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Cinderella Castle, a lovely liar: another castle in Central Florida stood 100 years before she did

Ah, Cinderella Castle, the Bavarian-style beauty that stands regally in the background of the vacation photos of millions of people every year. The castle has served as the icon for Magic Kingdom for 50 years now, and its royal beauty is more noticeable now than ever, thanks to its recent facelift in preparation for the 50th anniversary celebratory exercises and experiences at the park.

But beware. She wants you to think she’s something she’s not. She wants you to think something about her that just isn’t true. But Cinderella Castle is a filthy liar. Well, she would be, if she could speak and if she chose to use her words to describe herself as the first castle built in Central Florida.

Though she’s clearly the most recognizable castle in Central Florida, and perhaps the most recognizable castle across the global Disney Parks icons, she’s hardly the first to have been built in Florida. That honor goes to the Pine Castle house in Pine Castle, Florida.

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In 1869, shortly after the Civil War, a man named Will Wallace Harney and his wife, Mary Randolph Harney, made the long journey from Louisville, Kentucky, to Orlando, Florida. Before coming to Florida, Harney had already gained some notoriety as a writer.

Credit: Pine Castle Historical Society

“Most of his writing appeared in serialized form in newspapers across the country,” says William Morgan, chairman of Pine Castle Pioneer Days.

Morgan says Harney’s writing read like a blend between the works of Mark Twain and those of Edgar Allan Poe. His pieces were written in a humorous tone, and Harney always used the dateline, “Pine Castle.”

“Those writings gave us our first real glimpse of what it was like to live in Central Florida,” says Morgan, “People across the country just ate it up.”

Like Walt Disney, Will Wallace Henry got a heck of a deal on his Central Florida land. In fact, Harney trumps Disney when it comes to getting the best price on Florida land; he got it for free, thanks to a practice called homesteading. The only catch was that if you chose to acquire land by homesteading it, the law said you also had to live on it and make improvements to the land.

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One of the first things Harney and his wife did with their 160 acres of land was to build a living structure on it, but this was no ordinary structure.

Credit: Facebook/Pine Castle Historical Society

“It was such an odd-looking place that when people would go by it they would say, ‘there’s the pine castle,’” Morgan explains.

The “castle” looked a bit reminiscent of a cabin, but unlike other cabins built during the late 1800s, Harney’s structure featured timbers that laid vertically, rather than horizontally, giving it the illusion of being taller than it was. It’s true, though, that Harney’s castle was much larger than other cabins built during that time. It also featured a central, octagonally-shaped room situated between a left wing and a right wing.

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Henry’s castle, like Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom, also featured turrets. A long porch ran across the front of the castle, and it also had lookout areas. It was very different from any structure built in the area at that time–so different that the geographical area around Harney’s castle became known as “Pine Castle, Florida.” Today, the large area is a combination of a handful of towns, including Edgewood, Belle Isle, Conway, and Pine Castle.

Orlando's first castle — built 100 years before Disney's — left a lasting mark - Orlando Sentinel

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Credit: The Orlando Sentinel

Today, the name of the community is still intact. But Harney’s castle, however, is not. It burned in a fire in 1894 while Harney was at work in Kissimmee. Everything but the turrets burned. A historical marker is all that remains of the castle structure that was once located on Matchett Road, opposite Lake Conway.

About Becky Burkett

I'm an enthusiastic writer who finds joy in random things like cold weather, snow, "I Love Lucy," "The Andy Griffith Show," journals full of blank paper, countdowns to Christmas, the month of December, "Toy Story," "Sleeping Beauty," my 4 kids, my 4 shih tsus, Disney Parks history, Imagineering and visiting the parks. I think Walt Disney is the standard against which genius should be measured. I love to write about Disney Parks, Disney history, all things Imagineering and PIXAR. I adore the colors, story and art direction of Disney's "Sleeping Beauty" (Team Make it Blue!), and "Toy Story" is life (minus "Toy Story 4"). I believe Walt Disney was so much more than an entertainment and theme park tycoon; I believe he was a savant with a vision for life and how it could be if happiness and kindness are strived for. I love Biergarten at EPCOT and 1900 Park Fare at Disney's Grand Floridian. You can find me croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room, chillin' on the PeopleMover or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. I'm always looking for Imagineers in the parks, and I'd rather meet Joe Rohde and Tony Baxter than anyone in Hollywood! Hey, if you dream it, you really can do it!