Florida “Cracker” Vernacular Architecture

Dated: February 8 2024

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Florida “Cracker” Vernacular Architecture

Back in the mid to late 1800s, more and more settlers were moving to Florida, and to escape the somewhat harsh environmental conditions including heat, rain and mosquitos, these pioneers threw together shelters which eventually became their homes. With limited means, they built simple, log or wood-framed structures that resembled the elevated chickee huts built by the neighboring Seminole Indian tribes. The pioneers’ modest homes would eventually become one of the state’s most distinctive architectural styles called Florida "Cracker" Vernacular.

You might wonder how the name “Cracker” came about. In a letter to the Earl of Dartmouth, a British colonist referred to the Scots-Irish, Scottish and English American settlers of the remote southern back country explaining that Cracker was “a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascals on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia, who often change their places of abode." Later, the term Cracker became associated with the cowboys of Georgia and Florida, many of whom were descendants of those early colonists and had migrated south to drive cattle to the sound of cracking whips.

Needing shelter quickly, the early settlers cut trees from nearby hardwood hammocks, cypress swamps and pine forests to build their homes. Most built a primitive, one-room house consisting of four walls, a door, several windows, and a fireplace. The houses were topped with high, steep roofs that shed rain easily and allowed heat to rise above the main living space. Pine or cypress shingles were the most common roofing material, but those who could afford it covered their roof in tin for even greater protection from the rain. Tin would also reflect the sun’s heat away. The windows were especially important, usually placed on opposite sides of the house to allow for cross breezes. Some of the homes had a high clerestory window or a small cupola to allow built-up heat to rise.

On the exterior, no Cracker-style home would be complete without its covered porch. In humid Florida, even a well-ventilated home could get stiflingly hot, so outdoor living spaces were essential. Porches and verandas were built deep and wide to create a lot of shade under the porch roof. Often, the porch was wrapped all the way around the house to shade all the interior and to deflect rain. Keeping rain out was particularly important because window glass was hard to come by and Florida settlers often had only mosquito netting or shutters to cover their windows. Most of the homes were oriented so that the front and back door faced the direction of the predominant winds to take advantage of cooling breezes coming straight through the house. In addition, the homes were elevated on a crawl space, created by stacking coquina rocks, clay bricks or oyster shells, to promote cooling airflow and to reduce the risk of floodwaters reaching the interior.

Today, modern cities often utilize Florida Cracker-style Vernacular architecture for its energy efficiency and historic value. Similarly, when adopted by entire towns, vernacular styles offer both diverse applications and aesthetic harmony.

Right here in our neighborhood, there is an original Florida Cracker home on display and open to the public. It is the home of historic writer Laura Riding Jackson and was constructed around 1910 when the region was a wilderness. The center portion of the home, made of Florida pine, is the oldest part of the house and is distinctive in its simplicity. Later, the Jacksons added the north bedroom and bathroom and installed indoor plumbing. Until 1989, Laura lived in her home without electricity using kerosene for heat and light and propane to cook.

After her death in 1991, a group of concerned individuals created the non-profit Laura (Riding) Jackson Home Preservation Foundation to save the home as a focal point for the study of literature, history, architecture, and the environment. The Jackson home was first moved in 1994 to the Environmental Learning Center campus and later relocated in 2019 to Indian River State College’s Mueller campus. The home is registered as a Friends of the Library USA National Literary Landmark, is listed on the Florida Literary Map and is open to the public for tours.

For more information visit https://lauraridingjackson.org/historic-home/

Authored by: Camille Yates

Sources:

https://todayshomeowner.com/blog/guides/florida-cracker/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_cracker

https://groveland-fl.gov/535/Florida-Vernacular-Architecture#:~:text=The%20elements%20of%20Florida's%20Vernacular,by%20the%20Seminole%20Indian%20tribes.

https://lauraridingjackson.org/historic-home/

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Kyle Von Kohorn

Born and raised in Vero Beach, FL, Kyle Von Kohorn is remarkably well-acquainted with this lovely coastal town and its satellite communities. After earning his degree in Business Administration at ....

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