Museums offer glimpse into area history

SOUTH CENTRAL FLORIDA — When it’s too hot or too rainy for outdoor activities, area museums offer a cool refuge to explore. South Florida’s rich history is represented by museums offering exhibits about the Seminole Indians, agriculture, fishing, treasure hunting, sea life and much more.

In addition to the list of area museums, a Florida State Parks photo contest is underway and the story can be found at the end of the museum information.

Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki is a museum of Seminole culture and history, on the Big Cypress Indian Reservation in Hendry County. The museum is home to more than 30,000 unique artifacts and archival items.

Seminole ceremonial grounds.

Seminole ceremonial grounds.

The museum which opened in 1997, has been designated a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate.[1]

The museum maintains the Seminole Indian Library and Archives in order to preserve and make accessible Seminole and Native American history for use by scholars and the general public. Holdings include: government documents dating from the early 1800s to mid 1900s covering 60 Native American tribes; a newspaper collection; The Ethel Cutler Freeman Collection (photography); The Boehmer Photographs Collection; The Brown Family Letters Collection; and various tribal memorabilia.[2]

Seminole Museum display.

Seminole Museum display.

The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Indian Museum Oral History Program preserves Seminole history, memory, and culture through recording the spoken word. The oral history collection includes interviews conducted in Miccosukee and Creek language.

Beyond the galleries lies a mile-long boardwalk leading to a Living Village where Seminole artisans create and sell traditional beadwork, basketry, woodcarvings and patchwork garments.

Seminole craftsman.

Seminole craftsman.

The museum is open seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
GPS Coordinates: N 26 19.498, W 80 59.954.

From I-75: Take Exit 49 for Snake Road, and continue for roughly 17 miles as you enter the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation. The museum will be on your left at the intersection of Josie Billie Hwy. and West Boundary Rd. Museum parking is located directly across the street from the building’s entrance.

From Clewiston/Moore Haven area: Take SR 80 to CR-833. Follow for approximately 29 miles until you reach Big Cypress Preserve. CR-833 becomes N. Boundary Road as you enter the reservation. Approximately 3 miles after the Reservation line is the intersection of W. Boundary Road and Josie Billie Highway. The museum is located at this intersection.
For more information online, go to

Clewiston Museum, 109 Central Ave., Clewiston, houses exhibits highlighting the local area, including: Fossils, Sugar, Cattle Industry First, Commercial Fishing, Flying Brits, Killer Hurricanes and Seminole Indians.

Exhibits at the Clewiston Museum include an impressive fossil collection displaying artifacts found in Hendry County by paleonthologist Mark Renz.

Exhibits at the Clewiston Museum.

The museum is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and weekends by special arrangement. The exhibit hall was the original home of the Clewiston News, built in 1928.

Exhibits at the Clewiston Museum include an impressive fossil collection displaying artifacts found in Hendry County by paleonthologist Mark Renz.

Exhibits at the Clewiston Museum include an impressive fossil collection displaying artifacts found in Hendry County by paleonthologist Mark Renz.

For more information online go to

LaBelle Heritage Museum, 360 Bridge St., houses a great collection of local artifacts, documents, newspapers and pictures. The membership meeting is held at the LaBelle Heritage Museum, on the first Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. Come early or stay late to converse with others who are interested in the history of the City of LaBelle and surrounding areas. Summer hours vary, depending on the availability of volunteers. If you wish to visit the museum or get information anytime throughout the summer, please call 863-674-0034 or email, The museum is closed starting the third week of July until the Wednesday after Labor Day.

Children’s Museums of the Highlands is currently closed for repairs. For updates, go to

Florida Civilian Conservation Corps Museum in Highlands Hammock State Park, 5931 Hammock Road, Sebring, has museum docents who offer guided tours of the museum and provide visitors with an overview of the Great Depression, the work and legacy of the CCC. Three films are shown throughout the day, per visitor request, on the museum stage. “CCC: A Vacation From Poverty,” is a brief 15-minute video providing an introduction to the CCC and the State of Florida CCC Museum. A longer film, “The CCC: A Proud Chapter,” with a running time of 30 minutes, features CCC alumni interviews and a guided tour of park structures built by CCC enrollees that are still in use today. The third film, “The Historic Journey,” is another 15-minute documentary that was made during the 2010 CCC Festival. Four men, all of whom were in their 80s and 90s, recall their lives during the Depression and in the CCC. Their stories and oral histories make up most of this video. Visit the museum to learn about the history of the park and the role the CCC played in building it as well as the history of the CCC in Florida and the United States. Interactive exhibits highlight the 1930-1940 era. Visitors may also view exhibits reflecting the CCC legacy across the country as well as Highlands Hammock and other Florida State Parks. Museum hours vary in the summer due to volunteer staffing. Call the Ranger Station at 863-386-6094 for more information.

The museum is a museum designed as a memorial and tribute to the Civilian Conservation Corps or the CCC. The CCC was a Depression-era public work relief program that was created to manage the unemployment crisis of the 1930s. It provided much needed jobs to the public and helped develop and conserve natural resources in rural lands. The CCC achieved many things despite its long run (1933 to 1942).

Highlands Museum of the Arts Alan Altvater Cultural Center, 351 West Center Ave., Sebring, offers art exhibitions and art classes for children and adults. To register for a class or for more information online, go to

Military Sea Services Museum, 1402 Roseland Ave., Sebring, was established in 1998 and contains artifacts and exhibits relating to the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Marines and U.S. Navy. The museum is open noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. For more information, go online to or call 863-385-0992.

Mel Fisher’s Treasure Museum, 1322 U.S. Highway 1, Sebastian, illustrates why this part of Florida is called the “Treasure Coast.” On July 24, 1715, a fleet of eleven Spanish Galleons and one French ship, set sail from Havana Spain.

All of the Spanish vessels perished in a storm off the east coast of Florida, near present day Sebastian. Seven hundred lives and over 14,000,000 pesos worth of treasure went down. Another ship, the Atocha, met a similar fate in 1622. On July 20, 1985, following a 16-year search, a salvage team led by Mel Fisher recovered the mother lode of the Atocha, from it’s nearly 370-year exile on the ocean floor — one of the greatest discoveries in treasure salvaging history. During the search for the Atocha, Fisher and his crew also discovered and raised treasure from the sister ship of the Atocha, The Santa Margarita and an English merchant slave ship, the Henrietta Marie, as well as the 1715 Plate Fleet near Sebastian.

Visitors to the museum can see part of the collection of Spanish artifacts and treasure. The museum also is a working conservation laboratory used to preserve artifacts recovered from underwater with an observation window for viewing conservation work from inside the museum. For more information, call 772-589-0435 or go online to

Elliott Museum, 825 Northeast Ocean Boulevard, Stuart, features collections of classic cars, trucks, bicycles and boats, baseball memorabilia, Americana, art, a tribute to actress Frances Langford and a Foucault pendulum. Throughout the month of July, the museum will feature a special exhibit on the History of Surfing in Florida. The museum is open Monday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 772-225-1961 or go online to

FPL Energy Encounter, 6501 South Ocean Drive, Highway A1A, Gate B, Jensen Beach, is an interactive, hands-on learning center dedicated to teaching the community about safe, reliable, clean nuclear energy. Tours of the center are free and self-guided. Explore, learn, and experience the Energy Encounter at your own pace. The facility is open to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visitors can use the interactive displays to learn more about radiation, containment, and how nuclear plants are designed with safety in depth; explore a model containment structure and all of its built-in safety systems; watch a fiber optic light show on how electricity reaches their home; or test their knowledge with fast-paced computer games. For more information, call 772-468-4111 or go online to

House of Refuge at Gilbert’s Bar, 301 Southeast MacArthur Boulevard, Stuart, is Martin County’s oldest building, and the last remaining House of Refuge on the east coast of the Florida. These houses were built to provide assistance to survivors of shipwrecks along the sparsely populated Atlantic coast of Florida and were operated by the United States Life-Saving Service. The keeper had the job of watching for shipwrecks and giving assistance to any who needed it. The keeper and his family lived at the House of Refuge. Shipwreck survivors were also housed at the House of Refuge until transport could be arranged for them.

House of Refuge

House of Refuge

Five houses were constructed on the east coast in 1876, with five more, including the one at Gilbert’s Bar, added in 1885. The building also served as a Coast Guard Station from 1915 to 1940. The museum has been restored to showcase historical lifesaving equipment and the Keeper’s living quarters as they were in 1904. The museum is open Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information, call 772-225-1875 or go online to

The Florida Oceanographic Society Coastal Science Center, 890 NE Ocean Blvd., in Stuart, is located on Hutchinson Island, between the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River Lagoon. The 57-acre parcel has coastal hardwood hammocks and mangrove swamp communities. The Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center provides excellent opportunities for education and research aimed at increasing visitors’ knowledge of these unique environments. It has nature trails, 750,000-gallon Game Fish Lagoon, Sea Turtle Pavilion,

The Florida Oceanographic Society’s Coastal Center is on Hutchinson Island.

The Florida Oceanographic Society’s Coastal Center is on Hutchinson Island.

Children’s Activity Pavilion, Sea Star Touch Tank Pavilion, Rays on the Reef Ray Pavilion, Touch Tanks, Aquariums and the Frances Langford Visitors Center. The Stingray Feeding program is open Monday-Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. The Sea Turtle program is offered Monday-Saturday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. Gamefish feeding program is Monday-Saturday at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Nature trails are open for self guided tours until 4 p.m. Monday-Saturday and until 3 p.m. Sunday.

For more information, call 772-225-0505 or go online to

Okeechobee Historical Society Museum and Schoolhouse at 1850 U.S. Highway 98, includes the old school house which was built in 1907. The museum is open Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and often opens for visits from clubs and organizations by special arrangement on other days. For information, call 863-763-4344.

Harbor Branch Ocean Discovery Center, 5600 U.S. Highway 1, North Fort Pierce, is the public gateway to FAU’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. The ODVC houses interactive exhibits, small aquaria, a video theater and other displays exploring the marine environment and depicting the research efforts of the Institute.

ODVC exhibit content is developed in close coordination with the Harbor Branch project managers by a team of award-winning educators and media specialists. Exhibit content is continually evolving to showcase the ongoing research and conservation efforts of Harbor Branch and to give visitors a close-up look at the emerging technologies used by the marine research community. Hours of operation are Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is no charge for individual and family public visits to the ODVC. For more information about the Ocean Discovery Visitor’s Center, or to inquire about scheduling group visits, please call 772-242-2293.

UDT Navy SEAL Museum, 3300 N. Highway A1A, North Hutchinson Island, Fort Pierce, is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays.seal museum

Dive into the secret world of Naval Special Warfare at The National Navy SEAL Museum and Memorial. Here you can explore the history of these legendary maritime special operations warriors. Get up close and hands-on with the specialized equipment used by Navy SEAL Teams—from the first operations of their legacy units during World War II to today’s high-tech, high-stakes missions. You will also find rare and unusual artifacts from some of the SEALs’ most renowned and dangerous missions. The museum honors and supports the SEALs and their predecessors for their contribution to our national security. The museum is near the historic beaches where the first volunteers for Naval Combat Demolition Units and Underwater Demolition Teams, the forefathers of today’s SEALs, trained to assault the beaches of Normandy and Southern France in Europe and numerous islands throughout the Pacific; including preparations for the invasion of Japan. For more information online, go to or call 772-595-5845.

The A.E. Backus Museum & Gallery, 500 N. Indian River Drive
Fort Pierce, is a a 5,000 sq. ft. public visual arts facility, established in 1960 by A.E. Backus and a group of local art enthusiasts. The museum features the Nation’s largest display of original paintings by Albert Ernest Backus. Four additional exhibition wings feature changing exhibits of artwork by contemporary artists. Museum hours are Wednesday – Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. Students with ID, Active Duty Military Personnel and children under 12 are admitted free. Admission is also free on the first Sunday of each month. For information, go online to

Smithsonian Marine Station and Ecosystems Exhibit, 420 Seaway Drive, Hutchinson Island, in Fort Pierce, provides a window into the underwater world of the east coast of Florida’s most diverse estuary in the United States – the Indian River Lagoon. Experience the unsurpassed biological diversity that lies below these waters. At the Marine Ecosystems Exhibit, visitors can explore six different Florida marine habitats and learn about the complexity and importance of marine ecosystems. The largest aquarium is a model of a Caribbean coral reef. Other displays include living models of seagrass, mangrove, estuarine and near shore habitats, as well as a deepwater Oculina coral reef. There are several smaller aquarium displays and a touch tank where you can meet some of our local sea creatures.
For more information, call 772-462-6220.

Lawrence E. Will Museum of the Glades, 530 South Main St. in Belle Glade, explores and interprets the “total Glades experience.” The museum explores and interprets all aspects of this complex region: its unique geology and hydrology; its prehistoric past; the daunting challenges faced by pioneers only a century ago; the success of drainage and its unintended consequences; the devastating hurricane of 1928 and the resulting monumental dike now being strengthened against possible failure; what it takes to farm in 9 feet of muck; labor triumphs and strife; Zora in the Glades (Zora Neale Hurston, anthropologist and author, had impact in the Glades during a four-decade-long period); flora and fauna aplenty and some not known elsewhere; unexpected wellspring of NFL greatness; and merging with South Florida’s megalopolis.

The museum can help a 10-year-old imagine what it was like to be a Glades child in 928 or 1928. It can help a teenager wonder what it was like for her great grandmother to be in the first class of the new two-room Rosenwald schoolhouse built in 1929 after the hurricane had destroyed all Glades schools. It can help a Bahamian-American appreciate that thousands of Bahamian laborers worked in Glades fields and packing houses to feed the nation and its armies during World War II. It can help keep alive the music and atmosphere of juke joints that sustained the life and spirit of a generation of migrant workers.

Regular gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday – Saturday. For more information, call 561-463-7182 or go online to


State Parks host photo contest

Florida’s 174 state parks, trails and historic sites offer beautiful backdrops for recreational and nature-based photos, and we want to see them from your point-of-view. The new state park monthly photo contest’s campaign is explore Florida State Parks, share your point-of-view and enter to win the Florida State Parks Photo Contest!

“Time spent at a park is invaluable for building family bonds and making memories,” said Donald Forgione, director of the Florida Park Service. “I encourage park visitors to bring a camera along to tell their story and share their adventures.”


Highlands Hammock, Sunset with tree in foreground. Photo by William Lermond.

Highlands Hammock, Sunset with tree in foreground. Photo by William Lermond.

One winner each month will receive a Florida State Parks Tervis® tumbler and six state park day-entry passes. The public determines the monthly winners by voting here.

The deadline to enter the contest is the 20th of each month. Monthly winners are announced on the first day of each month.

For contest rules and entry information, go online to  View the photos online for each month of the contest at:

Click here for a list of nearby Florida State Parks.

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