Friday, November 15, 2013

A Day Trip to De Leon Springs State Park and the Pioneer Settlement in Barberville, Florida

After living seven months in TV (The Villages) being busy with nesting and settling in, Denny and I joined TV Convertible Club and our first outing was scheduled for Thursday.  After months and months of hot, sunshine filled days, Thursday morning dawned dreary, overcast and COLD--or at 48 degrees what is very cold to a Villager.  No top down driving today; Denny and I dressed in jeans and sweatshirts knowing we would be wandering around outside where winds were forecast to be in the 25-30 mph range.  Brrr.

  Our first stop about one hour away was the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant in the De Leon Springs State Park in De Leon Springs, Florida. Built as a replica of the sugar mill that had been on the grounds in the 1800s, the restaurant features long tables with griddles built into the middle of the table for cooking your own pancakes and eggs for breakfast. The staff provides the meat choices of cooked bacon, sausage or ham slices and bring two pitches of batter to the table along with a bowl of eggs. Honey, molasses and syrup are provided and you cook and eat at your leisure. We sat with MaryAnn and Tom and Larry and Janet and had a good time. After eating Denny and I wandered the grounds because we had about 45 minutes to kill before we hit the Pioneer Settlement. As I was waiting for Denny to come out of the restaurant I wandered over to the springs to take a photo of some people in scuba gear and asked one of the young men preparing to go into the water if it was a scuba lesson class or practice? He said the group was from the Orlando Fire Department Rescue Squad and they were there to practice deep water rescues since the spring was 30 feet deep in one section with very clear water so they could practice safely. The water felt like it was about 75-76 degrees and of course they were in full wet suits but the idea of that cool water made me shiver. There is a small visitor center in the building behind the spring with information on the original Native American tribe that lived in the area and how De Leon Spring was once a big resort area in the late 1800s but now is a state park that connects to a wildlife area for great boating, canoeing and kayaking opportunities.

It was time to move on down the road (much too far down the road due to lousy GPS directions) to the Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts. Once simply the grounds of the Barberville High School and Elementary School, the Pioneer Settlement is now run by a non-profit organization as a recreated village of historical buildings and their related artifacts. Our Convertible Club group was broken up into three groups, each with a docent dressed in outfits appropriate to the late 1800s/early 1900s. The main building of note is the former Central High School building which is in the National Historic Register. Now used as a living history museum and teaching center, local students are brought in for a day of class, shown how cotton and wool were made into yarn and thread on spinning wheels and hand spindles and have natural dyes explained to them. Students sit in an actual classroom at desks taken from old schools in the area (and have no clue what the holes in the top right corner of the wooden desks might have been used for!) and learn how to do spelling and sums on small chalkboards at their desks—in other words they learn as students did at the turn of the century. There are demonstations on candlemaking, rug weaving, pine needle basket making, quilt making, butter churning and more.

Dotted about the thirty or so acres are various historic buildings that have been moved from other locations before they were destroyed. Some buildings were built new on site, like the barn, but when they built the barn they cut logs, hand sawed the logs to make planks, a blacksmith made the hinges for the doors and carpenters hand cut shingles for the roof. In other words, it was similar to an Amish barn raising and the craftmanship is astounding.

We saw buggies and wagons and learned that the wheelwright who comes to the festivals and crafts demonstrations is 91 years old and still hand forges the metal rings for the big wagon wheels he creates from wood. Two weeks ago at a festival on the grounds he made ten wagon wheels from scratch and we saw the fire pit where he heated the bands of metal he forged for the wheel rims and the docent explained to us that once the rim was placed around the wheel water is poured on the metal to cool it quickly which causes it to shrink tightly to the wood. Apparently measuring the metal to get it the right size for the wheel is a very exact science.

There's a turpentine workers's shotgun house on the grounds, wallpapered in newspapers for insulation. In the back yard is the cast iron cage that was the sleeping area for convicts who were brought in to work at the turpentine distillery and slept outdoors in the metal cage, six at a time. The turpentine still looks like an oversized kid's fort.

The longer you wander here the more you see. They have a kitchen and row garden to show how families grew their own vegetables and herbs and a small livestock area with a mule, goats, chickens, geese and sheep to represent the types of animals that would be found on farms back in those days. They also have peacocks, not that folks normally had those around, but they apparently make great watchdogs and they hate rattlesnakes and will kill any that come into the yard. Who knew??

There are many more buildings where actual demonstrations are given for the print shop, the blacksmith, the cooper, the wood wright shop, the pottery room, the wheelwright, etc. during the various special events. At Christmas time they are decorated for the season and have children's activities, demonstrations, music and visits from Santa.

This was a great way to learn a bit about Florida history and industries from the turn of the century and nice day trip.


  1. Let me get this straight. The people giving the tour didn't know what the holes in the students desks were for?

    1. Perhaps I wasn't clear using the pronoun "they" after talking about local students; the students from area school who tour the Pioneer Settlement are taught in the classroom used by students in the early 1900s. The modern day students are flummoxed by the holes in the desk, assuming they are 1) drink holders 2) trash receptacles 3) anything but inkwells.

  2. First thank you for the link. I was unaware you were here. Got ya now.
    What a neat trip and while I am a Floridian, that is a part of Florida I am not familiar with and I enjoyed the tour. I did know that about peacocks. Besides gorgeous tails, that is their best feature.