No I’m not talking about Saltines. These are the pioneer people of central Florida and the name is not a slur, they are proud to have it.
The Cracker Homestead is located on land adjacent to the Silver River Museum at Silver Springs State Park. This collection of representative buildings found on the Florida frontier in the 1800’s includes two houses, a church/school building, a blacksmith’s shop, outhouses, a cane grinder, a smokehouse, a syrup kettle and furnace and several storage buildings.
Some of these are authentic, but most are replicas moved or created here and used during the week to teach local and Florida history to the county school 4th and 5th graders.
On the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month the buildings are open and docents provide tours. At 10:00 we find ourselves walking down the path labeled Enter-Exit toward the Godwin Family Home, a replica of the classic Florida “Cracker” cabin in which builder Freeman Godwin was raised.
We gather on the porch with a few other people here for the tour. Two docents are here. The school teacher and her cousin who is visiting, join us.
We learn about the pioneers of Silver Springs including the Godwins. During the eighteen hundreds, many people came into Florida after hearing tales of free, fertile land. What the new immigrants encountered was not the promised paradise, but hardship and work. Early settlers were faced with a Florida full of mosquitoes, sandy soil, oppressive heat and very little development.
The pioneers of this area allowed their livestock, mainly pigs and cows, to roam free. They would round up their herds using a big bull whip, not to whip their cattle but to direct them. They would “crack the whip” on the side opposite where they wanted the cattle to go. Thus they were whip crackers. Mr. Al demonstrates the whip for us and it really does CRACK. He tells us these men did not like to be called cowboys, they called themselves cow hunters. He also tells us that cracking the whip was used to signal ones neighbors as well. These people were proud to be Crackers.
No one knew how the term came to be such a derogatory name for the poorer people of other southern states.
We move inside the house which has two rooms. This is the main room with a wood stove off to the left and out of the picture. There is also a separate bedroom. The bed in this room was used for the school teacher when it was the family’s turn to host. Each family in the community took a turn.
The front and back doors face each other to allow for a breeze. Out the back door is the “dog trot” which leads to the separate kitchen. Kitchens in this time were often separate buildings to keep fire away from the main house. But I’m not sure how well that would work with the dog trot connecting them.
She shows us the rope bed and the turn screw for tightening the ropes. It was covered by a spanish moss tick. The spanish moss used was boiled and dried to rid it of the bugs that live in it. The old saying “Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” comes from these rope beds. Tighten the ropes and hope the bugs aren’t around to bite. Since I heard that saying a lot from my mother to her mother and the furniture in this little home is very reminiscent of things I inherited and we used at the farm, this is an interesting tour for me.
Just turn the ropes and tighten them up on the peg.
The bedroom had nets over the baby and adult beds. No glass or screens on the doors only full shutters with hinges.
Looking out the dog trot to the kitchen.
Cooking was done on a wood stove. Candles were made for light.
Very nice old pie safe with tin panels below. Looks like our similar cupboards at the farm, full of canned food.
We’ve seen all of the Godwin house and head outside to see the outbuildings and the Blacksmith’s area.
Pretty sure a Cracker Homestead did not have a Seminole Chickee behind its buildings but this is a teaching area and much earlier Florida history would include the Native Americans whose homes and shelters looked like this.
Corn and sugar cane were two of the main crops so every homestead would have place grind and boil the cane.
I laugh as I”m walking over to the Blacksmith’s forge. It looks like folks bellying up to the bar.
Mr. Al tells us all about the importance of the smith in shoeing the horses and making the tools. He says few homesteads would have an actual forge but a traveling blacksmith would come around to take care of your needs.
Chickens were very well protected.
With all the chores done, it would be time to head over to the school house which was also the church on Sunday. The teacher was hired by the local families who provided her board and room. If she got married, she had to resign. Often one of the former pupils became the teacher.
There would be only 3 or 4 books including the Bible. All of those were for the teacher. The children had no books. They had only the slate and chalk you see on the tables. Not much homework apparently.
The boys would take turns bringing wood for the stove and keeping it stoked. The girls cleaned all the slates and swept the floors.
The teacher is chastising this pupil for his incorrect a in the word he has been asked to write.
He’s corrected his mistake.
But still it appears he has to stay after class.
At the far end of the village is the Hinton Family Home which was built by in the 1870’s by Jimmy L. Hinton near the Ocklawaha River into which the Silver River empties nearby.
It is an authentic Cracker home though of a much more well to do family as it is much larger and has glass windows and a large attached kitchen wing. It was moved here and donated by the MacAteer Family.
These were fiercely independent families who lived off the land, making do with what the land supplied, subsidized by their ingenuity What we learn here today reminds me a great deal of the pioneers who settled the Blue Ridge Mountains near our farm. My relatives were among them until my great grandmother Barbara Ann Ott’s family moved, in the 1860’s, from Rockhingham County Virginia, near our farm, to Lewisburg Ohio near where I was born. She was the original owner of most of the period furniture which came down to me through my Aunt Carrie.
The village folks are closing up for the day.
Just outside the village is another school building. It was the African American school in Silver Springs the 1930’s and was also donated to the museum.
It reminds me very much of the elementary school I first attended in the mid 1950’s.
As we walk down the lane, we look back through the trees at this really wonderful educational exhibit. Try to be at Silver Springs on the 2nd or 4th week-end to see inside the buildings for yourself.