The Florida Agricultural Museum provides a variety of “agritainment.” But its staff members also address serious topics about our state’s long history of growing crops and ranching.
To visit the Florida Agricultural Museum is to step back in time – as early as 1770, in fact. That’s the year that Hewitt’s Sawmill – one of the attractions at this Palm Coast museum – began operating.
The water-powered mill, which closed in 1813, is no longer there, but the archaeological site is. So are some of the structures built with Hewitt’s Sawmill’s lumber; they’re in historic St. Augustine, about 25 miles north.
The museum is geared toward visitors of all ages. A variety of animals will interest kids as well as adults. The animals include Murphy, the donkey, who frequently cavorts with Sally, the farm dog; chickens and ducks run loose; and cows and horses graze on the other side of a fence.
Florida Agricultural Museum visits life in an earlier era
Some of the exhibits have been relocated from their original sites, or reconstructed. For example, the Caldwell Dairy Barn is a replica of Gov. Millard Fillmore Caldwell’s 1940s building. (He served as governor from 1945-49.)
The Strawn Citrus Complex consists of five historic 1940s buildings, moved to the Florida Ag Museum and restored. This exhibit includes two small duplexes that housed African-American citrus workers and their families. The complex also includes the Bell Barn – which housed the workshop for fixing wagons, as well as the tools used for harvesting citrus. The barn’s bell clanged to mark the beginning, and the end, of the workday.
Other exhibits include the 1890s Traxler Commissary, stocked with canned goods, furniture, tools and other necessities of life. The commissary also served as a gathering place for exchanging news or playing checkers.
Fla. had first cattle in America
Want to learn about the cattle industry in Florida – the first in what became the United States? The Black Cowboys exhibit will educate you.
Juan Ponce de Leon, the Spanish explorer, brought the first cattle – seven, according to one historical account – to “La Florida” in 1521. By the late 1770s, many Seminoles were breeding cattle. The ranching trend accelerated with the arrival of settlers. Then, in 1861, the Civil War began.
Because Florida sided with the Confederacy, the state, founded in 1845, became one of the South’s main suppliers of cattle, for meat as well as leather. “During the Civil War, white and black cowboys (in Florida) drove herds north to supply Confederate troops. In fact, many of the skirmishes with Union soldiers during this period were aimed at putting an end to this activity,” says Mary Herron, director of development for the Florida Agricultural Museum.
Runaway slaves often acted as drovers for the Union; some even became soldiers in so-called “colored regiments.” Following Reconstruction, due to a steady erosion of their rights, many of Florida’s black cowboys joined the huge exodus of “cowpunchers” to the American West, Herron notes.
The museum also offers special events. Coming up: On Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 5-6, the museum will host its sixth annual Civil War re-enactment of the Pellicer Creek Raid. Visit cavalry, infantry and artillery troops in authentic camps, and listen to their stories about life in 1864.
IF YOU GO
Florida Agricultural Museum
7900 Old Kings Road N.
386-446-7630; [email protected]; www.floridaagmuseum.org
Days, hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Regular admission: adults, $9; kids 6-12, $7; 5 and under, free
Admission for special events costs extra; visit website for details