Cross Creek , Florida
The rumble of a motor filled the quiet morning air as a bass tracker slid through the narrow channel towards the open waters of Lake Orange. The driver gave a nod to the elderly man on the embankment, his line cast out in hopes of an early catch. The older man touched his finger to the edge of his baseball hat, a wistful look in his eyes. His line gave a sharp tug. His memories of the past quickly evaporated as he jerked the pole to set his catch. Another fishing boat slipped into the water at the ramp. Sunday was a busy day at the Cross Creek Boat Ramp, and you could almost imagine the wispy figure of a women drinking in the scene from the beneath the shady Spanish moss laden oaks. Steps away a metal garden gate led the way to the past and to Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic Homestead.
Who Was Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Why Was She Important?
Pulitzer-prize winning author Majorie Kinnan Rawlings is best known for capturing the characters of depression-era rural Florida in her novels and short stories.
American writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings lived and wrote at a 72-acre farm and orange grove in Cross Creek, a small town in North Central Florida, located between Lake Orange and Lake Lochloosa, South of Gainesville.
Marjorie, a northerner, moved to rural Florida in 1928 and carved out a home in a pioneer-style manner with her husband, Charles. She was entranced by the hearty spirit of the locals and embraced the tough life of wilderness living and rural homesteading.
From rattlesnakes to panthers, bobcats to alligators and mosquitoes to moonshiners, the Florida backwoods was a scary jungle to the outsider, but Marjorie was intrigued. Not so much to her husband though. Charles left, returning to the North, a marriage ending. Marjorie stayed and penned her best known works.
Her novel The Yearling, a story of a young boy who befriends an orphaned fawn set in Florida’s back country earned her a Pulitzer Prize in 1939. It subsequently became a movie in 1946 starring Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman.
Her novel Cross Creek, an autobiographical look of her homesteading experiences and life in the rural area between Micanopy and Gainesville, also became her heartbreak, as one of her neighbors whom she considered a friend, slapped an invasion of privacy lawsuit on her, demanding $100,000. After a long, drawn-out process, Marjorie was ordered to pay a total of $1. She never wrote another book about Florida. Cross Creek was made into a movie in 1983 staring Mary Steenburgen.
Marjorie married hotelier Norton Baskin in 1941 and left her homestead to live in Crescent Beach. She died in St. Augustine in 1953 of a cerebral hemorrhage and was buried in Island Grove at the Antioch Cemetery.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic Homestead State Park
The cracker homestead where Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings lived and wrote looks as if she had just gone out to get the mail. Her typewriter sits on the table, patiently waiting for practiced fingers to begin their tales. The table on the porch is set for dinner guests, and the bedrooms are open for receiving.
The fenced in garden flourishes. Fat purple turnips break through the crusted earth, their green tops waving in the breeze. Flowers line the garden fence, enticing bees with their bright colors and fragrant smells. Chickens pick through a compost pile and mallard ducks waddle through the mud from an over-flowing metal water trough.
A woman dressed in 1940’s dress picks a kumquat from a heavily-laden fruit tree. It’s not Marjorie though. Volunteers in similar period dress can be found throughout the property, sweeping the tenant’s house wooden front porch, feeding the chickens and giving tours to visitors.
Set in an orange grove, the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic Homestead is a living museum and in 2007 it was listed as a National Historic Landmark.
Why Visit This Florida State Park?
For The Florida Cracker Architecture
Cracker building designs are getting a second glance from environmentally conscious designers and architects. The 1930’s farm house provides a perfect example of the practicalities of cracker architecture. The design and style allowed for the hot Florida climate with air flow features and guarded against the unwelcoming elements.
Built in a time before air-conditioning, the entire house is elevated to allow for air circulation all around. Large windows and covered porches allow for shade and cooling airflow. Screening is used throughout the buildings to deter mosquitoes and other Florida critters.
The interior of the house is only accessible to the public by guided tour (Thurs-Sun. October to July). If you happen to miss the tour, you can walk around the house and peek through the windows.
To See a Working Florida Homestead and Take a Lesson in History
Wander through the orange groves and vegetable garden. Peek inside the old barn and find out what vintage tools were used and which ones are still used. Find out where the chickens roost and how the volunteers care for Marjorie’s mallard ducks.
Step inside the tenants house- a log cabin on the edge of the orange grove. Find out how people kept warm before central heating, what the beds were made of, and how they lived.
Hiking Trails at the Homestead
To reach the cypress grove, follow the path into the woods past the metal water trough. It winds past wild orange trees and through an overgrown forest to the cypress trees by the waters of Lake Orange. Path can get muddy near the water depending on the season.
The East Grove Trail is located across the road (CR 325) directly across from the main house (use the gate to the road). It’s a 15 minute walk that leads through Marjorie’s old orange grove.
Things to Know Before You Go
Fast Facts about Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic Homestead State Park
- The Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic Homestead State Park is located at 18700 South CR-325 in Hawthorne, Florida
- Contact number: 352-466-3672
- Hours: 9 AM-5 PM
- Fees: $3 per vehicle in drop box at parking area
- Parking: To reach the state park parking area, enter the Cross Creek Boat Ramp park and keep right. Parking area is on the right.
- Guided House Tours Thursday thru Sunday October to July: Adults $3; Children 6-12 $2
Get a feel of the past by diving into one of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings books prior to your visit. Her novels: The Yearling, South Moon Under & Cross Creek are colorful, but can be challenging, as she wrote with the local dialect in mind. You may prefer to delve into her shorter tales in Golden Apples or When the Whipporwill.
The Yearling Restaurant has been serving old Florida favorites since 1952. Taste local cuisine like grilled quail, venison, gator, frog legs, catfish, collared greens and fried green tomatoes. Live music.
- Open Thurs-Sunday from noon.
Places to Stay
With history dating back to 1854, Herlong Mansion Bed & Breakfast is located 13 minutes from Cross Creek in historic Micanopy. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Florida Trend Magazine noted Herlong as “Florida’s Most Elegant Bed and Breakfast”.
- 402 NE Cholokka Blvd, Micanopy, FL 32667
Wild horses, bison and alligators roam free across the wide expanse of this wetland prairie. RV, trailer and tent camping are available within this state park at Lake Wauburg.
- 100 Savannah Blvd., Micanopy FL 32667