I have always wanted to go to Eatonville, Florida. Eatonville is the oldest Black municipality in America. It is also the original home of Zora Neal Hurston, acclaimed Black author. My quest, to find Ms. Hurston’s museum!
I just thought that being a black town, it would be a nice place to settle down after retirement. You can see Eatonville on the Google map. It’s about 10 miles north of Orlando and very close to the Winter Park Historic District. As a matter of fact, Orlando has a lot of “historical districts”, including Eatonville.
Having flown into Orlando, I felt compelled to make the pilgrimage to the nearby town that meant so much to Zora. Having read Zora Neale Hurston’s books for more than 20 years–and read and head so much about Eatonville’s history as one of the first all-Black towns to be incorporated in America.
In the Kia Soul rental, we drove to Eatonvile on a Saturday morning. Using the Google Maps GPS directions, minus the tollways and freeways, it was a lovely drive through winding streets in residential areas, passing lakes and parks, diverse neighborhoods, well manicure homes, until we reached Eatonville. The goal was to find the Zoro Neal Hurston Museum from the GPS.
Well, we reached the Winter Park Historic District first. Like any major city with small enclaves of neighborhoods, some gentrified and some well established, Main Street in Winter Park was filled with trendy shops and restaurants. The streets were clean and some of the small businesses had planters and welcome signs. I didn’t want to stop. That was not my goal.
On to Eatonville, which was just a few miles from the city limits of Winter Park.
I must have come up from the back end of town because I did not see a “Welcome to Eatonville” sign. I kept driving wondering if I’d made it. Sure enough, it was indeed Eatonville and the sign was at the opposite end of town, about 2 miles in. Sadly crossing the city limits from Winter Park into Eatonville was not pretty. Even though the town was clean it had no viable businesses along it’s Main street. No storefront Planters or welcome signs. It looked like a typical poor black neighborhood in any major city you can name.
Approaching from the opposite end of town the sign read “Welcome to Eatonville. Established in 1887 and the “Oldest African American Municipality in America.” Reading that sign made me feel that the town had black historical value that dated way back. After all it was the home of Zora, and I was looking for her museum.
There were boarded up buildings, empty lots, a Family Dollar store, City Hall, the Main Library, couple of churches, a barbershop and an Auditorium at the town entrance for town events. But no Zora Neal Hurston Museum!
Google said it was there! But I could not find it on the main street, not even near the small City Hall. I stopped a couple of black people I ran into and asked them if they knew where it was. All they could do was point to the auditorium down the street.
Finally after searching for the Zora Neale Hurston Museum, unfortunately, I found out it had been torn down by the city counsel; with no plans to rebuild. What I did not realize was the plot of grass that the Google Map said “You’ve Arrived” was actually the spot where the museum used to be.
Well, now I can at least say that I have been to Eatonville, Florida. There is no doubt that it is an historical black town, just not an ideal place to retire.