Uncovering Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings'
Rural 1930s Florida at Cross Creek.
The typewriter used by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings to create "Cross Creek" and "The Yearling" (shown above left) is displayed for visitors touring her rural north central Florida farmhouse (shown above right).*
By Diane Daniel
Whenever I hear someone say how development has ruined the Sunshine State, I want to ship them off to Cross Creek, a speck on the map in rural north central Florida.
This peaceful patch of land cast an enduring spell on writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, in the early 20th century. Today it remains as inviting as the author’s lyrical prose.
Off the Beaten Path
“Cross Creek is a bend in a country road, by land, and the flowing of Lochloosa Lake into Orange Lake, by water,” Rawlings wrote in “Cross Creek,” published in 1942. “We are four miles west of the small village of Island Grove, nine miles east of a turpentine still, and on the other sides we do not count distance at all, for the two lakes and the broad marshes create an infinite space between us and the horizon.”
The turpentine still is gone. But 25,000 to 30,000 visitors a year still find the country road, the lakes and marshes, and that infinite space that so inspired Rawlings.
Her home (shown at left*), garden, citrus grove, and surrounding 85 acres of farmland and woods now comprise the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park (352-466-3672 or www.floridastateparks.org), 18700 S. County Road 325.
Rawlings came to Florida from New York with her husband, Charles, in 1928. She was seeking a place to write. His two brothers already lived in Florida and showed her Cross Creek.
Thanks to Hollywood, many visitors have the misconception that Rawlings came on her own.
“We’re always fighting the 1984 movie ‘Cross Creek,’ which really was not at all accurate,” says park ranger Sheila Barnes. “Charles and Marjorie divorced in 1933 and after that she was on her own.
"By then, Marjorie was writing books, and Charles, also a writer, couldn’t get beyond newspapers and magazines," noted Barnes. "He was jealous.”
Rawlings most celebrated work was the novel “The Yearling,“ which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1938.
And although many Rawlings fans come to visit her literary landmark, an equal number of people visit for the history (see a family enjoying the old farm wagon at left*).
“A lot of people come because we represent a turn-of-the-century Florida farmstead,” Barnes says.
Rural Florida of the Past
Indeed, stepping through the park gate is a snapshot into everyday life in early 20th-century rural Florida. The attraction is a National Historic Landmark.
Your first sight is a 110-tree citrus grove. (Orange trees and the farm's tenant house are shown at right.*)
If you arrive around Christmastime, you might even get to take home a bag of oranges and grapefruit.
“When fruit gets ready we call in several volunteer organizations and they distribute to charity, and we also give away some here,” Barnes says.
All the plants are replicated from Rawlings’ time and include guava, ornamental pomegranate and banana, angel’s trumpet and Turk’s cap.
A kitchen garden (shown at left*) holds seasonal vegetables, herbs and flowers.
Chicken and ducks are kept in backyard pens.
The farmyard and two nature trails can be toured from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Furnished Farm House Tour
But if you want the full experience -- a ranger-led tour of the furnished farm house, you’ll need to arrive Thursday through Sunday.
The guides wear 1930s farmstead clothing. For men that means coveralls.
Women wear cotton house dresses and full aprons (see a tour guide dressed in this attire at left*), which Barnes describes as quite comfortable.
The main farmhouse is cracker style, meaning that it resembles the dwellings created by Florida's pioneer settlers.
For example, it has an open floor plan, breezeways through the middle of the house, and wide, sloping porches to shade the interior.
The house sits off the ground so it can absorb the cool air underneath. The kitchen is off the back to keep its heat at a distance.
Rawlings did much of her writing on the screened-in front porch. Visitors will even view the typewriter on which she created her classics.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' kitchen is shown above, her bedroom at right. and her sewing machine below.*
During the ranger-led house tour, you’ll see her furnishings, clothing, books and prized Wedgwood china.
Rawlings house was bequeathed to the University of Florida following her death in 1953. The state now oversees the home and land.
The grounds and trails are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Park admission is $2 per vehicle.
Public tours of the house are given Thursday through Saturday at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and each hour from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
At right, the wooded area around the farmhouse and the woodpile are shown much as might have been in the 1930s.*
Admission is $3 for adults and $2 for children 6-12.
Important Note: The house is closed every August and September.
Beyond the Park
Rawlings, along with her second husband, Norton Baskin, as well as many of the people she wrote about, are buried at tiny Antioch Cemetery, about seven miles from the farmstead.
It's just north of Island Grove. Ask for a map at the state park.
Visitors looking for a literal taste of old Florida can find it at the nearby Yearling Restaurant (352-466-3999) 14531 E. County Road 325, Cross Creek. It's open Thursday through Sunday.
Another option is the Old Florida Cafe, 10 miles northwest in Micanopy (352-466-3663), 203 Cholokka Blvd.
For overnight stays, you'll find the usual range of hotel chains in Gainesville, 18 miles northwest.
Or, for more local color, head for the historic Herlong Mansion in Micanopy (800-437-5664 or www.herlong.com), 402 Cholokka Blvd.
Driving through this rural area of Florida, you'll enjoy a sense of history and soak in the natural elements.
Above, an antique car is shown at the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park. It's shaded by a flowering hibiscus.
As Rawlings wrote: "Cross Creek belongs to the wind and the rain, to the sun and the seasons, to the cosmic secrecy of seed, and beyond all, to time."
Diane Daniel, a freelance writer based in Durham, NC, is a travel correspondent for the Boston Globe and blogs at www.placeswegopeoplewesee.com.
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used courtesy of the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos.