Although it was a few years ago now, I have read The Yearling, and I have seen the 1946 movie version starring Gregory Peck. I guess I didn’t know, or perhaps I had forgotten that The Yearling was written about a Florida family and that the author lived among them. I also did not know until recently that the film version was filmed in the Ocala National Forest.
John and I recently hiked the Yearling Trail in Fort McCoy, Florida, and it was on that hike that I became reintroduced to the story that I had read so many years ago. After that hike, I became interested in the life of the author, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and I was delighted when I found out that her farm and farmhouse have been preserved and made into a Florida State Park located in Cross Creek, Florida.
A Surface Scratch of Her Fascinating Life
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings didn’t have much money when she moved to Florida, having spent most of her money on the down payment for a farm in Cross Creek. She did have a husband when she arrived, Charles was his name, and he too was a writer. But Charles couldn’t handle the fact that she was better at writing than he, and with Marjorie’s every success, jealousy brewed.
In 1933, her first novel, South Moon Under, was published, and it received much acclaim, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in fact, but it perhaps was the final straw for their marriage. Charles left Marjorie that same year.
She may not have won the Pulitzer with South Moon Under, but the prize would be hers in 1939 for her perhaps best-known novel, The Yearling.
She was an educated woman in a time period when most women were discouraged from obtaining a higher education, but she was a graduate of Wisconsin University. She smoked heavily and in public, too, a real no-no for a woman in those times. She drank liquor too, rather heavily, I might add and made no apologies for it either. And to top it all off, she was a divorcee, alone in the scrub of Florida, with a farm, a farmhouse, and a mortgage.
Her life story is a remarkable one, a life well-lived, with as much struggle as success. She lived within her means, adding comforts such as electricity and indoor plumbing only when payment received from a short story or book sale would allow it. She lived in the farmhouse for 9 years before she could afford a generator to produce electricity.
She wrote about what she knew, the struggle and hardships of the people living in rural Cross Creek and the nearby wilderness. She wrote stories of the people she lived alongside, of whom she shared an understanding. She lived with them, like them, and shared the same hardships.
A Sampling of what you will See and Hear
As you enter the gate, you are greeted by a sign and with its one quote, it tells the story of her love for the farm and the land around it. It was here she felt most at home; it was here among her citrus trees and her farm animals that she found peace, and it is here living the Florida cracker life that she found her inspiration, and from that, her writing flourished.
There are a few citrus trees on the grounds that stands as sampling of the grove she hoped would support her while she wrote. The original barn was never painted therefore it did not survive the elements over the years.
The barn that stands on the grounds now is a reconstruction and a representation of where the center of activity must have been.
Although she added on to it over the years of her residence there, Marjorie’s Cracker-style farmhouse was originally built in 1884. The construction is known as “board and batten”, the design letting breezes flow through it in hot weather.
The furnishing and personal objects in the farmhouse are original and authentic, thanks to the foresight of Marjorie’s 2nd husband, Norton Baskin, who kept it all in storage until the State of Florida took over the site. On the front porch of the farmhouse is a handmade table and a typewriter, and it was there that she did most of her writing. Her Farmhouse guest room houses the oldest piece of furniture in the house, the guestroom bed. Among the many famous people who slept in it were poet Robert Frost, Authors Margaret Mitchell and Thornton Wiler, artist N.C. Wyeth and Actor Gregory Peck. There is an unconfirmed story that Ernest Hemingway visited Marjorie as well, whether the story is true or not, is unknown.
The kitchen garden was essential in those times as it would provide the only source of fresh vegetables. The gardens on the grounds today reflect the varieties of seasonal produce that Rawlings grew.
Marjorie was not a good cook when she arrived in Florida, and as the story goes, her mother-in-law felt the need to send Marjorie a cookbook after a visit. Marjorie, however, did learn to cook, and before long, she became excellent at it. She loved entertaining and would prepare cracker-style meals, gourmet foods, preserves, and jellies. Marjorie became such a good cook that in 1942 Marjorie published her own cookbook, Cross Creek Cookery, and as irony would have it, it was published by the same publisher as the cookbook her mother-in-law had sent her.
She celebrated one of her successes and the seven hundred dollars she earned from it, by having a bathroom built in her home. It would be the first indoor bathroom in Cross Creek, and when the construction was completed, she had a party, inviting her neighbors to view the new indoor convenience. To her surprise, the guests were appalled to see that she would have an outhouse inside the house.
The tenant house is where her farm employees lived, and in exchange for their work, tenants were given a place to live, food, and a small salary. Many of her tenants, both white and black, played a big part in the success of Marjorie’s farm and her writings.
A Video Peek of the State Park’s Tour
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Park is located at 18700 S. County Road 325 Cross Creek, Florida. Entrance to the park is $3 per car load. The tour is an additional fee of $3 per adult and $2 per child. The tours are only available Thursday – Sunday at 11 am, 1, 2 & 3 pm.
After the Tour
May I suggest upon leaving Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park that you take a right and travel about 2 minutes down the road to the Yearling Restaurant. It is as much a museum as it is a restaurant. Some may find the menu items to be a bit pricey; however, John and I found it to be well worth the price. Our food was nothing short of outstanding, and the setting of Rawlings and Cross Creek memorabilia alone made the visit more than interesting. The yearling Restaurant is located at 14531 County Road 325. Hours are Thursday12:00PM – 8:00PM Friday – Saturday12:00PM – 9:00PM Sunday12:00PM – 8:00PM Monday – Wednesday Closed. For best seating, reservations are highly recommended by calling 352-466-3999
John and I found this adventure to be both fascinating and fun. The tour guides are very passionate and knowledgeable and go into great detail about Marjorie’s life. We spent about 2 and 1/2 hours at the park walking the grounds and taking the tour. After the tour, you have the opportunity to purchase plants and seeds from the gardens or perhaps one of Marjorie’s books. The Yearling Restaurant put an exclamation mark on the day.
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