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Okeechobee schoolhouse a cherished structure

Our July 23 column give a brief history of Okeechobee County, a sparsely populated but historically important part of our region.

Perhaps its most cherished structure is the one-story white-frame, one-room schoolhouse at Southwest Fifth Street and South Parrott Avenue.

It now houses the Okeechobee County Historical Society’s administrative offices and its collection of historical materials.

On Dec. 3, it held a 100th birthday party for the school.

The settlement originally was called the Bend, because it is on a peninsula at the confluence of the Kissimmee River, Taylor Creek and Lake Okeechobee.

Students originally met in a thatched-roof shack.

The schoolhouse was built in 1909, eight years before the county was formed from parts of Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Osceola counties.

The St. Lucie County school system designated it School 14.

By then, the settlement had been renamed “Tantie,” and the name stuck to the school as well.

Teacher Tantie Huckaby of South Carolina had given her name to the post office in 1902.

The town became Okeechobee in 1911. By the fall of 1915, the school had become so crowded a tent was set up for the overflow.

Construction began March 18, 1916, on a new two-story brick building. The Okeechobee Public School opened later that year.

The former schoolhouse eventually became a private home.

It stayed that way until the mid-1970s, when W.R. “Ronnie” Watts, who had been a toddler when his parents moved in to the building around 1922, agreed to sell it to the historical society.

The home needed a lot of restoration and other work, including repositioning it on its block foundation; the 1928 hurricane had knocked it askew.

Okeechobee Historical Society Museum & Schoolhouse: 1850 Highway 98 N., Okeechobee. (863)763-4344. Guided tours by appointment.

Read more: History of Okeechobee County, by Kyle Van Landingham and Alma Hetherington.

The 1909 Okeechobee schoolhouse, originally designated School 14, was the first to be built in Okeechobee County. After a new school was built in 1916, it became a private home, and it stayed that until the mid 1970s. This picture was taken Sept. 20, 1976, as the schoolhouse was being moved to a new site. It now houses the Okeechobee County Historical Society’s administrative offices and its collection of historical materials. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg and Palm Beach County at 100 February 4, 2010 at 3:59 pm.

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