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Florida Agricultural Museum: Experience Unique Historical Attraction in Palm Coast

The name unfortunately evokes an image of farm equipment displayed in an old dusty building. Nothing could be further from the actual setting and experience. Instead the museum is a walkthrough experience of Old Florida exploring their old Florida buildings and learning about conservation of heritage livestock including rare Florida Cracker cattle, horses, and sheep. Each stop has its own history and story of life in Florida, and day-to-day life in Florida goes back a far longer time than most of us realize. And you can also go horse-camping, too

Cracker Cowboys, Cows, and Horses

Particularly fascinating was the story of Cracker cows and Cracker horses, and even Cracker cowboys. The word "cracker" is derived from the sound made by the bullwhips used to keep the cows moving. The Cracker horses are smaller and thinner than what we usually consider a full size horse, but they are true workhorses.

Florida Cracker horses trace their ancestry to Spanish stock brought to Florida in the 16th Century. After a switch to larger horses, the Cracker horses were far less used and began to die out. By 1983 there were only an estimated 250 Florida Cracker horses left from the thousands of horses from 50 years earlier. But a group of concerned native Floridians made a concerted effort to preserve the breed. Today, the Florida Agricultural Museums proudly helps in their conservation, telling their story to visitors.

Florida Cracker cattle were also descendants from those introduced by the Spanish, eventually adapting to the Florida conditions and shaped by natural selection to an environment that is generally not agreeable for cattle. They became heat-tolerant and learned to survive on Florida's low quality forage.

They too were endangered but not from disease but from ranchers trying to cross breed them for their hardiness. Here again, a breeding program is working to keep their bloodlines pure so there will be Cracker cattle in the future.

Florida Agricultural Museum

The full tour of the Florida Agricultural Museum (located in Palm Coast Florida between Daytona and St.Augustine) includes visits to five restored buildings. The 1930s Depression-era citrus business, and a 5,000 square foot dairy barn are both next to the dirt parking lot. Then, take the tractor-pulled wagon through the woods to the 1890s pioneer homestead,

See a turn-of-the-19th century dry goods store with tools, saddles, canned goods, and bolts of cloth. The Traxler Commissary from the town of Traxler was built in 1880s for the employees, but it evolved into a general store for the community. There's also part of a steam powered cotton gin.

Nearby in a building which is also historic and showing a bit of its age is a permanent exhibit on Florida's Black Cowboys. It depicts the different treatment of Blacks by the Spanish -- who freed them and armed them -- and the Americans who did not. The Spanish by law and religious orientation allowed slaves self-purchase, thus creating a class of freemen and women. As the ownership of Florida changed, so did the treatment of Blacks.

The tour lasts 1.5 to 2 hours. Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes. You can pack a picnic lunch -- tables and chairs are available in the barn.

There's a second part to this large sprawling museum. You can take a short self-guided hike around the archeological site of John Hewitt's water-powered sawmill that operated from 1770 to 1813. That's in a different part of the grounds.

Horse Camping and Horse Bridge of I-95

The Florida Agricultural Museum and Princess Place Preserve across I-95 are joined by a bridge created for horses, but humans can walk across it, too. It's an unusual experience and it's worth the walk.

The reason for this unusual association is horses. Both the Florida Agricultural Museum and Princess Preserve are horse-friendly destinations and the bridge enables horses and riders to go from one piece of protected wild land to another.

If you have ever wanted to go camping with your horse, this is your chance. You can rent a campsite, string up your electric fence and camp out under the stars with your horse and then ride through the miles of riding trails. If you get bored, cross the bridge and ride through Princess Preserve. If you don't have a horse of your own, Florida Agricultural Museum will rent you one to enjoy their many miles of trails, or sign up for a guided trail ride. There's even riding lessons for beginners.

Princess Place Preserve is a 2000 acre passive recreational area, and site of the New York Adirondack style lodge that was once home to a princess. The lodge was built by Henry Cutting in 1888, who lived there with his wife Angela. Sadly, Cutting died in 1892, and Angela eventually remarried John Lorimer Worden. But it was her 1923 marriage to exiled Russian Prince Boris Scherbatoff that made her a princess, and ultimately resulted in the name of the estate. A tour is offered on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm, but you can also come any time and watch the hour-long video that tells the story. Anytime you visit, sit on the porch, rock back and forth and be lulled into a sense of peace by the view. You can also stroll along the miles of trails, enjoy camping, and fishing, or take out your kayak or canoe.

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Neala McCarten

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

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