About the Museum
Cracker Trail Museum History
Cracker Trail Museum was started by the Peace River Valley Historical Society in 1967. A grant in the amount of $20,000 was procured from the Florida Game & Fresh Water Fish Commission with technical help from the U.S. Soil Conservation Service and a building was constructed at what is now Pioneer Park in Zolfo Springs. It was originally known as Pioneer Park Museum.
The objectives of the newly established museum was to serve the public interest of the Peace River Valley by providing a means for the collection, preservation and interpretation of collections of significant historic objects from the area served by the museum. In addition, its primary obligation was to guarantee adequate preservation of the collections and effective use of their contents.
The dedication of the museum was held on June 24, 1967 with a number of dignitaries in attendance including Joe Dan Osceola, President of the Seminole Tribe. A Fish-a-thon was held for the children and antique vehicles were on display furnished by local antique automobile clubs. The guest register for the day of festivities grew to 650 guests.
Soon local residents began donating articles to the museum and in no time the collection grew to include a wide range of pioneer household goods, farming implements, photographs and historical documents. Shortly after its dedication, a cane grinding shed was erected on the grounds and a kettle was donated. This was the beginning of Cracker Trail Museum’s "Pioneer Village."
The Pioneer Village
That same year, a 1914 Baldwin Locomotive Engine #3 (also known as the Loping Gopher) was donated by K.D. Revell where it had been used at his crate mill in Wauchula. It now stands majestically under its cover where it can be seen by all travelers along Highway 17 and State Road 64 at Pioneer Park.
The 1897 C.A. Bryant Blacksmith Shop was the next building to be donated to Pioneer Park. It was dismantled at its location in Bowling Green and reconstructed at its present location adjacent to the museum building. It houses many of the original tools and blacksmithing implements that were used by the Bryant Family.
In 1979, the Hart Cabin was donated and relocated to the park by the great grandson of W.H. Hart. The cabin was built in 1879 and consists of only one of the remaining rooms of the original structure where W.H. and Mary Jane Hart raised their six children on Maud Road in Hardee County. Many of the pieces of furniture located inside the cabin were built by Mr. Hart.
The collections inside the museum continued to expand as well as the surrounding Pioneer Village. A smokehouse was constructed from the donated wood of old lumber from a local barn and home from the 1880’s. Two family work wagons that were from the late 1880’s followed as a donation.
The Historical Society Disbands
The community had become involved in this new museum that seemed to take an interest in the pioneer families of Hardee County. However, in June 1988, the Peace River Valley Historical Association disbanded and the museum closed. Having being built on the grounds of the county park and realizing the significant contribution that it was making, the Board of County Commissioners reopened the museum in September, 1988 and it was renamed Cracker Trail Museum.
In 1989, the museum closed due to funding issues until Cargill Fertilizer stepped in to help with a $50,000 donation. Half of the funds were used to construct a much needed addition to the museum to adequately display its ever growing collections. Cracker Trail Museum once again opened in 1991.
Pioneer Village continued to grow with the addition of a small building that was built in 1886 and converted into a Post Office for the grounds and visitors can also view the pioneer outhouse that now sits near the Hart Cabin.
On Friday, August 13, 2004, Hurricane Charley wrecked havoc on Hardee County and Pioneer Park was greatly damaged. As if that damage wasn’t severe enough, the museum would then endure strong winds and rain from Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne, all three within a five-week period. The porch was ripped off the Post Office and the outhouse was destroyed. The ceiling of the museum case room caved in which consequently led to damage to some of the artifacts. With the help of many volunteers, the Post Office porch was rebuilt, as well as the outhouse. Repair was made to the ceiling of the museum and volunteers repainted and reworked all displays within the two rooms.
43 Years and Counting...
Cracker Trail Museum will celebrate its 43rd anniversary in June, 2010. Its acquisitions have grown to more than 4,000 which are displayed on walls, shelves, floor space and display cases. Quilts adorn beds, crochet items peep out from old trunks, quilting frames hang from the ceiling and precious books stand in old bookshelves. Genealogies which have been donated are available for anyone researching their particular line. The butter churn, pitcher pump, mangle iron and cake of lye soap immediately bring back memories and stories from the visitor’s childhood.
Cracker Trail Museum is more than a building with old "stuff." It is a receptacle for precious memories….a place where those memories can come to life and be exhibited in a way to bring a smile to a visitor’s face….a place where our children can learn how their ancestors lived and perhaps gain some insight into how Hardee County evolved into what it is today.
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