MARJORIE RAWLINGS STATE PARK, FL — Marjorie Rawlings’ Cross Creek home remains a page out of one of her novels. From the veranda of her rambling Cracker house she wrote such classic Florida stories as The Yearling and Cross Creek.
Now a state historic site, her home offers a glimpse into the life of one of Florida’s best-known authors. Tours are given Thursday through Sunday. Our tour began out behind the house, in a shady corner near the barn. Ginger Blinn, a ranger dressed in an old-fashioned print dress, reads a summery passage from Cross Creek about the “long months of sweetness” that Rawlings enjoyed. As Blinn reads from the frayed and dog-eared hardback, a cat stretches out in the shade while chickens and ducks chase each other under the clothesline.
Marjorie Rawlings and her husband Charles came to Florida in 1928 for a vacation in nearby Island Grove. For Marjorie, it was love at first site. “Marjorie bought this house sight unseen,” Blinn says.
But it turned out perfectly. “When I came to the Creek,” Rawlings wrote, “I knew the old grove and the farmhouse at once as home.” Marjorie treasured the place because it was isolated. “But for Charles that was intolerable,” Blinn says. “They fought, and finally in 1933, five years later, they divorced. Charles went home to Rochester. And Marjorie was home at Cross Creek.” She didn’t choose an easy life.
Rawlings struggled with the orange grove, and never found it a reliable source of income. “The groves were never an easy means of support. Of course writing wasn’t either,” Blinn says, “but writing came to be the more reliable source of income.”
In 1939 Rawlings won the Pulitzer Prize for The Yearling, a novel about a boy and his pet deer who grew up together in what is now Ocala National Forest.Like most of her works, The Yearling was written on the large enclosed veranda. From the veranda, “I can watch the comings and goings of birds to the feed basket in a crepe myrtle bush, and to the bird bath,” Rawlings wrote.
“I work very hard when I work, keeping myself at the typewriter from eight to 12 hours a day, even though the day’s output may be only a single line.” One corner of the veranda contains a day bed where Rawlings would take her afternoon nap.
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She worked hard, and lived hard too. “She was a woman of excess,” Blinn says. “Marjorie Rawlings chain-smoked Lucky Strikes. She drank Kentucky bourbon and moonshine. She drove recklessly.”
Blinn says a local girl who had visited Mrs. Rawlings was later overhead hosting an imaginary tea party. The girl asked her friend, “Would you care for whiskey, rye or gin?” (Rawlings liquor cabinet is the first item of interest in the living room.) In spite of her wealth, the now hundred-year old pine and cypress home has a humble flavor. “It’s a comfortable home, but it doesn’t reflect Marjorie Rawlings affluence,” Blinn says, pointing out the butter bowls that serve as light fixtures. The house is actually three buildings joined together to create eight rooms.
“She was not a country bumpkin, she was a refined sophisticated woman,” Blinn says. Servants, for instance, would provide her breakfast in bed while she wrote at her bedside typewriter. The last stop on the tour is a room that is used as much as ever–the kitchen. The staff still prepare meals out of Rawlings own cookbook. “My one vanity is cooking,” Rawlings wrote.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings died in 1953 of a brain hemorrhage. She is buried in a cemetery near Island Grove, seven miles from Cross Creek. “The end of her life was not the high point in her literary career,” Blinn says. “She was alone, lonely and discouraged. It’s a much sadder tale than the tale she spins for her books.”
Her memoirs about Cross Creek were made into the 1983 movie Cross Creek, starring Mary Steenburgen and filmed largely in nearby Micanopy. Since then, her home has seen a quarter million visitors.
All those feet take a toll on the house, and so it’s being “put to bed” in August and September for restoration work. “We borrowed this idea from England,” Blinn says. “The National Trust puts its houses to bed in winter. In Florida we do it in summer since it’s the least visited. It’s the time when we do all the things its impossible to do when there’s visitation.”
Blinn, a former college literature teacher, had worked at Rawlings’ home for 10 years. “I love it, it’s home,” she says. “I still get to talk about writing and writers but I don’t have to grade papers.”
Financial problems plagued the site at one time. “We had a crisis,” Blinn says. “The house was scheduled to be closed permanently.” But public support was so great that they were able to stay open. Rawlings home now belongs to many people. And Marjorie, it seems, would have liked it that way. “Cross Creek,” she wrote, “belongs to the wind and the rain, to the sun and the seasons, to the cosmic secrecy of seed, and beyond all, to time.”
Marjorie Rawlings State Historic Site Info
Cross Creek, Florida is about a half hour north of Ocala. Tours are given Thursday through Sunday at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and each hour between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. The house will be closed during August and September for restoration work. Admission is $3.00 per adult, and $2.00 for children ages 6-12.
For more information, call (352) 466-3672.