Beehead Ranch House (ca. 1917)

Fort Christmas Historical Park

Christmas of 1837, in the wilds of central Florida, was neither merry nor peaceful.  Since 1835 the United States had been in conflict with local Native American tribes in what would become known as the Second Seminole War. The tale of the road to war followed a similar narrative as most other conflicts between natives and the U.S. Government. In a nutshell it went something like this…the United States takes possession of native lands (i.e. Florida), white settlers soon seek to move onto these lands, inevitable violence ensues, the tribes eventually “agree” to move onto a reservation, the settlers decide they now want that land too, the natives resist removal, armed conflict erupts once again. Fortunes had ebbed and flowed for both sides by the winter of 1837, with the natives gaining the initiative early on and the U.S. Army slowly overwhelming them as more time passed.

Supplies, of course, were of utmost importance to the army in this remote and wild theater of war. So it was that, on the 17th of December 1837, General Thomas S. Jesup ordered a detachment of over 2,000 regulars and volunteers to move south from Fort Mellon (today’s Sanford) to construct a depot. Over the next week this force cut their way through the Florida wilderness, constructing roads and bridges as they went. On December 25th they picked a spot alongside a small creek and began to construct a walled supply post. Made of pine, the stockade of the small outpost measured 80 feet square with two 20-foot square blockhouses located at opposite corners. Inside was a small powder magazine and a storehouse. Eighty men would eventually garrison the post. The work was completed in just two days and the depot was named Fort Christmas, as that was when work had begun on the site. The fort, however, didn’t last long. The primary theater of the war was moving to the south end of the Florida peninsula and so the decision was made to move supplies by sea rather than overland. After only three months of duty, Fort Christmas was abandoned in March 1838. The Second Seminole War raged for nearly four more years, ending with the almost complete eradication of native peoples on the Florida peninsula. Barely three years after the formal end to the war, in 1845, Florida became the nations 27th state.

Nature quickly reclaimed the site of the fort for a time but, by the mid to late 1800’s, new settlements had spread across the interior of the state with agriculture and ranching dominating the local economy. In 1930 a 10-acre parcel of land was donated to Orange County, approximately one mile south of where Fort Christmas once stood. Designated Fort Christmas Historical Park, a pavilion was soon added to the property thanks to the Civilian Conservation Corps. Over the years additional land has been added to the park, which now encompasses nearly 150-acres. In celebration of the United States bicentennial (1976) the county, along with the Army Corps of Engineers, proposed plans to build a full-size replica of Fort Christmas at the site. In December of 1977, exactly 140 years to the month after the original fort was built, work was completed on the reconstruction. The fort was only the beginning though. In the 1990’s there was growing interest in creating a living history settlement at the historical park as well. The result, 30 years later, is a wonderful collection of over a dozen historic structures which have been moved to the site from the surrounding area.

The following album depicts the walking tour I took of Fort Christmas Historical Park, fittingly, over the holiday season of 2019. The park is open daily and most structures are available to walk inside of, with costumed interpreters helping depict life in the “pioneer” days of central Florida. Perhaps the best surprise was that admission was completely FREE! I hope, however, that after you see with what care the park is maintained and, through countless interpretive signs and brochures, how thorough and dedicated the people who operate it are…you won’t hesitate to leave an appropriate donation. Each of the structures located at the site (as of this writing) are pictured within the album. I have admittedly cheated a bit in describing each however. So extensive and well-written was the information displayed on park placards, I decided to simply transcribe what you would actually see were you at the park reading them yourself. With that said, it’s now my pleasure to invite you along on a tour Fort Christmas Historical Park of Orange County, Florida. As I’m sure you’ll see, it’s of one of the finest little historical sites you could hope to visit…and, as always…ENJOY!!

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