|City/Town: • Yeehaw Junction|
|Location Class: • Commercial|
|Built: • 1898 | Abandoned: • ~2000s|
|Historic Designation: • National Register of Historic Places (January 3, 1994)|
|Status: • Demolished|
|Photojournalist: • David Bulit|
The Desert Inn dates back to the 1800s when it was just a small depot and trading post for local cowboys and lumberjacks. The current building was built in 1898. At the time, there were no trails or roads.
In the 1930s, E.P. Wilson, also known as Dad Wilson, bought the business and improved upon it by expanding the building, adding gas pumps, and opening a brothel on the top floor of the building. The story goes that Wilson was fired from his railroad job and abandoned the train in Yeehaw Junction where he settled down. By then, the roads were paved which made traveling easier, so cabins were built behind the original building for any weary travelers and tourists. The cabins would be replaced in 1948 when a more modern motel.
The intersection was called “Jackass Crossing”, named for the ranchers who would come riding in on their burros. The story of why the name changed depends on who you ask. The most common tale claims the name was changed due to the construction of Florida’s Turnpike through the center of the community, so state legislators changed the name to something less offensive. Another tale claims the name changed when Standard Oil wanted to build a station but they weren’t going to build it someplace called “Jackass Crossing”. And the name Yeehaw Junction? Simply put, it’s the sound a jackass makes.
The Cheverette Family
Fred and Julia Cheverette took over ownership of the Desert Inn in 1946 and quickly grew a reputation for being good-natured and having a good sense of humor. Julia was a bit of a prankster and had fishing lines stretched out across the ceiling attached to plastic spiders and rubber worms, and would drop them on unsuspecting customers.
George and Stephanie Zicheck bought the inn in 1986 from the estate of Cheverette family. Their daughter, Beverly Zicheck, began operating the business in 1987. The business ran smoothly until new CDL laws were passed which made it so truckers couldn’t buy beer and liquor from the inn’s package store anymore. To revitalize interest in the inn, Beverly Zicheck began working on getting the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. She also had the unused rooms above the restaurant converted into a small museum. One room had a bordello theme with red carpeting, lace pillows, and a swing. After months of work, the Desert Inn was finally placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994 with a marker dedicating it right out front.
By the mid-2000, Zicheck was suffering from health problems and was ready to quit the business. She was outspoken about wanting the inn to be preserved for many generations to come. She put the property up for sale in hopes someone would purchase it but unfortunately, there wasn’t enough interest in it.
After Zicheck’s passing in 2014, Steve Mason leased the property the following year, continuing to operate the inn as a restaurant. Unfortunately, the changes he made didn’t sit well with the locals and regular customers with many saying Mason was a “yankee” who just didn’t understand the appeal of the Desert Inn.
Currently, the Osceola County Historical Society owns the property with a few sources reporting that the closure is only temporary while the building is renovated, reopening as a museum, restaurant, and hotel. In its 120-year lifespan, the Desert Inn has operated as a trading post, bar, brothel, gas station, dance hall, and according to Zicheck, even as a cat house. Today, the remaining gas pump only acts as decor, the dance hall has long since burned down, and the restaurant sits empty collecting dust.
On December 22, 2019, a semi-truck crashed into the front of the building. The driver, Mareo Crawley, told Florida State Highway Patrol that he was driving northbound on U.S. 441 when he turned west and slammed into the building. He said it was dark and he didn’t realize he had driven off the road. When the truck was pulled out of the building, part of the Desert Inn collapsed. Due to the amount of damage, the building will most likely be demolished.