Home for the Holidays
America’s 19th Century Paradise
I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams…
Pine Castle today seems more a state of mind. Google the name and the internet will inform you it is a “census-designated place in Florida”. Schedule a meeting in downtown Pine Castle and the other party will likely ask that you be more specific. A local might feel compelled to clarify they now actually live in Edgewood or Belle Isle, whereas the newcomer might ask for directions to the Pine Castle itself.
As to Pine Castle’s borders there is much confusion. The original Pine Castle, the residence built on Lake Conway in 1874 by Will Wallace Harney (shown above), the very structure for which an 1884 town of Pine Castle was named, would today pay property taxes to the Town of Belle Isle. Airplanes now land 7 miles east of the Harney's lakeside residence at Orlando International Airport, on a World War II runway named Pine Castle Airbase. At least one Pine Castle old-timer recalls a welcome to “Pine Castle” sign on Orange Blossom Trail, 2 miles west of the Harney homestead.
In February 2021, Pine Castle Pioneer Days will again be celebrated at Cypress Grove Park, two miles north of Harney’s historic Lake Conway residence. But travel to this park from Harney’s place at Pine Castle – or Belle Isle of today - requires driving through the J. J. Reeves 1913 Add to Pine Castle – or today the Town of Edgewood – and then passing through the Ghost Town of Gatlin, an 1880s city founded by Edward Hobbs and son Sidney, residents of Louisville, Kentucky - Will Wallace Harney’s old stomping ground prior to relocating to Pine Castle in 1869. A town of Gatlin encircled Gatlin Hill on three sides – where Harney himself lived in yet another lakeside cabin after moving out of the Pine Castle – a cabin located on land his in-laws had homesteaded when Harney first settled further south at Lake Conway.
Confused? Suffice it to say Pine Castle is more than a present-day census-designated place. Pine Castle is a historical central Florida location - having no defined town limits. It is, as I first stated, a state of mind!
By Richard Lee Cronin
Pine Castle of 1869 was in many ways synonymous with Fort Gatlin of 1838. Each were part and parcel to the settling of South Orange County, including Kissimmee, which in 1887 became part of a new Osceola County. Edgewood and Belles Isle, both 20th century creations, are reimagined communities that had previously encompassed the first 19th century settlements at Fort Gatlin - and Beyond Gatlin – South Orange County’s Gateway, Pine Castle.
With his new castle-like residence on Lake Conway finished in time for Christmas, Will Wallace Harney invited friends and neighbors to celebrate the 1874 holiday at the, “Pinecastle on Lake Conway”, on the west shore of a lake the Indians had called “Beautiful Water.” Harney himself described his residence: “The house stands on the edge of a slope, a double-winged structure around a central octagon of two stories twenty-four feet in diameter, surmounted by castellated peaks and gothic pointed roof visible at every angle.”
“Many Kentuckians and Virginians were present”, wrote Harney, and guests from near and far enjoyed the Orange Glee Club and an accompanying band playing such favorites as “My Old Kentucky Home.” Life in central Florida’s 19th century wilderness was anything but easy, but for one extra special Pine Castle Christmas, “the turreted, castellated pine castle glowed and sparkled like a great jewel cut in brilliant facets.”
“At 11 o’clock,” wrote Harney, “the folding doors again opened; the Cherokee rose table glittering with decorations and spread with the feasts of delicate tropical fruits, wine-like coffee and the inevitable eggnog under its lace of froth, and an hour of feasting followed.”
Despite hardships, Pine Castle’s earliest settlers paused to celebrate Christmas. Tis a tradition we enjoy to this very day. Merry Christmas to you and yours!
And speaking of tradition, mark your calendar for
PINE CASTLE PIONEER DAYS
February 27 & 28, 2021
Cypress Grove Park
Reserve a seat today for my FREE Presentation
NAMESAKES of PINE CASTLE'S LAKES
UNDER THE HISTORY TENT
Pine Castle Pioneer Days
12 NOON, Saturday, February 27, 2020
Email Rick@Croninbooks.com and ask to reserve a seat(s). I will confirm your FREE reservation, and also set aside a FREE autographed booklet,
Namesakes of Pine Castle's Lakes booklet.
BUT RESERVE TODAY - SEATS ARE LIMITED
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
From CroninBooks and CitruslandFL