Travel with Terri
Summer History Lessons at Florida’s Intriguing Historic Sites
By Terri Marshall
Summertime is here and the kids are taking a break from school. But, that doesn’t mean the learning has to stop for the season. Florida has plenty of historic sites that will bring history to life for the whole family. The kids won’t even know they are learning. As a Florida resident, you have most likely been to St. Augustine, but the history goes way beyond the nation’s oldest settlement. Here are a few great historical sites to entertain the family without leaving the state.
Indian Temple Mound Museum
Before the European settlers came to St. Augustine, Florida was home to Native American tribes. Between 800AD and 1000AD these tribes built shell mounds all around the state.
The Indian Temple Mound Museum in Fort Walton Beach is situated by one of the largest ceremonial mounds in the state. With roughly 1,000 artifacts and extensive exhibits, the museum gives visitors an inside look at the lifestyles of four southeastern American Indian groups that inhabited the Choctawhatchee Bay region for the last 12,000 years. Temple Mound also offers tours, a research library and a museum shop.
Located just north of Tampa along the Gulf of Mexico, Tarpon Springs is known as the sponge capital of the world. The Sponge Industry helped build a Greek community that is famous not only for its sponges for but for some of the finest Greek restaurants, markets and bakeries.
The Spongeorama’s sponge factory has the world’s largest selection of natural sea sponges and provides an introduction to the sponge docks at the onsite museum and theatre show. The kids are sure to enjoy the St. Nicholas Boat Line sponge diving tour. During the boat tour, a diver goes overboard to harvest a sponge and then gives you the opportunity to see and feel a live sponge.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the brick streets of the charming downtown are lined with art galleries, antiques stores and specialty shops housed in buildings dating from the late 1800s.
In 1886, Don Vicent Martinez Ybor built a cigar factory just east of downtown Tampa. He began to build a Cuban community whose flavor still permeates this Tampa neighborhood.
The Ybor Museum State Park, a one-acre urban state park housed in the former Ferlita Bakery offers a glimpse into the history of the neighborhood and its people. Museum displays include original cigar box cover labels, cigar rolling demonstrations and restored casitas which were once the homes of cigar factory workers.
Kids will be entertained with a ride on the old-fashioned streetcar complete with a clanging bell and capped driver that spans a two mile trek between Ybor City and the Channelside District.
There are plenty of roosters roaming about and crowing day and night. Originally brought by the Cuban cigar workers for fighting, the roosters are now protected and are pretty much in charge of the neighborhood.
Don’t miss dinner at the Columbia Restaurant – Florida’s oldest restaurant and the gem of Ybor City. The 52,000 square foot restaurant encompasses an entire block and offers enough lavish artifacts to rival a museum. Flamenco dancers perform most nights providing an exciting Latin entertainment experience.
The free roaming roosters also live in Key West, but here the main attraction are Ernest Hemingway’s six-toed cats. Snowball, a white six-toed cat, was given to Hemingway by a ship’s captain. Today there are approximately 50 cats – half of them polydactyl (six-toed) living at the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. Many of the cats are descendants of Snowball and are given names of movie stars and characters in Hemingway’s books.
Step back in time at the Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum where storytellers in period costume bring history to life with tales of dangerous shipwrecks, pirates and treasure recoveries. Master wrecker, Asa Tift and his wrecking crew will tell you the story of how the treasures recovered from the shipwrecks provided for the livelihood of the early pioneers of Key West. The kids can help Asa watch for shipwrecks on the reefs by climbing the 65 foot lookout tower. Be sure to check out Asa’s warehouse filled with the booty from the reefs.
After bringing the Florida East Coast Railway to Miami in the 1890′s, Henry Flagler dreamed of continuing it another 128 miles to Key West. Against seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the
railroad was completed in 1912. Riding on the “Overseas Railroad” across 60 miles of unobstructed water was like riding on top of the ocean. The train was in service until 1935 when a devastating hurricane destroyed the engineering marvel.
Pigeon Key served as the base camp for many of the railroad workers during construction. Today the Pigeon Key Foundation has restored the historical buildings and installed a museum detailing the history behind the Overseas Railroad and the island. Tours are available and include a ferry ride to and from the island.
Pigeon Key can also be accessed by the 2.2 mile long section of the Old Seven Mile Bridge which is open to pedestrian, cycling and golf cart traffic – a great way for the little ones to work-off excess road trip energy.
More of Florida’s railroad history can be explored at the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish about 40 miles south of Tampa. The museum offers the unique experience of “riding the exhibits” with regular diesel train excursions.
Thomas the Train hangs out here sometimes for a “Day Out with Thomas” that is sure to thrill the little ones.
Terri is a New York City based writer who is happiest when she’s globetrotting. She is the Special Projects Editor for TravelSquire.com, the National Chocolate Examiner, the Globetrotting Grandmom for TravelingMom.com and a contributor to several other publications. Tough life, right? You can find more of Terri’s work along with tales of her adventures on the NYC subway on her website: www.trippingwithterri.com Follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TrippingwithTerri and on Twitter @trippingwterri .