Truck crashes into Historic Desert Inn in Yeehaw Junction

YEEHAW JUNCTION – A tractor-trailer crashed into the historic Desert Inn at Yeehaw Junction, on U.S. Highway 441 at Highway 60, around 3:15 a.m. Sunday morning, Dec. 22.

Photos courtesy Mike Brown,

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Mareo Cawley, 50, of Chicago, Ill. reportedly told FHP troopers the area was dark and he did not realize he was not on the road anymore when he drove his truck onto the west shoulder of the road and into the building.

The semi, hauling orange juice, was traveling northbound on U.S. 441. According to the FHP report, the northbound semi left the roadway, traveled onto the west shoulder of the road, struck the building and continued on into the building.

No one was inside the building at the time of the crash, according to the FHP.

Mr. Cawley suffered minor injuries, according to the FHP.

When tow trucks removed the semi, part of the building collapsed.

According to the FHP report, the accident is still under investigation.

According to the Osceola County Property Appraiser’s website, the Osceola County Historical Society owns the property.

The trading post at Yeehaw Junction was established in 1880s. The two-story building, originally a tavern with an upstairs brothel, was built by 1925. The brothel was reportedly in operation until the 1970s. The historic building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. It even had a small bordello museum in one of the upstairs rooms that featured a bordello suite with red carpet, lace pillows and a swing. It was the only former brothel on the registry.

Larry Shane shared this photo on the Historic Florida page on Facebook. He took photos of the interior of the Desert Inn in February 2019.*F&fref=gs&dti=1568206713503013&hc_location=group_dialog

“Florida History from the Highways,” by Douglas Waitley, “The Seminoles called this desolate area ‘Yeehaw’ after the wolves that stalked their prey across the wetland prairie. Later, when Henry Flagler in his waning years decided to run a rail line from near Titusville through the deserted interior to Lake Okeechobee, Yeehaw became a watering station for his steam-driver locomotives. But the Okeechobee Division was never successful and, after it was abandoned, the minuscule settle took on a more descriptive name, Jackass Junction, after the local (mule) breeders.”

Other names used for the area included Heehaw Junction and Jackass Crossing.

The Desert Inn was part of local history, and was also connected with a number of ghost stories. According to “Ghostly Legends and Haunted Folklore,” by Greg Jenkins, Yeehaw Junction started out as a resting stop for cattle drives and a depot for Flagler’s East Coast Railway.

The upstairs of the building served as a bordello. After the bordello closed, the inn provided lodging for weary travelers. Over the years, there were many deaths connected to the area including bar fights that turned into shootouts and automobile accident victims who were taken to the inn for shelter and who died before medical help arrived.

According to “Ghostly Legends,” in the early 1990s a traveler who was staying in one of the upstairs rooms committed suicide by hanging himself from an overhead pipe.

Bev Zicheck, who owned the motel at the time the book was written, and was interviewed for the book, found the body. Mrs. Zicheck reported that some staff members refused to go upstairs alone because people have strange feelings and experiences there. Incidents included furniture apparently moving by itself, doors opening and closing and the sound of someone pacing upstairs when no one is up there – and the door to the upstairs was padlocked.

The photos, taken by Mike Brown, whose work is featured on the website, are reprinted here with permission.

The semi barely missed the historic marker. The marker states:

“The Desert Inn was founded as a trading post in the late 1880s. The present building dates before 1925 and served as a supply and recreational center for cattle drovers, lumber men and tourists during the era when much of Osceola County was still undeveloped wilderness. Cowmen working the free ranging cattle on the palmetto prairie and lumber men cutting timber in the nearby pine lands came to the Desert Inn to eat, drink and dance at this “oasis” where they could enjoy some relief from their arduous labors. Local patrons of the trading post and restaurant included African Americans and Seminoles who had separate dining facilities in the era of segregation. The construction of roads in the 1930s brought tourists to the area and a set of overnight cabins were erected behind the original building. Today the Desert Inn continues to be a popular destination for tourists and local residents. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.”

The marker indicates The Desert Inn was named a Florida Heritage Site.

Florida Highway Patrol provided the following crash photos.

Photo courtesy FHP
Photo courtesy FHP
Photo courtesy FHP
Photo courtesy FHP

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