Jane and Beth Elliott and I were in a hurry when we stopped at the Cracker Trail Museum in Zolfo Springs, Florida. On our way to the beautiful Ringling Mansion and Museums in Sebring, the stop was on the way and we wanted to see all there was to see while in the area. Midwesterners soaking in all the history, flowers and nature that we could, we made a unanimous decision to check out the Cracker Trail Museum and do a quick stop at the nearby Wildlife Refuge.
The Elliotts, like Keith and I enjoy farm collectibles so this museum was a fun place to tour. Open since 1967, the Cracker Trail Museum has over 4,000 items related to pioneer-era Florida history. Visitors can view items sitting out, or in glass enclosed cases. There were also several wildlife taxidermy items as well as a HUGE alligator skin, which proved to be a distinct pivot to the moving ones we would view an hour later in the wildlife sanctuary.
There was Seminole Indian history and cracker/cowboy history as well as early fossil history, plus a bit about the Phosphate Industry in Hardee County. I was fascinated to learn that in 1890, phosphate was mined on the banks of the Peace River. Recently this has once again returned to Hardee County.
Inside the museum we saw a wide range of pioneer household goods, farming implements, photographs and historical documents. In one room there was the aforementioned alligator skin and information about turtle hunting that at one time was quite acceptable, although now of course, it is a huge no no.
While the museum was open the day we were there we just were able to drive by the cool buildings on site which included a cane grinding shed, a beautiful 1914 Baldwin Locomotive Engine #3 (also known as the Loping Gopher), an 1897 C.A. Bryant Blacksmith and the Hart Cabin. The Village also has smokehouse that was constructed from the donated wood of old lumber from a local barn and home from the 1880’s and two family work wagons that were from the late 1880’s.
This year the museum celebrates its 50th year and they celebrate fun events like an annual cross-state trail ride, in Mid-February and the first weekend in March, antique tractor collectors will be interested to know on the Pioneer Grounds for Pioneer Park Days there is an antique tractor and gas engine show (http://www.old-engine.com/zolfo.htm). This show is advertised as the largest gas engine show in Florida, collectors can enjoy the museum, Pioneer village and antique tractors all at one time.
After a quick tour of the museum since we were on a deadline, we high tailed it to the small, but fun Wildlife Refuge and enjoyed watching the animals which included several alligator, deer, a cougar and the biggest raccoons I have ever seen! The wildlife is viewed from a fun boardwalk. Kids would love the refuge and if you didn’t dawdle, they would like the Cracker Museum as well. When the out buildings are open, this would be a family treasure trove stop. The park also has several camping spots as well.
While it was a quick trip for us, it was a worthy one!
Open Monday – Friday from 9am – 5pm the museum is located at 2822 Museum Drive
Zolfo Springs, FL 33890. Call (863)735 0119 for more or log onto informationhttp://hardeecounty.net/crackertrailmuseum/.