Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Pine Castle Pioneer Days

An oldtimer once told me that Pine Castle is more of a state of mind than an actual place.

I suppose that's because it's so hard to define in terms of physical or geographic boundaries.

The original Pine Castle was a private residence, erected by a fellow named Will Harney who came to this little corner of heaven from Kentucky in the years immediately following the Civil War.

Harney was a poet by nature and training, and composed many tributes to the idyllic virtues of the Central Florida frontier. In truth, though, he endured all of the many hardships that our pioneer settlers encountered in those days. Even worse, he lost his young wife very soon after staking claim to land on Lake Conway south of Orlando. Deeply saddened, but undeterred, this single father tamed his homestead lands and erected a castle using the native pine trees. Dubbing the structure his "Pine Castle," he used it in the by-lines of the various articles he wrote as a correspondent for northern newspapers interested in the area.

Within a matter of just a few years, the name of "Pine Castle" wasn't just being applied to Mr. Harney's home, but to the entire neighborhood. (It was, after all, the most striking landmark between Orlando and Kissimmee!) Basically, that encompassed the modern cities of Edgewood and Belle Isle, and all the pockets of unincorporated Orange County that surround the Conway chain of lakes.

The people who settled the area around the original Pine Castle were a neighborly lot. They came together to work for the common good. Republican and Democrat. Baptist and Methodist. Yankee and Cracker. It didn't matter. The classic example of this community spirit was the old Union Church, erected in 1900. Just about EVERYBODY in Pine Castle had a hand in its construction, and it was used by all congregations.

Many years later, in 1974 to be exact, an annual festival sprang-up in Pine Castle to celebrate that pioneer spirit.

Sadly, the event had to be cancelled last year, and looked like it was going to be cancelled again this year due to financial difficulties of the former sponsor.

But, tonight I am pleased to report that Pine Castle's pioneer spirit is still alive and well. An organizational meeting was held, and it was agreed to incorporate Pine Castle Pioneer Days as a non-profit organization. And, a date was even set (the last weekend in February, instead of the traditional October timeframe).

That means we've got less than a year until Pioneer Days comes back to Pine Castle. (Feburary 26 & 27th, to be exact!) So, once again, the folks in this little corner of heaven are faced with a challenge.

If history is any guide, the people of Pine Castle will rise to the occasion!

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