History preserved at 1890s-era Lockett Estate

Lake Okeechobee News/Katrina Elsken
The family home at the Edna Pearce Lockett Estate has a new roof. The rotting front porch was also replaced. The interior of the old building has dried out. The old carpet was removed to reveal the wooden floors.

HIGHLANDS COUNTY — There’s new life in the Edna Pearce Lockett Estate, which was in ruins just three years ago. On the main house, the rotting porch was replaced and a new roof keeps the interior dry. The old carpet has been pulled up to reveal the original wood floors.

The old schoolhouse, built in 1900, also has a new roof and a new floor. Rotting, termite-damaged timbers and boards have been replaced throughout the building, while any undamaged wood and the original doors and windows were preserved.

Lake Okeechobee News/Katrina Elsken
Butch Thompson stands beside the old schoolhouse. The building, constructed in 1900, was used as a school until 1960. Edna Pearce Lockett was one of the teachers. It originally stood across the road from the Pearce property. When the school closed, the building was moved onto the ranch and used for storage.

Don’t ask owner Paul “Butch” Thompson how much money he has spent fixing up the place.

“I don’t know, and I don’t want to know,” he said with a smile. It’s a labor of love.

The Thompsons were unable to save the old horse barn. Some of the wood salvaged from the old barn was used to build a new outhouse, with an upgrade. Mr. Thompson said the old outhouse had been a “one hole” privy; the new one is a “two hole.”

Lake Okeechobee News/Katrina Elsken
An iron gate stands at the “formal entrance” to the property. The road is lined with old-fashioned light poles.

Mr. Thompson points with pride to the “formal entrance way” with wrought iron gates that open to a path lined with old-fashioned street lamps. When he first surveyed the property, there was so much brush he could not even see the lamp poles. He was surprised to find them when he started mowing. He likes to imagine how, in the 1920s, Model T’s might have come down that drive carrying guests to one of Miss Edna’s parties. Cowboys on horseback used the back entrance, he added.

Butch and Donna Thompson purchased the historic property via sealed bid from the South Florida Water Management District in 2017. SFWMD took possession of the property along with other property along the river in 1993. Approximately 615 acres were sold to SFWMD and approximately 468 acres were donated to SFWMD. The donated portion included the Lockett family residence and the other historical sites. At the time, SFWMD agreed to transfer the historic home and buildings to a Florida agency that would preserve and restore the historic site and keep it open to the public. However, SFWMD failed to find an agency to take responsibility for the site, and for 23 years the buildings were allowed to deteriorate.

Lake Okeechobee News/Katrina Elsken
The South Florida Water Management District does not allow enclosed structures over the water on the Kissimmee River, so Mr. Thompson had to move the old boathouse. For now, it rests where a chicken house once stood.

At the time of the SFWMD auction in 2017, Mr. Thompson said he just couldn’t stand the thought of someone bulldozing the old homestead to build a new home on the Kissimmee River.

He lives in Highlands County and had driven past the estate many times and thought it was a shame that the SFWMD didn’t do something to preserve it.

Lake Okeechobee News/Katrina Elsken
The estate includes a dock on the Kissimmee River.

When he saw the notice that the land was for sale, he decided to take on the project himself.

“The more I got to thinking, the more I realized that as much as I wanted this place, I didn’t want it as much as the place needed me,” he said.

About Edna Pearce Lockett
Edna Pearce Lockett, who was named to the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame in 1998, was a distinguished cattle rancher, a Florida legislator and a pioneer for women. Born in Fort Basinger in 1908 to a Central Florida pioneer family, she grew up on the Pearce family’s ranch near the Kissimmee River.

Her days in ranching spanned from the last of the great cattle drives to the use of helicopters to spot stray cattle, an innovation she introduced, the Florida Hall of Fame notes. She was the third woman elected to the Florida House of Representatives, an officer in the Highlands County and Florida Cattlemen’s Associations and founding board member of Highlands General Hospital. She died in 1991.

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