Times of the Islands - - History - Tom O’Grady, Jr. is a nov­el­ist and free­lance writer liv­ing in Palm Coast, Florida.

Civ­i­liza­tion is in the eye of the be­holder.

Cut­ting’s New York Adiron­dack-style lodge sug­gests a Florida Cracker-style in­flu­ence, its raised, wide and wrap­around porch leav­ing ad­e­quate room for crit­ters to travel be­neath. In­side, tele­scop­ing door­ways and French doors to the out­side max­i­mize the flow of air to cool the in­te­rior, a mod­est four-bed­room square with a party room hold­ing court in the cen­ter. Build­ing ma­te­ri­als re­flect the sur­round­ings, as thick trunks of bent cedar and straight palm shoul­der the mas­sive porch roof, like camp sen­tries on guard against the heat of the sun. Blocks made from mor­tar and shells form the walls. A sep­a­rate but sim­i­lar build­ing next door once pro­vided din­ing and kitchen prep ar­eas for serv­ing the up­per crust and royal guests of its string of own­ers.

With Cut­ting’s death in 1892, his widow, An­gela, went back to New York, only to re­turn years later with her lat­est hus­band, Boris Scherbatoff. An ex­iled Rus­sian prince, Scherbatoff pro­vided her the des­ig­na­tion of “Princess,” lead­ing to the rechris­ten­ing of Chero­kee Grove to Princess Place. Against most odds, the prop­erty has man­aged to stay pro­tected by com­pas­sion­ate care­tak­ers and own­ers who felt com­pelled to save its his­tory and beauty. Af­ter the pur­chase of 435 acres by Fla­gler County in 1993, the state of Florida in­vested a land grant that al­lowed for an ad­di­tional 1,000 acres and for­mally ded­i­cated it as a na­tional pre­serve. The Na­tive Amer­i­can Fes­ti­val draws par­tic­i­pants to Princess Place from around the countr y. Thomas and Juanita Ze­meno, mem­bers of the Apache tribe, came from Texas.

The mix­ture of time is pal­pa­ble here and re­quires me to breathe slowly, sep­a­rat­ing to­day’s events from those of the last 300 years. The broad Matan­zas River slides by the front door like a gi­ant lake, the At­lantic Ocean some­where just be­yond its eastern bank. Across the grounds an­cient, bent live oaks criss­cross like gi­ant webs fram­ing the out­build­ings and struc­tures, most added in the last 100 years. All but one—the arte­sian spring wa­ters of Florida’s first in-ground swim­ming pool still shim­mer in the sun.

For lovers of na­ture, the Princess Place Pre­serve is sig­nif­i­cant. Its salt marshes and ponds, tidal wa­ters and creeks cov­er­ing 1,500 acres are for­ever pro­tected, as are the ghosts of its royal and not-so-royal in­hab­i­tants. For lovers of cul­ture, events like the Na­tive Amer­i­can Fes­ti­val keep the past present. Fes­ti­val par­tic­i­pants Juanita and Thomas Zer­meno of the Apache tribe out of Texas smile as they watch chil­dren dance to the drums, their cloth­ing and feath­ers vi­brant in the warm sun. “We keep the cul­ture,” Juanita says, “and we teach re­spect for it.”

Fla­gler County Parks man­ager Frank Bar­buti spends a lot of time at the pre­serve through the course of a year. When I ask what strikes him about the grounds, he pauses, as if to let the phys­i­cal and the sen­sory come to­gether to form his an­swer. “The seren­ity of the place,” he says with sat­is­fac­tion. “Be­fore the peo­ple ar­rive …” Bar­buti has a per­sonal at­tach­ment as well. “I’m orig­i­nally from up­state New York, so I’m very fa­mil­iar with Adiron­dack-style build­ings. When I look at the house, it re­minds me of home.”

Across the grounds I hear the tin­kle of glasses from Princess An­gela’s royal party mix with the lilt of a Na­tive Amer­i­can flute and the plunk of a blue­grass banjo. It’s an an­cient har­mony, float­ing through the salty air of a place held beau­ti­fully in time.

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