For more than one hundred years, John Andrew Bingham’s “Eagles Nest” cabin was a fixture overlooking Eagle Lake. Bingham, a rugged outdoorsman, built it for his wife Mary in 1881. His early life had been filled with adventure. At the age of 20 while attending Kemper College of St. Louis he left school to participate in the California gold rush. A lover of nature he marveled at the majesty of the Rocky Mountains and made this way back through Santa Fe, New Mexican and on to El Paso, Texas. Later he invested in a cotton plantation which proved to be a losing proposition. He served as a Colonel in the Civil War later traveling around Cape Horn.

He came to Bartow in 1881 and homesteaded 160 acres located between Eagle Lake, Spirit Lake and Crystal Lake. It was there that he built the cabin that would stand more than a century. Bingham kept elaborate diaries telling of his homesteading adventure. It is said that he named Eagle Lake for an eagle he found living in a high pine on his land. His diaries offer a window into the challenges he faced and the sights he loved. Writing in The History of Winter Haven, author Josephine Burr quoted this passage:

“Taylor came by and I let him have $10 to buy himself a barrel of flour. He and the boys are clearing up land for me at ‘Eagles Nest.’ Have the pines cut down and partially burned on nearly five acres. They will finish it off in a week or two. I pay them $5 per acre for removing the pines and small oaks leaving the stumps of the former. They have about 500 rails for which they charge me 50 cents per hundred. Heavy rains have fallen of late.”

Mary Elizabeth McKinney lived in Bartow and was 30 years younger than John Bingham when he began courting her. On December 13, 1882, John and Mary were married. Earlier that same year he waxed poetic in his journal, “Spent the day delightfully. Music from the blackbird bands all morning. These birds have a morning jamboree in the top of the pine trees feeding on the mast and the great forest rings with the sweetest melody. Words fail to express the delights of our surroundings. The weather is perfect - soft, cool, balmy with the most agreeable suggestion of approaching winter. Winter in South Florida.”

John and Mary Bingham had one son, John Andrew Jr. born in 1884. John Bingham lived until 1917 - just shy of his 90th birthday. Through his writings, it is clear that his lifelong passion was the wonder of nature and its beauty. Perhaps he summed it up best writing the following poem:

I have planted a garden,

      So I know what faith is.

I have seen the birch trees swaying in the breeze,

     So I know what grace is.

I have listened to a bird chording,

     So I know what music is.

I have seen a morning without clouds after showers,

     So I know what beauty is.

I have read a book beside a wood fire,

     So I know what contentment is.

I have seen the miracle of a sunset,

     So low what grandeur is.

And because I have seen all these things,

     I know what wealth is.

This column is based on information from The History of Winter Haven by Josephine Burr and conversations with John Bingham’s late great granddaughter, Blanch Gay.

The Museum of Winter Haven History will reopen January 5, from 9 a.m. to Noon. Group tours are available for four or more people by appointment. The museum, located at 660 Pope Avenue and Lake Howard Drive, is free and open to the public. Come explore. For further information contact Bob Gernert, 863-206-6855 or bobgernert@gmail.com

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