 17/92 corridor in favor of redevelopment could adversely impact the historic district." Until recently, I wasn't even aware that this small Volusia County town near the St. Johns River even had a historic district. The town has a wonderful past that is not apparent to the average motorist speeding down 17-92.

The press release from the trust states: "The Wisconsin Company, a lumber company from Eau Claire Wisconsin, purchased land in 1874 in Southwest Volusia County which later became Orange City. Two members of that company - Dr. Seth French and Hugh H. DeYarman played an important role in the development of the city. Mr. DeYarman would eventually become the first mayor of Orange City and the hotel he established in 1875 – the DeYarman House Inn – is still standing. In 2004, the Orange City Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The district includes over 200 historic buildings and runs along the River of Lakes Heritage Corridor."

De Yarman's hotel, known today as the Heritage Inn, is still open, making it one of the oldest hotels in the state. Dallas Wittgenfeld, a passionate advocate for the historic district, claims that as a "pioneer hotel" the Heritage Inn is the state's oldest hotel, as other properties making claims to be older weren't initially operated commercially. Today the Heritage Inn houses a cafe, barbershop and a free postal museum, in addition to acting as a hotel.

Most Central Floridians pass through Orange City on their way to Blue Springs, as it is packed with manatees during the cooler months, when the aquatic mammals seek the warmth of the 72 degree spring water. I recommend taking a moment to stop by the Heritage Inn and driving around Orange City a little bit, as you might be surprised at what you find. To join the "Save the Orange City Historic District" Facebook page, click here.

The Thursby House, located inside Blue Springs State Park, was built by one of the area's earliest non-native inhabitants and has interesting historical displays inside.

"In 1903 Orange City Water won the Louisiana Expo 'most pure water' and people have been coming to O.C. for their water bottles ever since then." -Dallas Wittgenfeld

"The David P. Graves founder's home is directly across from the Dr. Seth French founding home & grove from before Orange City existed. Wealthy lumber barons from the land of Paul Bunyan in the 1870s built this and even more beautiful homes which are mostly forgotten and under brush in tall grass unpainted, today. " -Dallas Wittgenfeld

Archival images from the State Archives of Florida