Step back into the past with a trip to Barberville's Pioneer Settlement
On County Road 3 just off State Road 40 close to where it crosses US 17 is Pioneer Settlement. It is centered around the old former Central School (circa 1919, Barberville) for grades 1-12 that later became an elementary school for the area and is now a museum. Spread around on 30 acres are 18 buildings filled with 10,000 historical artifacts related to life in central Florida up to 100 years ago. The buildings themselves, like a mini parade of history, have traveled from as far as Georgia to live in Pioneer Settlement.
The first thing you see when you pull into the entrance is the bridge tender’s house (circa 1926, Astor) from where SR 40 crossed the St. Johns at Astor. When the bridge was enlarged the bridge tender was no longer needed. Rather than tear down the building it was decided to move it to one side and as soon as the new bridge was done, truck the house over the new bridge and down the road to Pioneer Settlement. It now serves as a gift shop and admissions office. You can pick up a nice map there if you can get the resident cat to stop sleeping on top of them.
Just outside the tender’s house is a boat that used to take visitors on a tour of the St. Johns. Long before there were roads all over the state, much less interstates, the rivers, especially the St. Johns, were avenues of commerce and tourism. Folks traveled along the river in steam-driven boats that brought supplies to the remote settlements and took back oranges and produce. The St. Johns, this far south of its mouth in Jacksonville, is peppered with small towns that pop up around the bends in the river and disappear before you are sure you saw them. If you are driving up US 17 as they are spread out all through the woods to the river and chains of lakes.
Once you have paid your $6 admission and parked your car it’s time to take in the sights. The museum has the old school rooms divided up into vignettes of the past including a replica schoolroom with photos of children who attended decades ago, a weaving room, candle-making room, pioneer kitchen and auditorium. Walkways that crisscross the grounds and led one around the settlement.
The buildings with their historic furnishings and tools include a blacksmith shop, woodworker, potter, cane grinder, fire house, church, log cabin, barn, wheelwright, general store (commissary), railroad depot, turpentine still and quarter house (circa1920, New Smyrna) — the shotgun style houses built to house workers. The oldest building is the Lewis Log Cabin (circa 1875, southern Georgia). There is also a selection of farm animals including a couple of very competitive male peacocks and some highly decorative chickens.
Throughout the year there are music festivals and tours with volunteers in historic outfits of the times often presenting living history demonstrations. Although this is a replica of “old Florida,” it gives a good idea what it was like for settlers in these remote regions trying to carve out a life.
I can remember from my grandparents and great grandparents that we were not that far removed from what one see’s in Barberville. I remember a lot of the farming tools I saw in the big barn there and certainly the quarter houses are very familiar. And the town where my mother grew up, Gulf Hammock, was a company town with a company commissary and even its own currency. There are certainly traces of that earlier hardscrabble existence in this village and though this village never really existed, it is made up of real pieces of someone’s very real past.
Coming up next at the Pioneer Settlement, the Celebration of Olde Florida on Saturday, June 13 followed by the August 1 First Saturday Jam and the Sept. 5 Fire & Ice annual Chili Cook-Off and Ice Cream Churning. There are events almost monthly. Find out more about upcoming events at Barberville’s Pioneer Village log on to www.pioneersettlement.org.
Pioneer Settlement, 1776 Lightfoot Lane, Barberville, FL 32105. Open Tuesday-Saturday 9-4. Closed most holidays.
© Copyright 2015: text Sue Harrison; photos Sue Harrison for MyOldFlorida.com.