Last updated on September 17th, 2019 at 12:12 pm
Cross Creek was the home of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
~ CROSS CREEK — It happens all the time: Northerners come to Florida and discover a place that is different and fascinating, and then they never leave.
Few, however, capture that place in a work of art that speaks to millions around the world.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings did that, and if you have ever read The Yearling or seen the great 1946 Gregory Peck/Jane Wyman movie by that name or perhaps the excellent 1983 movie Cross Creek starring Mary Steenburgen, then you know what I’m talking about. (And if you haven’t: Go read The Yearling and watch the movies, which were filmed on location.)
The classic book was published in 1938 and won the Pulitzer Prize in April 1939.
The story of a young boy and his pet fawn is as beloved as ever, and visiting Cross Creek, Florida, and the home of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings is an excellent way to discover the authentic Florida far from the strip malls and theme parks.
Rawlings came to Cross Creek in 1928 when it was a remote rural outpost. She learned to live off the land: How to cook possum, drink moonshine, raise chickens.
She found herself and her writer’s voice there. Her inspiration, her place of “enchantment,” as she describes it, is now a state park that wonderfully succeeds in preserving a small slice of that world.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park at Cross Creek is about 10 miles north of Ocala. Driving north, you leave behind the suburban sprawl to enter a countryside of low hills, horse farms and wooden fences. The two-lane road to Cross Creek is shaded with live oak branches draped in moss.
When you enter the park, the goal is to help you step back and see the Florida that Rawlings did. Her wooden Cracker farmhouse is furnished with many of her original belongings and artwork and the tour guides are dressed in period costumes.
There are chickens and roosters in the yard and a garden where they still grow the herbs, vegetables and flowers Rawlings grew. Inside the home, we see the Wedgewood china on which Rawlings served her famous dinners. She was an accomplished cook who mastered the Cracker recipes shared by her neighbors and authored Cross Creek Cookery. (It contains Southern classics plus recipes that demonstrate that Rawlings was an adventurer. How else to explain recipes for Gopher Stew and Coot Surprise?)
The most memorable scene is the old typewriter with a pack of Lucky Strikes next to it on the wide screened porch where Rawlings wrote. The paper in the typewriter has the first lines of Cross Creek typed on it. The scene makes it look like Rawlings has only stepped away momentarily from the hand-made table with its palm-log base.
From the time she was a child, Rawlings had wanted to be a writer. With a small inheritance from her mother, she and husband Charles Rawlings moved to Florida in 1928 in search of a place to write. At Croiss Creek, Florida, she found the subject matter that inspired her literary success. The Rawlings divorced in 1933 and Marjorie later married an Ocala hotelier, Norton Baskin. She lived in her Cross Creek home for 25 years.
Her personal and literary story are explained well on the house tour, conducted by guides who answer questions as they provide the history of the Cracker buildings and Rawlings’ life.
Outside the house, it is fun to watch the chickens and ducks, to peek in the barn and to admire flowers in the garden. One of the joys of Cross Creek is that the house remains intimately connected to the land around it. You reach the Rawlings house by strolling down a path through the woods. The path passes the barn as it leaves the 21st Century behind.
Enchantment lies in different things for each of us. For me, it is in this: to step out of the bright sunlight into the shade of orange trees; to walk under the arched canopy of their jadelike leaves; to see the long aisles of lichened trunks stretch ahead in a geometric rhythm; to feel the mystery of a seclusion that yet has shafts of light striking through it. This is the essence of an ancient and secret magic. — Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings from her book “Cross Creek.”
If you visit Cross Creek, Florida:
- Allow about 90 minutes to two hours for a visit. There are two 15-minute hiking trails into the woods (once orange groves now overtaken by the forest). There is also a county boat ramp, a picnic area and playground sharing the parking lot for the state park.
- Park grounds are open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. but house tours are only offered Thursday through Sunday. There are no tours of the house in August and September. Tours are 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m., and 4 p.m. Park admission is $3 per vehicle and tours are $3 for adults, $2 for children 6-12; younger children are free.
- The park is a National Historic Landmark
- Website for Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park.
- Friends of the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park
How to make the most of a visit to Cross Creek, Florida:
- To immerse yourself in the world of Cross Creek, dine at the historic Yearling Restaurant, 14531 E. County Road 325, Cross Creek, just down the road from the state park. The 59-year-old restaurant celebrates the Florida Cracker culture. It serves Rawlings’ legendary sour orange pie, as well as frog legs, catfish, venison and the best cheese grits I’ve ever had. It’s decorated with antique outboard motors, old guns and enough memorabilia to be an antique store.
- The country cemetery where Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and her husband are buried is seven miles east of the Cross Creek home. Statues of three deer rest on her grave.
- Historic Micancopy, Florida’s oldest inland city, is a few miles away and is a great place to browse antique shops. Here’s a Florida Rambler reporter on Micanopy and its jewel, the Herlong Mansion Historic Inn and Gardens. The Herlong Mansion is a bed and breakfast known for its white pillars, wide verandas and Southern hospitality. Another Old Florida lodging option is the Twin Lakes Fish Camp, 17105 S. County Line Road in Hawthore.
- Nearby Paynes Prairie State Park offers extensive hiking plus shaded sites for tents, trailers or RV camping. The park is known for its sinkholes, birdwatching and alligators.
- This July 2011 report offers interesting insider experiences on the movie: NPR report on the filming of The Yearling starring Gregory Peck near Cross Creek
“It seems to me that the earth may be borrowed but not bought. It may be used but not owned. It gives itself in response to love and tending, offers its seasonal flowering and fruiting. But we are tenants and not possessors, lovers and not masters. Cross Creek belongs to the wind and the rain, to the sun and the seasons, to the cosmic secrecy of seed, and beyond all, to time.” — Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings