DADE CITY — For rural Floridians in the 1800s, Christmas might have consisted of homemade gifts, dinner that was grown and hunted, and religious services in the woods.
“That might be hard for people today to envision,” Andy Warrener said.
But the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village, where Warrener works as associate curator, is doing its best to bring to life the holiday experiences of those who settled Pasco County.
Located on a 16-acre wooded campus in Dade City, the village re-creates Florida’s early days through a collection of historic homes and buildings that were moved there and furnished to reflect their era.
For the fourth year, the village’s nearly 160-year-old residence known as the Overstreet House has been decorated for Christmas by the Echebucsassa Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, representing Zephyrhills, Plant City, Dade City and the surrounding areas.
That house paints a picture of those early Christmases.
The Christmas tree set up by the Echebucsassa Chapter is fake, but the Overstreet tree would have been cut from their 1,200-acre property that is now occupied by Dade City’s Rodney B. Cox Elementary School.
“We’re not putting up anything that they wouldn’t have put up in the 1860s and 1870s,” said Karen Gaskin, treasurer of the chapter that took its name from a Native American campsite that was near Plant City.
The chapter decorated the tree with dehydrated sliced citrus, popcorn, cinnamon sticks, pine cones and chicken feathers. Crocheted stars and bunting adorn walls throughout the first floor of the home. On a parlor table, a Bible is turned to Luke Chapter 2, which tells the story of the birth of Jesus. Stockings are the type that are worn on feet. And homemade gingerbread men sit on plates near the woodburning stove.
“Some of our gingerbread men have rags tied around them,” Gaskin said. “They’re not naked.”
But where are the presents and why isn’t the dining room set up for a holiday feast?
“Because it’s not Christmas yet,” Gaskin said. When dinner was served, it likely would have been a wild turkey or pig. “Whatever daddy could catch. Or they might have raised geese or chickens.”
Fruits and vegetables probably came from their farm. Other ingredients were available a few miles away at Fort Dade.
They might have purchased presents for their children at the fort or made gifts like a doll from a pine cone or a slingshot, Warrener said.
The Overstreets built their house in the mid-1860s, when the area was sparsely populated.
They might have hosted a holiday party, said Wayne Sweat, who volunteers at the village. John Overstreet served for the Confederate Army and was a clarinetist in a band. With those musical and military ties, the Overstreet family was likely well known.
“Their house was a big house located on a big piece of property,” Sweat said. “I imagine that would have been the ideal spot to have some Christmas get-togethers.”
If you go
The Pioneer Florida Museum & Village is located at 15602 Pioneer Museum Road in Dade City and is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Admission is $12 for adults, $6 for students, and free for children under 5. Guided tours are by appointment only.
The holiday decorations remain up until the end of December.
Correction: An earlier version of this story listed the wrong admission prices. The story has been updated.