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Barberville Pioneer Settlement



I’m always looking for off-the-beaten-path, charming back road destinations to visit. In Florida, there’s few places more remote than the Barberville Pioneer Settlement – and it’s totally worth the trip.


There are twenty-two different sections to visit on this sprawling property. Here’s a breakdown of how to find it, the history behind the settlement, and the best parts – in my opinion - of the Barberville Pioneer Settlement.



Where is Barberville?

Barberville is located 47 miles east of Ocala, 30 miles west of Daytona Beach, and 53 miles north of Orlando. Though this unincorporated town seems remote today, James D. Barber established the original settlement in 1882, hoping to prosper from a proposed rail line through the area.



History of the Settlement

The history of the Barberville Pioneer Settlement started with a group of teachers in the 1970s who wanted to save a historic building – the Central School of Barberville. These women created the Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts Inc., a non-profit organization that would preserve local history and provide educational programs.



Over the decades, the non-profit secured more donated structures. The property began to look like the pioneer town it once was. In 2001, the Volusia County School Board bequeathed the property to the Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts.


Thanks to the efforts of this organization, buildings like the Astor Bridge Tender’s House, Barberville Central High School, the Lewis Log Cabin, Huntington Post Office, Firehouse, and the Pierson Railroad Depot, are all open for public viewing.



Astor Bridge Tender’s House

The first structure at the settlement is the Astor Bridge Tender’s House. Built in 1926, it served as a home for the bridge tender and his family back when the house sat along the St. John’s River and served as a gateway between Volusia and Lake counties.



Now, the portion that used to reach over the river covers the large driveway entrance to the pioneer settlement. It’s the one building you won’t miss, because you drive through it to get to the parking area.


Inside the old home there’s an information desk, gift shop, and a room with a video about bear safety. According to the museum’s brochure, little has changed in the house since they brought it to the settlement.


Lewis Log Cabin


If I had to choose a favorite building at the settlement, it would be the Lewis Log Cabin. The cabin is the only part of the settlement not originally from Florida. However, its construction still fit the appropriate architectural style and time period.


Jim Lewis built the cabin in 1875, using “cracker” style construction, with pine he cut down from his property is southern Georgia. He and his wife, Mary, raised their twelve children in this one-room cabin with a loft.



During our visit, we saw how settlement volunteers had cozily decorated the Lewis cabin for Christmas. It was easy to imagine sitting by the brick fireplace and staying warm on chilly evenings.


We saw a typical living room for pioneer families, including a piano, that would have served as entertainment when the day’s work was done. A volunteer docent explained how someone would have pulled up the ropes alongside the bed to make the mattress firmer, creating the phrase we commonly know today as “sleep tight.”



Though the museum has replicated what a kitchen would look like inside of the cabin, their signage explains that the original kitchen was separate from the house. This would keep the additional heat away from the main home and minimize potential fire damage to the cabin.



Firehouse

The old firehouse building was originally a blacksmith shop built around 1900. Today, the museum uses it to house antique firefighting equipment and two engines: a 1933 Hahn and a 1918 LaFrance. Though you can’t go into the building that now serves as a garage for the engines, the 1918 LaFrance fire engine is parked outside. We took our time looking over the old fire hoses, extinguishers, and ladders. This section is a great stop for auto enthusiasts, history lovers, and kids alike.



Pierson Railroad Depot & Caboose

The Pierson Railroad Depot has something for everyone to enjoy. From children, to those who are kids at heart, the historic train depot has a morse code machine, model train, and a caboose you can walk through.



Thanks to the efforts of Lura Bell, one of the teachers who help found the Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts, Seaboard Coast Lines donated the abandoned Pierson Railroad Depot in 1981. They followed up with the donation of the caboose a few years later.



During its heyday, the train depot served as the center of the community. It was not only a place where people loaded and unloaded from the train. At the depot, townspeople gathered to play games like checkers, meet-up with neighbors, check on deliveries, find a safe place to shelter during storms, and to get updates about the status of tropical storms.


The Pioneer Settlement has done a fantastic job of staging the depot in a way that really lets you feel what it must have been like to be there in the late 19th and early 20th century. From the waiting room with luggage, to the communications center with its Morse code machine and message board, it was as though we’d stepped back in time.



Train enthusiasts will particularly enjoy the model railroad set in a miniature diorama depicting western Volusia County with a nod to its major industries – citrus, logging, and tourism.


Right along the train depot’s platform sits a large red caboose. When Seaboard Coast Lines donated the caboose in 1983, it was originally gray and had the words Family Line Systems painted on it. Today, you can walk through the caboose like a passenger from another time.


Barberville Central High School

Despite its name, the flagship building that anchors the settlement was more than just a high school. From 1919 until 1940, the school housed students from 1st through 12th grade. In 1940, it became the town’s elementary school until 1969.



When you walk through the building, the rooms contain different historical displays, including Seminole artifacts, a pioneer-era classroom, a kitchen, and other items from the late 1800s/early 1900s.



It Takes a Village

Of course, there are many more buildings and attractions that make up the Barberville Pioneer Settlement. Stop by to see the farm animals, turpentine still, cane grinder and boiler, Post Office (1885), Methodist church (1890), the Joseph Underhill house, a carriage barn, blacksmith, and pottery shed.



Don’t let the Barberville Pioneer Settlement’s remote location deter you. Regardless of which direction you’re coming from, the drive involves easy-going backcountry roads through pine forests and past farm fields, that will help set the mood for your trip to the pioneer town.



Looking for epic historical sites with lots to do? Then don't miss The Castillo de San Marcos: A Monument to Florida's Eclectic Past and the Ximenez-Fatio House Museum!


Know Before You Go

Location: 1776 Lightfoot Lane, Barberville, FL 32105

Hours: Mon-Sat 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., Sun 12 p.m. – 4 p.m.

Admission:

Self-Guided Tours with Map & Descriptions

$25 One Day Family Pass – Two adults with children/grandchildren ages 18 and under

$10 General Admission

$ 9 Seniors (62+), Veterans and Groups of 5 or more

$ 4 Youth Ages 6-12

Youth under age 5 FREE


Docent Guided Tours (24-hour advanced reservation, minimum of 5 people required)

$15 Adults

$14 Seniors (62+), Veterans and Groups of 5 or more

$ 6 Youth Ages 6-12

Free for Children under 5


Accessibility/Restrooms/Pets:

Service animals are welcome. The Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts does not permit pets on the property.


The following buildings are wheelchair accessible: Astor Bridge Tender’s House, Post and Beam Barn, Cane Grinder and Boiler, farm animals, peacock aviary, Ellis’s Garden, Lewis Log cabin, firehouse, Tomoka turpentine still, blacksmith shop, print shop, wheelwright shop and carriage barn, wood wright shop, pottery shed, Pierson Railroad Depot and caboose, H.L. Wynn’s Commissary, and Barberville Central High School.


Restrooms are located at the back of the Barberville Central High School.



Access to Buildings: As of this writing, at the end of 2022, some of the smaller buildings are closed. Visitors can peer through the front door and windows.


Weather: As with many historical sites, you will be at the mercy of the weather during your visit. Bring plenty of water to drink, as well as protection from the sun and insects. If there’s a high probability of rain on the day you plan to visit, you may want to reschedule.


Time: I would recommend setting aside about an hour and a half to tour the settlement.


Events: Check out the Barberville Pioneer Settlement website for upcoming special events. We went during their Christmas celebration and enjoyed the decorations and vendors. Their biggest event of the year is the Annual Fall Country Jamboree – Living History & Folk Music Festival in November.



Want to know about more pioneer sites you can visit in Florida? Check out this post about the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village in Dade City.


Have you visited the Barberville Pioneer Settlement? Do you have another great, off-the-beaten path place you want to recommend? Leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!






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