Beaches Museum and History Park dedicates Oesterreicher-McCormick cabin

Doors to historic cabin open after four-year campaign, restoration project


After a four-year long series of struggles and triumph, the Beaches Museum and History Park opened the doors to the Oesterreicher-McCormick Cabin Nov. 19 with a dedication ceremony, live music and a morning of reminiscing.

The cabin was dedicated to Victory and Mary LeNoble as a gift from their son and major museum benefactor, Thomas LeNoble, who made the lead gift contribution for the Oesterreicher-McCormick Homestead in honor of his parents in February.

The dedication day saw a reunion of sorts among the Oesterreicher and McCormick families as a crowd formed before the restored cabin. Christened with lemonade and tea served in mason jars and live music by Old Time Music Jam, the dedication also brought the area’s history full circle; Jean Haden McCormick founded the Beaches Area Historical Society that helped establish the museum, making the park the perfect resting place for the homestead.

Unassuming in appearance, the cabin itself is one of several restored attractions on display in the History Park. First built in 1873 by Thomas Oesterreicher in what is now known as Palm Valley, the cabin is the oldest surviving home of its kind in the area. With its acquisition, Jack Schmidt, president of Beaches Museum and History Park and co-chairman of the Save the Cabin campaign, hopes the last standing Florida cracker homestead will fill the area’s void of pioneer history.

“A lot of people think that Florida has never even had pioneer history,” Schmidt said. “Having the Oesterreicher-McCormick Florida Cracker Homestead adds an additional dimension to the history of the park. It was really a labor of love and it sort of completes the history of the area.”

According to Schmidt and volunteer Richard Keene, the cabin was moved to the museum from Palm Valley just last year before undergoing a major restoration project. It first arrived in 2015 with remnants of its 1950s tin roof, one that has since been replaced with cypress wood. Modern insulation and an open ceiling exposing wood beams were among other additions made to restore the cabin to its former appearance.

Keene said at one point 12 people occupied the two-room home before the McCormick family repurposed the building into a hunting and weekend lodge. The family also owned a lot of property in the area, and the McCormick’s own contributions to the Beaches history made much of the museum’s operations possible.“It was a perfect fit to bring the cabin here to the park,” he said.

Sentimental value

For its importance to the area, the preservation of the cabin was also of importance to the families for which it is named. Michel Oesterreicher – author of “Pioneer Family” and granddaughter of cabin architect Thomas Oesterreicher – joined Suzanne McCormick Taylor, great-granddaughter of Thomas and co-chair of the Save the Cabin Campaign, during the cabin’s opening. Oesterreicher reminisced on her days growing up in the cabin, and extended her appreciation to all who made the preservation and restoration possible.

“I’m just thankful that the cabin is important to the area at all,” she said. “This family has been a huge part of the area for 150 years and many of its descendants still live right here at the beach.”

Taylor agreed, citing her own memories of her upbringing during the tribute.

“My great-grandfather built this house,” she said. “It’s bittersweet because I grew up here. Some of my first memories were in this house, Thanksgivings and weekends were spent here. And it’s special because it’s a place that’s always been shared. I bet half the people here have spent some time at the farm of this house. In a way, it’s like giving it up … but sharing it and preserving it at the same time.”

But the prevailing sentiment was one of gratitude as a battle hard fought came to an end. The homestead now sits among the 1903 Pablo Beach Post Office, the Beaches Museum chapel and other historic buildings in the park.

“I just worried so much that this cabin would be mowed right over when the area was being developed,” said Oesterreicher. “So I just can’t say how grateful I am for its preservation. I’m just so thankful to everyone for fulfilling a blessing and a dream for us.”