Preserving African American Heritage in Hernando County, Florida: One Family's Legacy
Mable Sims lives in Twin Lakes, Florida; one of the first African American communities in Hernando County. Mable’s African American ancestors settled Twin Lakes, homesteaded there, and were the principal growers in the community. Today, Mable makes her home on the old family farmstead, and for the last 17 years, she has been working to preserve the family’s original dwelling, which is still intact after 114 years.
The house was built by Mable’s great-grandfathers Hampton St. Clair and Nathaniel O’Neal in 1889. The 160 acre property was then a working farm, growing vegetables for sale at the local farmer’s market, and a portion of the land was used as a citrus grove. The family planted tomatoes, okra, peanuts, corn, cane and field greens as cash crops. The cane was processed in a sugar mill on the property, and the syrup was sold at the farmer’s market. The family kept a variety of livestock, and sold eggs and butter to the public.
Both African American and white families lived in Twin Lakes, but the community was predominantly African American. Early pioneer life in Twin Lakes was challenging, but neighbors helped each other. Mable’s family oral history, as well as that of other Twin Lakes pioneer families, recalls a color-blind community of families helping each other to establish homesteads and make their living.
Mable’s great grandfather Hampton St. Clair was a minister of the Gospel who also practiced natural healing. Family oral history states that Hampton was of Native American, African and European ancestry. The natural healing that he practiced may have involved a blending of customs from any of these cultural traditions.
“Great Grandpa Hampton” used a book printed in 1820, about Native American healing, as a guide for preparing medicines from plants that he cultivated on the property. Some of these medicinal plants are growing there yet. Poultices were ground using a hand wrought spoon that dates from the early 1800s. Mable has preserved the book and the spoon, as well as many other items associated with the original farmstead.
The farmhouse, constructed of termite-resistant cedar wood, is in near pristine condition. The house has not been occupied for two decades, and now serves as a safe storage place for curated items.
Two of the original outbuildings, the outhouse and a storage shed, are still standing. The cane mill is no longer present but Mable would like to build an authentic and functioning replica.
Most of the original farm implements, including horse and mule tack, a cotton scale, several plows, two wagons and many metal tools have survived and are in good condition.
All of the furnishings and household implements have survived and are stored in the house. Among the items are many intact crockery butter churns, jugs and milk jars, as well as kitchen implements and china, most of which has been identified as dating from the 1840s to the 1890s. Many of the original household records such as bills of sale, farming journals and family correspondence have survived, as well as antique family photos.
Mable hopes to restore the property to a working farm and grove, and to turn the original homestead into a museum devoted to African American pioneer life in Twin Lakes in the late 1800s.
Mable's Wish List: Mable needs to locate an attorney who will volunteer to help her form a nonprofit corporation for the planned museum!
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