A Few Small Museums and Attractions Well Worth the Time
There was a time when small roadside attractions where the highlight of family road-trips. While they have been overshadowed by the mega-parks and major resorts, there are still a number of roadside gems that you should explore – amazing little pieces of history encased in small museums. If you take the time, you will discover these surprises everywhere.
The famous American inventor, Thomas Edison first visited Fort Myers in 1885. On his first trip to Southwest Florida he purchased more than 13 acres along the Caloosahatchee River and returned to Fort Myers in 1886 with his bride, Mina Miller Edison. For sixty years the Edison family wintered at their Florida estate. In 1947, Mina gave the Estate to the City of Fort Myers. The city opened the estate to the public in 1947, and the Edison Ford estate property is a National Register Historic Site and is one of the most visited historic home sites in America.
The Central Florida Railway Historical Society Museum is a beautiful collection of railroad memorabilia displayed in a train depot in downtown Winter Garden, Florida.
Located in Lakeland, Florida off I-4, The Florida Air Museum displays a wide variety of vintage aircraft, ultralights, experimental homebuilts, air racers, military, aerobatic and factory-built aircraft from all eras.
The Bonnet House was built in 1920 on Fort Lauderdale oceanfront land given to Frederic Clay Bartlett and his second wife, Helen Louise Birch, by her father, Hugh Taylor Birch, a prominent Chicago attorney, real estate investor, and naturalist. In 1925 Helen died from breast cancer and in 1931 Frederic married Evelyn Fortune Lilly, who spent winters at Bonnet House until 1995. Today, the estate is a museum dedicated to remembering the history of Fort Lauderdale.
The St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum offers an interesting and educational museum experience that transports you and your family back in time over 300 years to Port Royal, Jamaica, to the height of the Golden Age of Piracy.
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Another great museum of Spanish treasure is Mel Fisher’s Museum in Key West, Florida. Working out of Key West, Florida, treasure hunter and diver Mel Fisher spent decades searching for the resting site of a Spanish treasure fleet destroyed in a hurricane. They located the Nuestra Señora de Atocha in 1975, with an inscribed cannon to verify the wreck of Atocha. Subsequently, a substantial part of its remaining cargo of silver, gold and emeralds was discovered making it one of the worlds greatest sunken treasures. Much of the treasure is on display at the Key West museum.
In Sebring, home of the the famous race course where the first 12 Hours of Sebring was held on March 15, 1952, is an interesting gem for those who served in the military at sea.
The Military Sea Services Museum – an admittance free museum that has collected seagoing artifacts, stories, books and photographs relating to the time spent at sea by our military. In the collection are a large number of custom ship models, uniforms, weapons and some real finds like a commemorative brass plate cast for the WWII Japanese surrender on the battleship Missouri. The building sits in the middle of a WWII military training airfield.
The Florida CCC Museum – Another stop in Sebring is a visit to Highlands Hammock State Park. Established in 1931 and developed later by Florida’s Civilian Conservation Corps, the park features a lush and incredibly diverse 9,000 acre refuge for endangered animals and ancient flora. While the park is a great place for hiking, it is also home to the Florida CCC Museum. Chock full of memorabilia and AV displays, it is a remarkable place to learn about the Civilian Conservation Core, the New Deal program that gave hundreds of thousands of young American men an opportunity for paid work and training during the Great Depression.
The UDT SEAL Museum – While on the subject of Florida small museums, there is one located on the southern end of North Hutchinson Island at Ft. Pierce. The National UDT And Seal Museum. It’s located at Ft. Pierce because that was the site of the original WWII training facility for Underwater Demolition Teams. It was originally named the UDT Museum but was later updated as the Navy’s UDT teams evolved into the Seal Teams.
The Seal teams have overshadowed UDT in recent years but Seals are a progression from the UDT units that were active in WWII up to the early 1970’s and they share the same training program (Buds for Basic Underwater Demolition School). Stop by and learn something about Seals, their training, missions and their predecessor’s, the Underwater Demolition Teams..
Weeki Wachee Springs Mermaids, Weeki Wachee
If you’ve ever wanted to get up close to a real mermaid, here’s your chance. Weeki Wachee has been offering mermaid shows in an underwater glass sided theater since 1947. Watch as trained professionals captivate audiences with graceful underwater ballet performances.
Robert the Doll is an allegedly haunted doll exhibited at the East Martello Museum in Key West and is purported to be the inspiration for the Chucky movies. Robert was once owned by Key West, Florida painter and author, Robert Eugene Otto. Be careful with this visit, Robert is famous for cursing visiting people with misfortune. Fort East Martello Museum houses artifacts and displays about early Key West. It’s an old civil war fort that has been restored by the Key West Art & Historical Society in 1950.
Air Force Armament Museum
Eglin Air Force Base is located in northwest Florida, comprising over 640 square miles.
This is one of the countries best air museums and it’s free. The Air Force Armament Museum houses Air Force aviation warfare armament from the early days of World War I right through to today’s high-tech planes and bombs – and it won’t cost you a dime. Bonus cool quotient: a vintage military aircraft including the fastest plane ever built, the SR-71 Blackbird.
Much of the base was part of a National Forest until the outbreak of war in Europe when a proving ground for aircraft armament was established at Eglin. The U.S. Forest Service ceded over 340,000 acres of the Choctawhatchee National Forest to the War Department on 18 October 1940.
Florida Caverns State Park
Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna is one of the few state parks in the U.S. with dry (air-filled) caves and is the only Florida state park to offer cave tours to the public. The cave has dazzling formations of limestone stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, flowstones and draperies. Native Americans used the caverns for shelter for thousands of years.
The Citrus Tower
Driving route 27 through Claremont you’ll find one of Florida’s first “attractions,” the Citrus Tower was built in 1956 on one of the highest hills in Florida’s ridge section. The Citrus Tower rises to a lofty height of 226 feet (equivalent to 22 stories). The tip of the highest antenna reaches to 500 feet above sea level.
The glass-enclosed observation deck allows visitors to enjoy the panoramic view of the rolling hills of Florida’s ridge section and hundreds of spring-fed lakes in the surrounding 8-county area.