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A treasure 'The Yearling's' creator left

At Marjorie KinnanRawlings State Park, visitors can soak up the atmosphere of the famed author's humble dwelling and experience the Florida of yesteryear.

By LOGAN NEILL
Published May 19, 2006


Inside the sturdy screen veranda, a gentle breeze brings with it the sights and sounds of late spring to the former home of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. In the yard beneath a huge magnolia, a pair of cardinals flit among the branches as they search the yard for food. Off in the distance, a red-shouldered hawk screeches as it traverses its way toward a wooded hammock.

If one had the notion to put thoughts into prose, this would certainly be the perfect place for it. In fact, Rawlings penned a number of her most notable books in this room, including the beloved Pulitzer prize-winning novel The Yearling.

Thirty-five years after her death, the unique wood table with its palm log base - complete with a vintage Royal typewriter, an ashtray and a crumpled pack of Lucky Strikes - appears as if it is awaiting the famed author's return.

Though most visitors to the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park in Cross Creek come to inspect the humble dwelling where its renowned resident created her greatest literary work, the 80-acre farm, with its high-roof barn, vegetable garden and tenant house, is also a splendid reminder of what natural Florida was like in the years before World War II.

Comforts such as electricity, indoor plumbing and telephones had yet to arrive in Cross Creek when Rawlings moved to the tiny, bucolic community in 1928. For Rawlings, who grew up in the urbanity of Washington, D.C., the savage beauty of the Central Florida wilderness, coupled with the colorful, close-knit collage of Cracker ranchers, citrus growers, fishermen and trappers, offered endless inspiration.

Rawlings, who was divorced from her first husband in 1933, became known as an independent and resourceful woman in Cross Creek, as handy with a shotgun as she was with a pen, says park ranger Sheila Barnes.

"Marjorie was a complex woman for her time,'' says Barnes of the woman who happily caught and cleaned the river catfish she served to dinner guests on stylish Wedgewood china. "She was sophisticated, yet she had a deep empathy for people who lived off of the land."

For the past 12 years, Barnes has conducted guided walks of the rambling eight-room house built of cypress and pine. Dressed in 1930s period clothing, she imparts its vivid lore and history to curious visitors, and from time to time, even lets them in on a few secrets.

Rawlings loved to entertain, and there is evidence of that throughout the home. Her guest room with its handmade, feather-stuffed bed was a favorite stopover for close literary friends such as Robert Frost, Margaret Mitchell and Thornton Wilder and actor Gregory Peck.

However, one unique feature always draws interest from visitors. The home's solitary flush commode, which was paid for with proceeds from an early magazine story, was the first of its kind in Rawlings' neck of the woods. Rawlings celebrated its installation with a neighborhood cocktail party.

The house was bequeathed to the University of Florida following Rawlings' death in 1953, along with most of the author's original furnishings and decor - from the ancient wood-fired stove, where she perfected the recipes she included in her book Cross Creek Cookery, to personal items such as family photos, books and cooking utensils.

In addition to visiting the house, visitors are encouraged to stroll the grounds, which include a period barn, tenant house, citrus grove and garden, plus a nature path.

During peak tourist season, the home attracts as many as 200 visitors a day, which is why Barnes considers the warmer months to be a more favorable time for a leisurely visit. That said, visitors should note that because the house is not air-conditioned, they may want to dress appropriately.

The grounds are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily from October through July. Ranger-guided tours of the inside of the house cost $3 for adults and $2 for children and are offered hourly from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

Although food and drinks are not available on the grounds, the picnic and restroom facilities are available near the main entrance.

IF YOU GO

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park is located on County Road 325, west of U.S. 301 in Marion County. Grounds are open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. October through July. Guided tours of the Rawlings house are offered at 10 and 11 a.m. and 1, 2, 3 and 4 p.m. Cost is $3 for adults and $2 for children ages 6 to 12. Children under 6 are free. Parking is $2 per vehicle. Large groups and school groups must schedule tours in advance. Call (352) 466-3672 for information.

[Last modified May 19, 2006, 08:36:50]


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