Christmas, Florida, as I have said elsewhere, is not much of a place. Drive through, and drive through fast. If you slow down enough to turn north onto County Road 420 near the western end of town, though, you'll find what might be its best and only attraction, apart from the sight of kitschy decorations in peoples front yards at any time of year.

Fort Christmas, where the town got its name from, was one of many forts constructed during the Second Seminole War. In the costly drive south against Seminole Chief Micanopy and his bands of Indian and negro guerrillas, the US Army built about 200 of them to support the troops and consolidate the government's (and, of course, the white man's) grip on the territory. Fort Christmas was a link in the chain that led south-east from Fort Mellon, today's Sanford.

The fort was built in three days, starting Christmas Day, 1837, and that's where it got its name from. The same day, coincidentally, one of the bloodiest battles of the war took place further south, near Lake Okeechobee. By the end of the 27th, the men of the 3rd Artillery Regiment, 3rd and 4th Dragoons, and Alabama Volunteers had constructed an 80'x80' stockade with two 20'x20' blockhouses. The construction was documented by an army doctor in his journal, which is how most of its short history was recorded. It only saw service for just over two months before the men were recalled to Fort Mellon on March 3 but somehow the edifice and location became popular enough for people to settle there and eventually turn it into a small town. The fort briefly served as the US Army headquarters for the campaign. Its style is pretty much indistinguishable from that of forts and outposts in the western US but is a bit unexpected for Florida, seeing how the state's history as frontier territory is not nearly as well known as that of the West.

The fort isn't all that remarkable except for the fact that it was realistically reconstructed and opened to the public in 1977 as a bicentennial project, about a mile south of the original location. It's one of two such Seminole War era forts in the state of Florida, the other being Fort Foster, near Tampa. Both blockhouses form a museum with exhibits from daily life in the century or so following the construction of the fort, a few indigenous artefacts, mostly contemporary but also the odd pre-Columbian object. Maps, clothing articles, and local family trees are also on display, along with artwork by what's probably the town's most famous son, sculptor Hughlette "Tex" Wheeler. Ignore the drone of the looping video display narrating the story behind the fort and the Seminole Wars.

Next to the fort, there is a fenced area with a reconstructed settlement made up of a dozen-odd buildings. All building were moved there from various locations in the surrounding area and a great variety of "cracker" building styles (and family incomes) are represented, from the 1870s to the 1920s. The only building material is wood, shingles included, and most of the houses have been completely restored to their original look, the only real anachronism being the visibly newer wood of the repaired parts and the odd modern lighting fixture. All houses have some furnishings, kitchen utensils, farm implements and other objects matching the date of the house.

Christmas and Fort Christmas are easily reachable from Orlando, about 30 miles west, and Titusville, 15 miles to the west. County Road 420 may or may not be on the map as such. The road is signposted as Fort Christmas Road and the fort is situated about two miles north of State Road 50, on the left-hand side. Entry is free for all, and that includes the guided tour of the settlement on certain days and hours. Given that you'll probably be getting more than you're paying for, take note of the donation box in each house. Maintenance and staff costs come largely from the county. Improvements are the result of donations and the work of the Fort Christmas Historical Society, which runs the (inevitable) gift shop.

Overall, it's not something I'd recommend as a significant tourist destination but you wouldn't be wasting your time by going there if you happen to be in the area. It makes for an interesting half-day outing and can be combined with the nearby Orlando Wetlands Park. For opening hours (note that the fort and the houses are not necessarily accessible during all opening hours) and anything else, you can call the fort at 407-568-4149. Its street address, for mapping purposes, is 1300 Ft. Christmas Rd., zip code 32709.

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