In late 1837, Colonel Zachary Taylor departed Tampa under orders to pursuit and capture hostile native Americans and in the process establish forts along a supply line to provide support for the campaign.
One of these forts was located along the banks of the Kissimmee River and named Ft. Basinger in honor of Lt. William Basinger who was killed at Dade’s Massacre. The fort was an important supply depot due to it’s location, but when the Second Seminole War ended, it was abandoned.
After the Civil War, homesteaders began to move into the area and the town of Basinger began to grow. It quickly became prosperous as it’s location along the river allowed it to become a hub of activity as crops were shipped out and goods brought in on steamers traveling the winding water way. At the height of Basinger’s prosperity there were hotels, a post office, a school and general store.
The boom would be relatively short lived. In the early 1900’s, the railroad bypassed Basinger in favor of Okeechobee City and the shipping moved to the railroads. Basinger, like many other settlements that were overlooked by the rail lines, quickly became a ghost town.
While many people moved away, some of the early homestead families stayed on the land they had earned. One such family was the Pearce’s who owned land along the river just west of the original fort location. In 1908 Edna Mae Pearce was born on the family homestead. Edna Pearce would go on to server as an officer in the Highlands County and Florida Cattleman’s Associations. She would also be only the third woman elected to the Florida House of Representatives and served three terms retiring when she married James Lockett in 1953.
Edna Pearce Lockett became one of the most important women in Florida history. After serving the House, she was one of the founding board members of Highlands General Hospital and Youth Care Home in Highlands County. In 1980, she was named Honorary Chancellor of her alma mater Florida Southern College, the schools highest honor. She is also a member of the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame. The whole while living in the home her grandmother had built overlooking the Kissimmee River.
Today the Lockett Estate and Basinger are just shadows of what they once were. There are no remains of the fort and the hotels and general store are long gone. Neglect and age are starting to take a toll on the buildings of the estate. The main house has rotting floors and roof. The barn is barely standing and several other smaller building are beginning to fall from neglect. There are several concrete lamp posts lining the originally drive, but some have fallen over and the boat house along the river is showing signs of the river’s rise and fall. One of the most important features is the Pearce family cemetery which is nestled under oak trees along Hwy 98. While the property is not being maintained, the cemetery has been secured to prevent wild hogs from destroying the headstones and disturbing the plots.
The site is currently in the hands of the South Florida Water Management District was part of the flood control plan. However, it is now considered excess property and may go up for public auction. Attempts to find a group to take control and keep the estate open to the public have failed. U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Florida Parks both backed out. Highlands County had the site briefly, but their plan to turn the historic location into a golf course prompted SFWMD to take it back. For now, the site is closed to the public.