Fort Christmas
Historical Park

Fort Christmas is located in Christmas, Florida just off State Road 50, twenty miles east of Orlando enroute to Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, and Canaveral National Seashore in Titusville.


HISTORICAL STRUCTURES

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Fort Christmas -- 1837 -- a replica
Fort Christmas - inside yard. Click to enlarge   The fort and stockade were reproduced in 1976-1977 by the Orange County Parks Department as a bicentennial project. The original fort was located approximately one mile north of Fort Christmas Historical Park on a small creek. Built in 1837 by the United States Army under the orders of General Jesup, the fort was a supply depot in a chain of forts constructed along the St. Johns River during a winter campaign against the Seminole Indians. In March of 1838 the military abandoned the fort, since the fighting had moved so far south that supplies were brought by ship into Jupiter Inlet. Visit the blockhouses for exhibits on the soldiers, the Indians, and pioneers of East Orange County. A video presentation, "History of the Seminole Indian Wars," is set to replay every thirty minutes.   Fort Christmas Cannon. Click to enlarge
Master Plan
With the new millennium, Fort Christmas Historical Park has moved into Phase II of its twenty year master plan! The next historical structures to be renovated include the 1906 Union School and its lunch room (circa 1920). A new visitor center, which includes the gift shop, has been constructed. A pole barn which will store portions of the collection not on display will soon be constructed. The log house will be refurbished and utilized as office space. The current visitor center will be remodeled as a hands on program center for the school groups! We are excited about these plans! Your support makes this happen!
  Fort Christmas Gift Shop. Click to enlarge
UnionSchool & LunchRoom on original site in the 1990s
UnionSchool on site awaiting rehabilitation.

Union School
The Union School was established in Fort Christmas in 1906. Originally a large, one room school, it was named 'Union' School because it united several small, family operated schools into a central location.

In the 1920s the school was enlarged with the small room addition in the rear. The teacher's house and garage were built during that decade. The Lunch Room was constructed in 1932 and the stage was added to the big room in the late 1930s.

For an isolated community, school provided important social as well as educational activities. Programs and graduations were well attended. Usually referred to as the Christmas School, it was closed in 1969. Due to population growth the small school was no longer able to provide for all of the children in the community. Since then local children have attended Columbia Elementary in Bithlo.

Union School Lunch Room on site awaiting rehabilitation.   Lunch Room
circa 1932

The Lunch Room at Union School was built in the early 1930s. Until that time lunch was eaten out of doors. Children brought lunch from home in a small bucket or basket. The Lunch Room provided shelter from the rain and cold weather. In the late 1930s Orange County Public Schools hired a cook and cook's helper to provide hot lunches for the students. Dove Nettles was the cook for a number of years, with Ozelma Canada, Sadie Hatch and other local ladies as helpers.

The family and the community as a whole were vital to the school, making sure that the needs of the students were met. They even celebrated each childs birthday with a home baked cake!

Fort Christmas Simmons House 2. Click to enlarge
Fort Christmas Simmons 2 House Exterior. Click to enlarge.
  Simmons 2 House
circa 1880s

The Simmons family settled on Taylor Creek near Fort Christmas in the early 1870s. George Washington Simmons and Ann McDougald Simmons were married at Silver Springs in 1856. They soon moved to the Orlando area where they resided a number of years finally settling on what was known as the Henry Hodges improvement in 1873. This one room house represents the simplest of structures, which was added to through out the years by connecting additional rooms with covered porches or breezeways.
  Fort Christmas Simmons House 2 bedroom. Click to enlarge
Fort Christmas Simmons House 3. Click to enlarge
Fort Christmas Simmons 3 House Exterior. Click to enlarge.
  Simmons 3 House
circa 1915

George Simmons, born in 1867 and his sister, Martha (Mattie) Simmons, born in 1873 were both children of George and Ann Simmons. They never married and remained on the family farm, caring for their father and mother in their final years. After his father's death in 1912, George began constructing a new house just to the southwest of the old place.

This house has a center living room with end bedrooms and a separate kitchen and dining room. As with their parents, farming was their main occupation. They grew vegetables that they sold to the turpentine camps in the area. Occasionally, Uncle George hired out as a carpenter.

  Fort Christmas Simmons House 3 kitchen. Click to enlarge
Fort Christmas Simmons 3 House Dining. Click to enlarge.
Fort Christmas Yates House. Click to enlarge
Fort Christmas Back of Yates House. Click to enlarge.
  Yates House
circa 1890s

John Burl (Bud) Yates III, born in 1875, and Polly Canada, born in 1874, lived on the John Burl Yates ll's homestead, located on Taylor Creek when they first were married. They converted an old shed into living quarters and prepared meals on a 'cook stand' in the open. They started homesteading the property where they built this one room house and lived a simple life off the land. They always had a garden, raised livestock and hunted deer, turkey and wild hogs. In early times the kitchen was on the front porch! The rear room was added by Polly's sons after her husband died in 1923. The gray, marl clay for the stick and clay chimney came from a local clay pit in the Taylor Creek area.
  Fort Christmas Yates House kitchen. Click to enlarge
Fort Christmas Brown House. Click to enlarge.
Fort Christmas house
  Brown House
1904

This house was built in 1904 by Ephriam Legrand Brown. Brown was born in Americus, Georgia in 1859 and came to Florida at the age of sixteen. He worked as a surveyor. In 1882 Brown married Julia Roberts of the Roberts Plantation on Lake Mills and purchased a 40 acre parcel of land where he built a log home and planted an orange grove. When the log home was destroyed by fire, the family lived in the barn while a new home was built. He used the charred, but sound, timbers from the log home for the floor joints in this building. Citrus trees planted by Brown bore fruit until the freeze of 1985. In that year, the Brown family was recognized by the Florida Department of Agriculture as a pioneer farm family under the One Hundred Year Farm Family Program.
  Fort Christmas Brown House parlor. Click to enlarge
Wheeler-Bass House   Wheeler-Bass House
circa 1905

Built by Jim Wheeler in the early 1900s this building began life as a barn. It was converted to a home shortly after its completion. Early rural homes did not have glass windows. Board shutters were opened to allow for light and air circulation. Batten strips were usually placed over the joints in the board siding to seal the building. Notice on this building the narrow wood shingles that were used in place of batten strips, an unusual feature. The house reflects the family home where the man works as a day-laborer for a large ranch or citrus grove owner. The family owned six acres, planted a garden and raised livestock for their own consumption.
  Inside the Wheeler-Bass House. Click to enlarge.
Entrance to the Wheeler-Bass House. Click to enlarge.
Cow Camp Exhibit. Click to enlarge.   Cow Camps
circa 1860s - 1930s

Cow camps were semi-permanent camps, shared by all. Situated near water, shade and good grazing, they were constructed a day's drive apart. Cow camps provided shelter for the cowboys, their ponies and dogs. Usually wooden pens for holding cattle were nearby.

The lean-to style camp is an example of a hastily prepared shelter. These were built and used by the cow hunter when weather was rainy or cold. Constructed in less than an hour, it could be used repeatedly by simply replacing or adding palmetto fronds to the roof.

The pen-style cow camp was built to use during cattle round ups. Horses could be corralled in the pen while the men slept in the open area.

After 1930 a more elaborate style cow camp was constructed. It was two stories tall with the cow hunters sleeping upstairs. The corralled area below stored the gear and provided shelter for the horses and dogs. This style was a more permanent type of structure very much like a barn.

 
Fort Christmas Beehead Ranch House. Click to enlarge.
Fort Christmas Beehead Ranch House Exterior. Click to enlarge.
  Beehead Ranch House
1917

The cracker name for a group of trees is head. Bees filled the hollows of the live oak trees with honey. The area where the ranch house was located was noted for its numerous honey trees, resulting in the house being named, Beehead. Built in 1917 by local labor for the Tosohatchee Ranch Company, the Beehead Ranch House provided housing for the ranch foreman and his family. In 1925 the ranch was purchased by a group of sportsmen from Sanford and Orlando. It became a hunting club, called the Tosohatchee Game Preserve. renowned for excellent hunting and its yearly barbecue. The property was sold to the State of Florida in 1977 and is now the Tosohatchee State Reserve. The ranch house was moved to Fort Christmas in 1993. it will be used to reflect life on a cattle ranch in the early 2Oth century.
Pre-move photos.
  Fort Christmas Beehead Ranch House interior. Click to enlarge.
Fort Christmas Beehead Ranch House Kitchen. Click to enlarge.
Fort Christmas Woods House   Woods House
1927

Thomas Jefferson Woods, born in 1896, was the son of Francis Jackson Woods and Emma Matilda Savage. In 1927 he and his wife. Katie. were living in palmetto thatched lean-to. struggling to complete the house in time for the birth of their first child, Nellie. The land and waters in the area of Fort Christmas have long been full of game and fish. Like most men in the area Tom learned to hunt and trap as a youngster. He was able to use these skills to provide for his family by selling the hides of alligator. raccoon. opossum and otter which were popular for men's and ladies' fashions. This house has an exhibit, of fine photographs and artifacts reflecting the hunting. fishing and trapping of Fort Christmas.
  Fort Christmas Woods House Parents Room. Click to enlarge. Woods House Kitchen. Click to enlarge.





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