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Historical Society Pioneer Village expansion to include Seminole Indian homestead

Posted on Wednesday, June 18, 2014 at 9:56 am

By Tiffanie Reynolds
Staff Writer
Now that it has the space, the Osceola County Historical Society will finally recognize a big piece of local history.

News-Gazette Photo/Andrew Sullivan Contractors with Big Cypress Teepees, using cypress wood and palm fronds, have constructed a number of historically accurate Seminole Indian structures at the Shingle Creek Regional Park. The buildings will fit with a number of other themed areas within the park, creating a new Pioneer Village for the Osceola County Historical Society.

News-Gazette Photo/Andrew Sullivan
Contractors with Big Cypress Teepees, using cypress wood and palm fronds, have constructed a number of historically accurate Seminole Indian structures at the Shingle Creek Regional Park. The buildings will fit with a number of other themed areas within the park, creating a new Pioneer Village for the Osceola County Historical Society.

On June 9 and 10, the society oversaw the construction of a Seminole Indian family homestead on the expansion of its Pioneer Village at Babb Landing. The homestead is made up of four chickees, or hut dwellings, for a family to live: two chickees for sleeping, one for cooking and one for gathering.
The traditional home of the Seminoles, a chickee was built with the Florida climate in mind. Built entirely out of parts of both Palmetto and Cypress tree, a chickee is four trunks of a Cypress tree, reaching up to 8 feet tall, with a semi-pitched roof of Palmetto fronds. Rafters built within the roof help to keep the trunks straight and a wooden floor three feet above the ground protects people from sleeping on soggy or muddy ground. Other chickees for cooking and gathering are built the same way, but with
slight variations.
“I think for people to see that this is really how they lived, it’s really exciting to share that with people and share that information and give a real interpretation of how things were,” said Donnita Dampier, executive director of the Osceola County Historical Society.
Since the society began the plans for the Pioneer Village expansion six years ago, including the Seminoles was always a part of the plan. Chickee structures, as well as the Seminole’s way of life, were a part of the society’s 500-page interpretive study, where extensive information on every structure of the village is included and served as the society’s foundation for its expansion.
For the Seminole homestead, Dampier worked with the Seminole tribe in South Florida on the research and construction of the chickees. PJ Santiago, a builder employed by Big Cypress Tiki Huts, handpicked the Cypress trees to construct the chickees. It’s part of his usual process when building huts, going out into the woods to select the best trees for the job and spending the next two weeks cutting the wood to the right length and cleaning it.
Usually, when we’re cutting the trees from the bottom, and if it’s straight enough, we use it for different processes for the hut building. We use everything off the tree,” said Santiago.
While he didn’t need to do any additional research on the structure of the chickee, he did some research on how the Seminoles lived inside it to recreate the beds and other details. Usually, the company builds huts for residential backyard pools and decks, this is the first time that he has built them for historical reenactment.
Dampier said she was looking forward to sharing this part of the county’s history with residents and visitors alike. The Seminole tribe played a huge role in shaping the county’s and Kissimmee’s early growth, and Dampier said that not many people in the county today realize that.
“I know my son is 9 years old and he thinks of Indians as living in teepees and things like that. So, I think for people to see that this is really how they lived, it’s really exciting to share that with people and share that information and give a real interpretation of how things were,”
said Dampier.
The Seminole homestead will open with the rest of the Pioneer Village expansion on the Society’s Pioneer Day on Nov. 8. Admission to the village will be free and open to the public on
that day.

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