Not every community has such a multi-purpose community center. The American flag flies above the rustic wood exterior of the Wood & Swink Old Store and Post Office. A customer’s horse is tied to the hitching post out front and a couple of regulars sit on the front porch chatting. Inside, the old combination post boxes are still in use—there’s a waiting list if you want to get your mail at the Wood & Swink. The 130-year old tiny rural hamlet of Evinston is the site of the oldest Federal post office in Florida and one of the last operating post office general stores in the country. You can buy ice cold Coke out of the large metal cooler, fresh vegetables from Freddy Wood’s “garden” out back, and an assortment of goods, sundries, postcards and art work.
Evinston sits on the west side of Orange Lake—opposite Cross Creek—and straddles the county line between Alachua County in the north and Marion County in the south. The town combines history and a quiet rural lifestyle for folks who work the farms along the lake, commute to Gainesville, or enjoy a peaceful base from which to work and travel worldwide.
Author J. T. Glisson makes his home here, but growing up next door to the writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (he is featured as a boy in her book Cross Creek), he had never set foot in Evinston. “It might as well have been across the Atlantic Ocean,” Glisson says. Inspired by Rawlings, Glisson grew up to be a writer himself; his best-known book is The Creek.
Evinston became a stop on the Florida Southern Railroad in 1884. At about that same time, the present country store/post office was built using Florida heart pine. Oranges were grown here until the major freezes of the 1890s. Today, the area is devoted to agriculture and cattle farming, and is a prime place to spot the magnificent sandhill cranes that migrate to Florida every winter.
“About once every 10 years someone new buys a house here, but other than that Evinston stays the same—nothing changes,” says Ashley Wood, who grew up here and who is busy restoring his family’s historic home.
Ashley Wood’s father, Fred Wood Sr., became postmaster of Evinston in 1934 and served for 44 years—longer than any other postmaster in Florida. The Wood & Swink is one of the few remaining country store-post offices in the nation—where you can mail a registered parcel, then buy fresh yellow squash or eggplant grown right outside the backdoor for a real farm-to-table supper. Residents still get their mail from the original brass mailboxes from 1882, gather round the old wood stove for heat in the winter and enjoy the breeze in summer when the large wooden front and back doors are opened wide.
In 1977, the building was used as a set for the movie adaptation of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ short story, Gal Young’un. In 1989, the store was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. More recently, Wood & Swink served as the anchor for a series of popular plein air paint outs at which artists portrayed the beauty of Evinston’s rural landscape, including the spectacular show of spring wildflowers that carpet the fields and roadsides for miles around.
Evinston is on the Old Florida Heritage Scenic Highway and part of Alachua County’s “triangle of lakes”—Orange, Lochloosa, and Newnan’s—that are rich in ecology, history, and cultural diversity. Some 59,800 acres are now protected either as public land or with conservation easements, and one of the largest bald eagle populations in Florida nests in this area.