By Susan D. Brandenburg
November 19, 2016 dawned sunny and beautiful — a perfect day for the long-awaited dedication of the 1873 cabin that housed and later evolved into a hunting lodge of Oesterreicher and McCormick progeny.
“I can still hear the hunting stories echoing under the oak trees,” said Michel Oesterreicher, reminiscing as she stood on the porch of the old cedar cabin built by her grandfather Thomas Oesterreicher at age 17.
Talking about the marriage of her grandparents on that front porch, Oesterreicher noted that Northeast Florida was pioneer country and hers was a pioneer family. Author of the acclaimed book, “Pioneer Family,” Michel Oesterreicher was joined by her cousin, Suzanne McCormick Taylor, at the ribbon cutting ceremony, along with several others who were instrumental in preserving and restoring the cracker cabin as a permanent exhibit at the Beaches Museum & History Park.
“Four years ago, we sat in this old cabin out in Palm Valley while Michel Oesterreicher and Suzanne McCormick Taylor spun tales of the generations of their families who lived there. Suzanne’s grandmother was born right in this cabin,” said Jack Schmidt, Beaches Museum & History Park president. “We knew then that we had to save this important piece of history for future generations.”
While the Oesterreicher and McCormick families donated the cabin, the project co-chaired by Schmidt and Taylor to raise the funds to move it, restore it and preserve it took nearly four years. A special aspect of the extensive fundraising campaign for the project was Thomas LeNoble’s generous Naming Gift honoring the memory of his parents, Victor and Mary LeNoble. In a touching tribute to the LeNobles, Taylor talked of “Vic and Mary’s purpose, wit, grit and generosity of spirit” that endeared them to all who knew them.
“Vic knew he was a Florida Cracker and thought he was a McCormick,” Taylor quipped as she thanked their son, Thomas LeNoble, now a resident of California, for also honoring his parents by establishing an endowment to preserve the Society’s historic buildings.
Weeks prior to the dedication, contractor Bob White shared some historical insights with Beaches Museum & History Park facilities chair Sam Hall, board member Bruce Barber and Barber’s granddaughter, Addison Brown.
“This house tells a story as all houses do,” said White, receiving the rapt attention of 10-year old Addison as well as the adults. “This story is one of frontiersmen, resourcefulness and the industrial revolution. They all came together in this house … after 145 years, it still stands much the way the original builder left it. This in itself is a feat.”
“We are all happy that the move and renovation of our beloved home-place cypress cabin has been accomplished,” said Taylor, as the ribbon was about to be cut.
Sitting in front of the porch, Matriarch of the Beaches Jean McCormick smiled as she took in the scene – a cracker whip wielded by Rickey Helmic accompanied the twang of tunes by Old Time Music Jam and the appreciative buzz of excitement was audible from the audience of more than 200 people. As founder of the Beaches Area Historical Society back in 1978, McCormick has seen remarkable progress in preservation over the past four decades and helped citizens throughout North Florida to remember and celebrate their history. How fitting that she was on hand to celebrate the dedication of this little cracker cabin so integral to the history of her own family.
For information on tours of the Oesterreicher-McCormick homestead and other historic buildings at the Beaches Museum & History Park, visit www.beachesmuseum.org or call (904) 241-5657.
Photo by Susan D. Brandenburg
Jean McCormick, founder of the Beaches Area Historical Society, with Christine Hoffman, Jack Schmidt, Bob White, Michel Oesterreicher, Suzanne McCormick and Darby Brower at the cracker cabin ribbon cutting.