This bridge tender’s house (pictured below) was built in Astor in 1926 and is one of the last still in existence in Florida. The men who lived here over the years operated the bridge’s swing span to allow boat traffic on the St. John’s River to safely pass. In 1980, the structure was moved to its current location.
Drive through the house’s porte cochere at the entrance to the Barberville Pioneer Settlement and it feels like you’re going through a time portal to a much simpler time. This is what Florida was like in the 1800s and early 1900s.
The Astor Bridge Tender’s House is one of 18 historical structures that make up the 30-acre campus just off State Road 40 between Ormond Beach and Ocala.
Barberville Pioneer Settlement was established in 1976 when a group of Volusia County art teachers had the vision to preserve the Old Barberville Central High School, a 1919 building at the heart of the property. They also wanted a facility where traditional arts and crafts could be preserved and taught to younger generations.
Today, the old high school has been restored top to bottom and serves as a learning center for youth groups that travel from across the state to get a taste of pioneer life. Students are often broken into smaller groups, taken into classrooms and given demonstrations on everything from candle making and weaving to quilting and pottery making.
Other buildings on the property include: the Pierson Railroad Depot, an old country store relocated from Bakersburg, an 1890 Methodist church, post office, blacksmith shop, firehouse, log cabin, woodworking shop, print shop and a turpentine still. Most of the buildings are original with a few reproductions mixed in.
After 40 years in operation, the settlement’s associate director Gudrun Benson says they’re starting to see an interesting phenomenon. She explains young parents are now bringing their children to the settlement because they experienced the unique facility as a kid and want their offspring to have the same experience.
“That to me is a sign we’re doing something really, really right,” Benson says.
Most revenue generated at Barberville Pioneer Settlement comes from school field trips. The campus also hosts a number of yearly events that attract large crowds from music and dance festivals to chili cook-offs, a pioneer Christmas celebration and a country jamboree in the fall.
Listen to the Orange Rocket Post Audiocast from Barberville Pioneer Settlement
Watch our Vlog from the Barberville Pioneer Settlement.