Veer off onto Highway 520 east of Orlando and you’ll be heading toward the sea at Cocoa Beach. Stay straight on Highway 50 and you’ll come to a ‘T’ in Titusville.
But if you turn left on Fort Christmas Road (CR 420) in the small town of Christmas, you’ll be driving straight into the past. Two miles down the road, Orange County has created 25-acre Fort Christmas Historical Park, which does a wonderful job of teaching visitors what life was like when Florida was still a frontier. It’s funny -- I must have passed this place dozens of times when I was a kid as the family drove from Maitland to the coast, and even though we never stopped then, I’m glad I stopped now.
At the park – about a mile from the original location of the 1837 fort – is a recreation of that fort as well as a collection of eight authentic and restored Cracker homes and cabins, a schoolhouse and lunchroom, and a sugar cane mill. I had no idea what else was here, like the gift shop (cool Florida stuff) and museum (Seminole and pioneer artifacts) as well as group- and family-friendly picnic areas, a playground, basketball and tennis courts, and baseball fields.
What really sparked my imagination was wandering around the pioneer homes and trying to imagine what life had been like for the men and women who stuck it out here more than a century ago. I mean, take every paved road, electric light, grocery store, television, telephone, radio, and computer device you’ve ever seen and erase it from your memory. They hadn’t been invented when most of the people who lived in these homes were here.
But these pioneers (whose names and stories are displayed near the cabins) didn’t let that stop them. They worked like mad to make a new life amidst the scrub pines and palmettos of Florida. When I stepped up to a cabin and looked at the tools and antiques (which weren’t antiques then), I couldn’t begin to imagine what it was like to manage a farm, plant crops, cull tobacco, herd cattle -- and do it all in a land where there was no electricity, no air conditioning, no plumbing, and few neighbors.
But that’s the beauty of history – trying to understand where we came from, and appreciating the efforts of all who came before us.
And I think Fort Christmas is a place you’ll appreciate.
If You Go
-Hours: Summer 8-8 daily, Winter 8-6
-Museum & Pioneer Homes: Tuesday-Sunday 9-4
-Gift Shop: Tuesday-Saturday 11-4
-Contact: (407) 254-9310
-Fort Christmas Website