If you’ve ever heard of it, you’ll know that it’s a Turnpike exit, yet it’s also the site of an early crossroads and a tavern/brothel listed on the National Register of Historical Places.
Currently owned by the Osceola County Historical Society, the Desert Inn appears to have started as a trading post in the late 1880s. 1889 is sometimes given as the current building’s construction, though the historical marker at the Inn only says it dates prior to 1925.
The intersection that is now served by US Route 441 and Florida Route 60 was originally a place where two simple paths met. It’s possible that the paths might have predated European arrival, but they were certainly used by cattlemen and traders in the early 1800s.
The Desert Inn was a trading post, but early memories also refer to it as a saloon, brothel and, not surprisingly, an inn. It catered to whites, African Americans and Native Americans and therefore had segregated areas, as required by Florida law. When roads replaced the paths and tin can tourists started to explore in the 1910s and 1920s, the Inn added cabins. Little else changed in the area through the first half of the 20th century.
US 441 was rebranded the Orange Blossom Trail, but the 1950s boom of tourists passing through didn’t change the Desert Inn either. By the 1960s Florida’s Turnpike was being built nearby with an interchange to connect to the intersection.
Reportedly, the area was once known as Jack Ass Crossing only to be renamed Yeehaw Junction. It’s been said that the Florida Legislature changed the name because of the Turnpike and the potential embarrassment of the name. However, there’s a Standard Oil Florida road map published in 1951 that uses the name Yeehaw Junction while the Florida Turnpike Act was signed into law two years later on July, 11, 1953 by Governor Dan McCarty.
And still, little changed, though the Inn was listed on the National Register of Historic places in 1994.
Today, Yeehaw Junction continues to be mostly cattle ranches, citrus farms and the Desert Inn. The Inn faced some difficult times in the 2000s and it was closed for business in 2018. The Osceola County Historical Society is the current owner.
On December 22, 2019, a semi-trailer truck lost control at the intersection and crashed into the front facade of the Inn. The driver was charged with reckless driving. In May 2020 the Osceola County Historical Society stated that they were still looking at the eventual fate of the historic building. County building inspectors have investigated it, and it remains to be seen as to what will happen.