Fun Discovering Local History at Pioneer Florida Museum
As we drove under the PIONEER FLORIDA MUSEUM sign, on our right was a covered wagon with a torn roof, and to our left was a massive locomotive with the largest logs I had ever seen. We decided to park in the shade near the Trilby train station and walk to the front doors of the main building for our adventure to discover what was within the Pioneer Florida Museum in Dade City.
We were greeted by a friendly, knowledgeable, and daresay I, enthusiastic man, Andy Warrener. Andy is the Assistant Curator of the Museum & Village. He asked if any of us were over 55, and gladly provided the Senior discount to those of us who would admit it.
Providing Sally and me with brochures and maps for a self-guided tour, Andy suggested that we start our tour by moving through the museum’s main building to the right and then working our way outside to the eleven historic buildings that are on the property – and three new additions!
A Welcome Gator to Begin the Tour
We were immediately captivated by the “welcome alligator” and Sally obliged me with a photo. Behind this massive taxidermized reptile began displays of arrowheads and stone tools from four hundred-plus years ago, a poster naming several of the native tribes who occupied Florida, and displays of Ponce de Leon and the Spanish invasion of La Florida.
The more I looked, the more I saw! This was a museum with many, many artifacts. Most of the Spanish artifacts were replicas, but they were so well done that we had to ask Andy which were authentic. He had offered to help us with any questions we might have on our tour or afterward.
Next was a full-sized display of pioneer tools that would have been used to maintain a home on the Florida frontier and a washing machine made of a wooden barrel with a hand-turned wringer attached. “That was a washing machine of a rich household,” Andy told us, “The washboard next to it is what most people used to clean their clothes at that time.”
We walked on to the medical and dental room, where there were hundreds of potions, products, and elixirs to aid in healing and medical treatment, including what looked like arsenic. Several medical degrees hung on the walls, and a dentist’s chair was in the corner, looking ominous. There were baby scales, medical journals, medical books, dental tools, optometrist tools, and more.
Next were two mannequins, one dressed as a Seminole and the other dressed as a Confederate soldier.
A room was set up for presentations and lined with hand tools from the ceiling to the floor, each attached to the wall, grouped with other tools of the same type or purpose. There must have been many hundreds of tools organized and displayed for our observance.
A collection of dolls recreating Florida’s First Ladies greeted us back in the main room. Truly the breadth and width of items displayed in this main building is massive. I think that is why I had never ventured past the main building until today. I was determined to get outside!
Many Historic Buildings are Open with Exhibits on the Grounds
We went through the exit door and were greeted by a large, welcoming courtyard with the 1926 Lacoochee School House, a one-room first-grade classroom, and the Enterprise Methodist Church that came from an extinct community just south of Dade City. Its original walls, pews, floor, ceiling, and heating stove are on display, as well as two pump organs and a sign that was rescued from a nearby field holding the suggested bible verse. Both buildings were remarkably well appointed with period-accurate items, enhancing the scene we experienced.
I experienced thoughts of a simpler time when one room was enough to provide the shelter needed to accomplish the goals of worship and education. Their wood, windows, simple lines, and humble essence were good for my soul.
Next to the Methodist church is the John Overstreet House, an 1860s farmhouse that was formerly located where Rodney B. Cox Elementary School is near 13th Street and Martin Luther King Blvd.
This is a beautiful two-story structure with dormers and a divided first floor. As was common practice of the time, the kitchen was separated from the main house in case of fire, and providing a nice breezeway to capture the air and cool the home’s occupants.
The interior of this house is well decorated with period-accurate furniture and displays that really impressed me. A 3-wheeled wheelchair was on display in the dining room and there were period toys in the children’s bedroom upstairs.
Behind the Overstreet House are a hen house, a ma shed, and a pa shed. Items in these sheds helped to display how differently women and men worked to contribute to the household, with well-defined roles and specific tools to accomplish their tasks. A garden with a scary scarecrow was behind the house also because people grew their own food in that time period, and traded for other necessary goods.
The Cummer Building and History Center come from the Cummer Cypress Company’s Green Swamp Hunting Preserve and were donated to the museum. I was fascinated with the Cummer sawmill display. The size of the band saw blade is mind-blowing! When I think about all those trees being cut down, it makes my heart hurt.
Cummer Cypress Company Exhibit Shows Images of Life in a Lumber Town
There is a cane syrup mill, with a historic cane grinder and 80-gallon syrup kettle that is used each year for the Raising Cane & Moonshine Festival, as well as for other cane-making demonstrations. The syrup is for sale in the museum’s gift shop!
At this point, I sat down on one of the museum’s many benches and enjoyed the beautiful day and location of this Dade City gem. Sally went into the Shoe Repair Shop, brought to Dade City from Kansas and operated until 1930 by Jack Bromley. It appears to be built in a railroad car.
Plenty of Space to Walk, Things to See, and Places to Rest add to the Experience of Visiting the Pioneer Florida Museum
We visited the Blanton Packing House, which packed and shipped gift fruit until 1989. As citrus canker and greening diseases began to destroy Florida’s crop, this huge industry has all but died, but in the late 1800s through the early 2000s, citrus was a major economic driver of the Sunshine State and this area. The equipment used is from the early 1900s and is set up and displayed as it was used then.
The C.C. Smith General Store from 1927 is next on the tour, with period goods displayed as well as a mail counter. This building was in service to the Lacoochee area and was brought to the museum grounds in 2000.
Around the corner is a path to the moonshine still…
I was getting tired. We had been here for over 3 hours and there was a beautiful log house to be visited, as well as a large barn chock full of horse-drawn carriages and farm implements and tractors… and the TRAIN! We went to the log house and walked around its exterior, but it is still under restoration at the time of this writing so the interior will have to wait for my next visit.
Be Sure to Visit the Old Locomotive and Ring the Bell
It was time to get back to the train. I got to the 1913 H.K. Porter steam locomotive first. There was a sign that said, “Ring the Bell.” You know I did! We got to look all over that train and figured out, with the aid of historic photos in the train station, that the second car carried logs to burn and create steam.
We got down and went back to ogle those logs. A sign attached to one says, “Red Tidewater Cypress logs contain about 180,021 ft of lumber. Estimated age of trees – 524 years. Contributed July, 1961 by Mr. R. K. Butler.”
Wow. Just wow.
Things to Know When Planning a Visit to the Pioneer Florida Museum:
- The Pioneer Florida Museum is located just north of Dade City at 15602 Pioneer Museum Road, off US 301, and adjacent to the old Lykes Packing Plant. The phone number is (352) 567-0262.
- Hours are Tues-Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm. Holidays and Event hours may differ. Check their Facebook page for the latest information.
- Self-guided tours are available during museum hours. Guided Tours and Field Trips require reservations and a 10-guest minimum. Plan on
- Admission is $12 for adults, $6 for Students, $10 for Seniors/Veterans, and free for active military and under 5 years.
- There is a sidewalk throughout the outdoor area which is wheelchair and stroller-friendly, but stairs are required to get into several buildings. Some have ramps.
- No pets are allowed, except trained service dogs.
- There are events held throughout the year on weekends. The schedule is here and often events are on the NatureCoaster calendar.
- Classes are held at the Museum also and the grounds may be rented for private events.