Have you ever noticed that when you’re walking around a place that you know has a lot of history attached to it, everything you see appears to be significant in some way?

When I was hiking around the Rye Preserve, in Manatee County, I walked past a fallen tree and imagined how towering it must have once appeared as it stood over the Rye family homestead.

When I walked alongside a mostly dried out creek bed, I thought about how difficult it must have been to get water during the drier Florida months.

And certainly when I stepped inside the gates of the small Rye Family Cemetery and saw the many graves of young children, I grieved for parents during the early settling of Florida who didn’t have access to good healthcare for their families.

Piece of pioneer history

The Rye Preserve is a 145-acre property just northwest of the Lake Manatee Dam. It’s important because it is home to a piece of Manatee County’s early pioneer history. The original river settlement dates back to the post-Civil War era, when Erasmus and Mary Rye moved to the area to establish a homestead in 1889.

At its peak, in the early 1900s the Rye settlement was occupied by 72 families, with stores, a sawmill, a gristmill, a post office and a school. Today, the property is home to many different types of families—tortoises, snakes, deer, bobcat, foxes and a variety of birds.

I didn’t see a lot of animals wandering around in the hot weather but I did come upon a very industrious small snake attempting to devour a lizard (the circle of life and all), and it was both fascinating and disturbing.

Explore the trails

There are about six different trails at the Rye Preserve, and none of them are very long. Once you’re on the trails, they’re pretty well-marked, but it’s advisable to either download a map from the website before you go, or like I did, take a picture of the map with your phone in the parking area at the Nature Center.

Some of the trails, such as the Red Trail Loop, are wide, sandy and easily navigable. Others, like part of the Orange Trail, get narrow and overrun by trees at one point. But with a little dipping and dodging, you will get through just fine. Just don’t forget to bring your bug spray.

The Green Trail also is known as the Rye Family Cemetery Trail, which is what is at the end of that walk. This is where both Erasmus and Mary are buried, along with some of their descendants. There is something about being in old cemeteries, especially from the pioneer era here in Florida, that is both interesting and heartbreaking.

It was such a hostile and unforgiving area in which to be a settler, and seeing all of the young children’s tombstones in the Rye Family Cemetery just reinforced for me how tough it must have been to raise a family here. Ironically, as I was reading the heartbreaking inscriptions on the head stones, I could hear the laughter of children close by.

After I walked out of the white picket gate of the cemetery, I went down the Green Trail just a bit and came upon two mothers and their children playing in a very shallow creek down below. As I walked away, I wondered if those pioneer children had many days of laughter in that creek, and I guessed they probably didn’t.

Debbie Flessner writes the Live Like a Tourist column for the Sun newspapers. You may contact her at dj@flessner.net.


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