BASINGER -- The historic Edna Pearce Lockett Estate, on U.S. Highway 98 just north of the Okeechobee County line, will be the site for the 2021 Highlands County Heritage Festival. The festival, sponsored by the Highlands County Heritage Association, will celebrate Highlands County’s 100th year.
The estate on the Kissimmee River was carved from the Florida wilderness by John Mizell Pearce in 1874.
John and his parents settled in the Peace River Valley round 1846. In 1858, he married Martha Lanier. John left his business to serve in the Confederate Army in 1863, returning to Fort Meade at the conclusion of the Civil War. After the death of his father, Levi, he moved his family and business to the homestead location on the Kissimmee River.
John was deeded 157 aces through the State of Florida’s Internal Improvement Fund in 1880. The land included the abandoned Fort Basinger that General Zachary Taylor had built as his headquarters between 1837 and 1838. At the end of the war in 1842, the fort was closed. It was reopened during the Third Seminole War as a supply depot, and closed for the final time at the end of that war.
As John increased his acreage, he expanded his cattle herd into what was to become the Pearce Cattle empire. In addition to running the cattle business, he operated a ferry, the Mary Belle, across the Kissimmee River. He also served as deputy sheriff for the eastern part of DeSoto County. John and Martha’s nine children were all active in the cattle business and several settled on the homestead property.
In 1894, William Sidney “Sid” Pearce married Meroba Virginia “Mellie” Hollingsworth of Arcadia. They had four children. When Sid’s father, John Mizell Pearce, died in 1897, his wife and son Sid assumed management of the business. Martha built the frame house that remains on the estate today. At his mother’s death in 1911, Sid purchased the main house and surrounding land from the estate and managed the business. Mellie died in 1932 . Sid and Mellie’s eldest son Clifford worked with Sid until 1934 when Clifford was killed in a car accident.
Sid and Mellie’s daughter, Edna Mae Pearce, was born Oct. 19, 1908 at Fort Basinger. She graduated from Florida Southern University. In 1945 she was a recipient of FSU’s Service to Mankind Honor Award. She served as president of its alumni association and on the board of trustees. In 1980 she was named honorary chancellor.
Sid had donated the land and building for the Fort Basinger School House. Edna taught at the school from 1934 to 1944. After her father’s death in 1944, Edna took control of the ranch, becoming one of the largest cattle ranchers in the south.
Using the P4 brand used by her father, she continued the family cattle business.
She served as an officer of the Highlands County Cattleman’s Association and Florida Cattleman’s Association.
In 1948, Edna was elected to represent Highlands County in the Florida House of Representatives. She was only the third woman to serve in the House. Her legislative achievements included the paving of U.S. 98 from Fort Basinger to Sebring, the accurate labeling of Florida beef, and a law which allowed women to serve on juries.
She was re-elected in 1950 and 1952. She retired from the Florida Legislature in 1953, after her marriage to English wool importer William James Lockett.
Edna was a founding member of the Highlands General Hospital and served on the board for the Youth Care Home in Highlands County.
William James Lockett died March 15, 1977.
Edna Pearce Lockett died on May 17, 1991.
In 1998, Edna Pearce Lockett was named to the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame. 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.
Some information from this article came from the Highlands County Heritage Association, "Pioneer Families of the Kissimmee River Valley" by Kyle S. VanLandingham and the Florida Hall of Fame.
The newly formed Heritage Association of Highlands County is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Highlands County with a Heritage Festival on April 17 and 18, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Edna Pearce Lockett Estate.
This educational family friendly event will feature entertainment, exhibits and speakers that share the history of Highlands County. You won’t want to miss the “living” displays, such as the cow camp, to experience the way life used to be on a Florida ranch.
Sponsor and vendor opportunities are still available.
Additional information is available at firstname.lastname@example.org