On December 22, 2019, a semi-trailer truck hauling orange juice crashed into the front of the historic Desert Inn after careening through the busy intersection of State Road 60 and U.S. 441, known as Yeehaw Junction.
The inn is situated on the corner of the crossroads, a major transit point for local farms and ranches since the mid-19th Century. The inn was first built in 1889 and has changed little since.
Gawkers visit the Desert Inn to witness the fall of a famous landmark. Here’s a link to a gallery of photos on TCPalm.com, taken after the truck was removed.
The historic inn has gone through multiple owners over past decade and most recently closed in August 2018. Its fate has been subject to speculation as the Osceola County Historical Society took over in an effort to restore the building.
“We have been putting in a lot of work to try and keep it and restore it, and now all that work is kind of gone,” Donna Hart, president of the Osceola County Historical Society, told WPEC-TV (CBS12).
Hart said the building was severely damaged and may have to be demolished. Fortunately, many of its artifacts had already been removed to prepare for renovations, she said.
Built in 1889, the inn was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.
The truck driver was charged with careless driving by the Florida Highway Patrol, according to TCPalm.com.
Florida Rambler has visited the inn many times over the years. Here’s a story we originally posted in 2010 with many updates and revisions since.
Once upon a time, many moons past, a chain of Turnpike billboards would beckon you to get off Florida’s Turnpike at Yeehaw Junction to buy gas and get your discount coupons for Orlando’s attractions.
“We Pay Your Toll” was the standing offer repeated on sign after sign along the Turnpike.
Times have changed.
The billboards are gone, and the coupons can now be found on the internet or at the Turnpike’s Fort Drum Rest Area (Turnpike MM 184)..
But nostalgia still holds court at the legendary Desert Inn, which dominates the busy corner of State Road 60 and U.S. 441, just west of the Turnpike.
Cowboys once herded cattle to greener pastures through this crossroad, and Florida Crackers snapped whips on mule-drawn freight wagons loaded with lumber. Today, 18-wheelers packed with oranges and grapefruit scream through the intersection.
The Desert Inn dates to the 1880s as a trading post. No roads, just trails. The current building was built in 1898. The 1930s brought paved roads, and the intersection earned the nickname “Jackass Crossing,” a nod to the cowboys and lumbermen who relied on mules for working cattle and hauling timber.
Easy travel brought a bordello to the Desert Inn, and a few cabins were built out back to accommodate the occasional tourist trickling west toward the Gulf Coast.
When Florida’s Turnpike cut through in the 1950s, state legislators changed the name from Jackass Crossing to a less-offensive Yeehaw Junction.
The 1898 Desert Inn still stands, still serving travelers and cowboys as a restaurant and a bar, and you’ll find a ramshackle 11-unit motel out back: “Clean rooms with showers – $45. No reservations, no refunds.”
I’ve been stopping at the Desert Inn for years to grab a bite to eat on my way to Tampa Bay. The menu has changed a little under new management, but you wouldn’t really notice — unless you were hankering for a turtle burger.
But you can’t go wrong with the juiciest, tastiest beefburgers on the planet, and the fries are freshly cut, not frozen. (One change: Burgers now served on ciabatta rolls.)
The complete menu is “raht behind ya on the board, honey.” Crunchy fish sandwich; Fried Green Tomato, Fish & Chips…
The horseshoe-shaped bar, wooden booths, witty signs and oddball knick-knacks are classic Old Florida, including the carved Indian couple with their papoose.
Cowboys who work nearby ranches continue to be regulars, as are truckers and tourists. It’s a must-stop for bikers cruising across the state through cow country.
One minute the bar is full, empty the next.
Even without the coupons, Turnpike travelers would be well-served by skipping the Fort Drum Service Plaza for a taste of Old Florida at the Desert Inn.
If you’ve visited the Desert Inn and would like to comment on this article, feel free to leave a comment below.
The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning visits.
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Bob Rountree is a beach bum, angler and camper who has explored Florida for decades. No adventure is complete without a scenic paddle trail or unpaved road to nowhere. Bob co-founded FloridaRambler.com with fellow journalist Bonnie Gross 12 years ago.
Thursday 13th of April 2023
Traveling from Tampa to Miami, I woke up to see THE DESERT INN AND RESTAURANT. I could not believe it. My family used to go from Indiana to the Keyes. Desert Inn was a must stop. The first time we went there, probably 60 years ago, while eating at the counter, a big black spider dropped down on the counter in front of us. Of course we screamed and gave the locals a hearty laugh. Never forgot it! Lots of fun and good memories.
Wednesday 10th of August 2022
Favorite stop in the late 1950's - early 1960's. One waitress, Jungle Julie! Loud, brassy, and a fun delight! Braided black hair on top of her head sorta like a mantilla comb. big mascara "beauty mark" on her cheek. Can't remember what it said, but she had something written on the back of her name tag and would flip it to show her adult customers. Behind the bar was the first "jackalope" I'd ever seen (stuffed jackrabbit head with horns). And the green turtle burgers.. first of many of those were eaten there. Coming down from Sanford, way off to the right, you could see the pink Heartbreak Hotel. Tragic that it's gone, but just the name brings back memories that will always remain.
Friday 23rd of April 2021
It is a sad end to a piece of genuine Florida history. So much touted in Florida now is fake, hokey and unappealing. Back in '18, I saw the Inn had closed it's doors yet again, after many recent fits and starts and yet I held out hope that someone with vision and deep pockets would realize what a gem the Desert Inn really was and they'd polish [not too much, of course] the jewel and get it up and properly running. It's such a great location... just needed the right promotion... maybe open the "upstairs" to tours, clean it all up a bit.. but that damned truck ended it all. I'd driven past the Inn just days before the trucker stove it all in and on my return journey [shun piking from Kissimmee to Jupiter] drove past the day after, noting with horror most of the truck inside the building, with the portico down on its cab. We stopped across the way to look and cry.
Thursday 17th of September 2020
My Dad was a chef there way back in the 70’s I believe.His name was Bill “Red” Young, around 6’2”, 190 lbs, red wavy hair and velvet blue eyes. He hailed from Louisa, Kentucky and worked various jobs on the railroad, played a stint with Bill Monroe. But his letters were about YeeHaw Junction-the crew that worked there and the locals and transit truckers.I made it down there around 5 years ago on Easter Sunday. I was saddened I didn’t get to go inside-but did get a peek at the Indians.Was planning on revisiting but now that won’t happen. Oh yea!!!! Dad had a specialty there and that was his chili-My sister has his recipe. If you knew if him please contact me.It would mean the world to me.
Friday 22nd of October 2021
@Bob Young, We made it a point to always stop there with our out-of-state visitors when visiting Orlando from our home base in West Palm Beach. So often we had chili and hamburgers there and scared the visitors with the Indians, in particular in the lady's bathroom :-) I am pretty sure we also met your dad as I thought he was very charismatic at the time. If you happen to have that Chili recipe, I would appreciate receiving a copy of it, if it's not too inconvenient, that way perhaps we could at least feed that to our visitors now that your dad isn't there anymore and the Desert Inn is no more either.
Thursday 30th of April 2020
Sorry to see this go. Been stopping there whenever I could in my travels. Starting as a kid in the 50s,60s with parents. Whenever we took a trip stopped there. Spent many yrs traveling on the road, playing keyboards in many different bands. Almost always " Forced" a stop there with bandmates whenever going past. I also lived in Kissimmee for a few yrs and would drive down there just for lunch. I travel up to visit my sister in Ocala now, and would go out of the way just to drive by, stop. But now, no more! sad!