More than 120 people turned out to help celebrate Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings 121st birthday in Cross Creek on Saturday. They were treated to a fish fry with all the fixings including fried fish, grits, hush puppies, coleslaw, cake and sherbert made from tangerines and oranges from Marjorie’s grove on the farm.
See video highlights of the event below:
The Friends of the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Farm and the staff of the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park sponsored the event with support from Visit Gainesville/Alachua County. Northwest Seafood in Gainesville donated and fried the fish.
Visitors were treated to the jazz tunes of the band, “Uptown Swing” as they ate their meals on tables set up all around Marjorie’s home and barn. The August 5th event was part of the year-long activities planned around the 75th anniversary of Rawling’s publications, “Cross Creek,” and “Cross Creek Cookery.” For more information about upcoming events go online to marjoriekinnanrawlings.org
Meanwhile, at the Yearling Restaurant in Cross Creek, visitors can see a Florida wild animal exhibit which showcases the animals made popular in the literary works of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.
Owner of the Yearling Restaurant, Robert Blauer, has recently added the colorful taxidermy-mount exhibit featuring most of the species of wild animals found throughout Florida. Many of these, particularly the bear and deer, were made famous by Rawlings in her many books like The Yearling (Pulitzer Prize 1939), and Cross Creek (1942). Some 40 animal mounts, called “Fodderwing’s Creeturs,” belonging to Cross Creek naturalist, Jim Stephens, are displayed against a spectacular mural setting painted by St. Augustine artist, Gayle Prevatt.
Blauer is inviting the public to come and see this new attraction while also enjoying the old-time dining favorites at the eatery such as gator-tail, catfish and grits, seafood, and sour orange pie, which have made the short drive from Gainesville a memorable dining adventure.
Mural Artist: Gayle Prevatt, 904-377-7917, firstname.lastname@example.org Animal Exhibit: Jim Stephens 352-466-3034, email@example.com Yearling Restaurant owner: Robert Blauer, 352-466-3999
Patrons of the Yearling Restaurant in Cross Creek, FL are treated every weekend with the Delta blues sound of Willie Green. Music is Willie’s life. He began playing harmonica as a teenager and eventually picked up the guitar after being inspired by the music he heard in Florida clubs like the Blue Chip, the Down Beat and the Diamond Club.
Life wasn’t always kind to Willie in his early years. He was born in the mid-1930s to a family of sharecroppers and migrant laborers in Pine Level, AL, outside of Mongtomery. He had to quit school at a young age to help support his family by travelling from farm to farm throughout the Southeast harvesting peanuts, fruit and vegetables. Later in life he ended up in Ocala, FL, though the 1980s were also hard times for Willie as well.
Now in his “golden years” he’s attracting a tremendous following for his authentic blues music. He’s become a favorite at various state festivals such as the Florida Folk Festival, Magnolia Fest, Springing the Blues, the Gamble Rogers Festival and at blues competitions such as the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN. Willie has opened for well-known blues musicians including Robert Cray and Eric Clapton, Grammy-winning blues musician John Hammond, shared the stage with the late “Honeyboy” Edwards and collaborated with Southern rock group J.J. Grey and Mofro. In 2010, he received Stetson Kennedy’s Fellow Man and Mother Earth Award.
Reporter Trimmel Gomes and Donna Green-Townsend brought Willie into the WUFT studios in 2005 to hear the story of his life and to hear him play a little blues.
Below are a few more of the songs Willie performed at the Yearling Restaurant in Cross Creek on June 15, 2014:
Willie playing Baby You Mine
Willie singing a song about Muddy Waters called Hoochie Coochie Man
Willie performing Blue With A Feelin
On October 15th, 1935, or there abouts, a baby boy was born in a rural Alabama sharecropper’s cabin. His mother Mattie and father Willie Green Sr. named him Willie Grant Green. The Grant comes from the famous Union general. Willie doesn’t know the name of the little farm hamlet, only that it was near the city of Montgomery. He doesn’t have any family photos or even a birth certificate. Only that his family were sharecroppers and travelling migrant workers. He was lucky to go school for a of couple years, but was soon pulled from the 4th grade to start working in the fields, picking everything from peanuts to potatoes. Travelling around the southeast in the back of a truck, field to field, farm to farm, he picked vegetables and fruits through his teenage years and into his twenties. By then he had left the family following the crop harvest north as far as Maine, he met a girl there, a local farmer’s daughter. He says he always wished he would have stayed, but time to head back south: more crops coming in the spring. His brother was called to Vietnam. Willie never saw him again.
While still at home as a teenager, Willie would sneak out at night, sometimes catching a ride on a passing freight into Montgomery to the juke joints. He wanted to hear the music, the BLUES music, from the greats like John Lee Hooker, Little Walter, Muddy Waters; all those cats getting home before sunrise to the welcome of a belt in the hands of Mama Mattie, who wasn’t fond of the juke joint scene.
One day an old boy gave Willie a harp, and the rest is history. He continued his migrant worker job, with the harp in his back pocket, playing when he could, sitting in with anyone he could. In the 1960s Willie found his way to Florida, were some cousins lived in Pompano Beach. During this time he was called back to Alabama one time. Mama Mattie had passed away on the farm. This was the last time he saw the place and his only relatives there. Willie remembers he inherited her refrigerator, but had no way to haul it home on the Greyhound bus. Back in Florida he found new jobs like pipe laying, driving a pulp wood truck, laying cement roads; anything that made a little dough. Heven started learning to play some guitar to go with the harp. He got to sit in with some of the great blues players travelling through. Cash was king, no bank account needed…..
To continue reading more from this article in the publication, “Old City Life” about blues singer and performer Willie Green click here.
Business has picked up in the Cross Creek area in the past few weeks thanks to heavy rainfall during the first three months of this year. Lake levels are up in Orange and Lochloosa Lakes in Alachua County resulting in more boat traffic in recent weeks. People are fishing and airboating once again.
For many months boaters couldn’t navigate Cross Creek to get in to either lake because of dense plant growth due to low rainfall. According to the St. John’s River Water Management District, Alachua County received 14.28 inches of rain between January 1st and March 18th. That’s 11.33 inches more than the same period last year. The Keystone Heights area has received 14.35 inches since January 1st, which is 12.02 inches more than the same period last year.
Local residents in Cross Creek say that in the past week they observed the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission releasing 125,000 fingerling bass in Orange Lake. Area residents are calling this a positive move to help recreational fishing for the near future.
Original Story in September, 2013
By Donna Green-Townsend and Amanda Jackson
Cross Creek Lodge once catered to fishermen, hunters, and people with a love for the great outdoors. But with lake levels staying low for many years it seems the lodge will never thrive as it did in the past. Owner and operator of the Cross Creek Lodge Gary Palmeter opened the doors to his business, which sits on the creek between Orange and Lochloosa Lakes, more than three decades ago. With lake levels constantly rising and falling he has only been able to operate for 12 of the 33 years he’s been in business. (Video below includes interviews with Dale Crider on Newnans Lake and with Gary Palmeter on the Cross Creek area)
“I’m losing a lot of money every year, we used to have a cafe, that’s gone,” says Gary Palmeter, “Had we had enough water we could have probably maintained that. If the state would do something about the hunter permits that they allow people to use we could have hunters here. Right now we have hunters, a few of them for maybe like 2 months. We used to have a number of people that stayed here through the hunting season, but if they don’t get a permit, which is a lottery type thing, they don’t come. That’s a loss to not only the community but the county because that’s tourist dollars, out the window!”
Palmeter says he feels there’s more to this problem than just rain. A sinkhole under Orange Lake, which is a major source of contention between Marion and Alachua counties, is also thought to be draining a large amount of water from the lake.
“So that’s you know the crux of the problem besides the rain. I mean yeah, we get water levels and I understand that we’re not going to maintain a high level, but with the water continually flowing out of the lakes there’s nothing that’s ever going to be done to help stabilize them.”
But for those who think that large amounts of rain that accompany Florida summers can refill the extremely low lakes, Palmeter knows the reprieve is only temporary.
“Even when we got the two hurricanes that came late in 2004 if I remember right, that water only held for 18 months. It was up sufficiently so that we could have boats here launch. We had boat and motor rentals again. And we’re not going to go through that again I don’t think.”
For now, boats slips at the Cross Creek Lodge are filled with grass instead of boats. Other local businesses have been suffering as well. Although it is still open for business, the Yearling Restaurant in Cross Creek, is up for sale. With continued limited lake access Palmeter says its hard to keep these businesses running.
“We still keep the motel going and we try to keep the campground going the best we can, but the motel hasn’t done anything because most of the people that want to come here to stay are fishermen. The first thing when they call I explain the situation. And I like to be up front with people, and as a result it probably in some way hurts our business. But I kept thinking in the long term it would improve but it hasn’t. We’ve lost our base of business, the fishermen that used to come here. They call and sometimes want to bring their son to where they used to fish. Well, they can’t do that anymore. So you’ve really lost your whole base of business.”
Alachua County Environmental Protection Director Chris Bird says that no matter how much it has been debated over the past 50 years there isn’t anything that can be done to the Orange Lake sinkhole without causing even more damage.
“The geology of that lake is such that if you did try to plug them up, the sinks in the bottom of the lake, assuming you thought it was a good idea, most likely what would happen is that there would just be other sinks that would open up other places because there’s just a lot of pressure,” says Bird. “And the way that system naturally flows is that actually the southern part of Orange Lake is recharge. They’ve actually done dive trace studies that suggest that that water is draining back into the aquifer. And it’s part of the Silver springshed, so again, there’s just a lot of important relationships. And because of that, at least in my opinion, it would not be wise to start trying to mess with mother nature.”
To see a music video highlighting lake levels click below:
Orange and Lochloosa lakes are not the only lakes experiencing low levels in Alachua County. Newnans Lake has also felt these water fluctuations. Retired wetlands and wildlife biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Dale Crider has seen the level changes while living by the lake. Crider says the situation is not much different from the water level issues in Keystone Heights.
“I think it’s like most north Florida lakes that it’s tied in to the Floridan aquifer which is overpumped and underfed right now because we’re not getting the rains we used to,” says Crider, “and it’s overpumped from all sources from municipal to agriculture to you name it. It seems like there’s such a capacity for this water to be soaked up and disappear through sinkholes and underground terrain. You know there’s not this capacity to fill up the aquifer so that it bubbles above the surface anymore.”
Crider pointed to a tree where the water level line was three weeks ago which showed how far it had decreased in a short time. He says it demonstrates the lakes still aren’t healthy
“There’s still this suction kind of thing and I don’t think this flood that we’ve had made that big of an impression for that long that it would have filled up the aquifer to where we can go back to using water normally. I don’t think we’ll ever reach that point where what we used to call normal use of water for watering our lawn or just filling our swimming pool more frequently or whatever we do with it, I think those days are past.”
Something Crider and Palmeter both agree on is that county officials and water regulators will need to do a better job of overseeing Florida’s water resources.