Updated: Jul 10
Tucked away a mile off of I-75 in north central Florida is a small postcard town you’ve probably never heard of. Picturesque Micanopy has charming old-Florida homes, giant sprawling oaks with Spanish moss dangling from their limbs, and a quaint downtown area with antique shops and cafes.
Toward the north end of the main thoroughfare, Cholokka Boulevard, sits the Micanopy Historical Society Museum. Our family visited this off-the-beaten path museum several years ago and were excited to get back.
On our last visit, we found the tiny museum packed with information and interesting displays about the area’s history, along with knowledgeable people who were excited to share that history with us. We were happy to see none of that has changed.
A museum docent encouraged us to tap away at the antique typewriter.
The museum is housed in the Thrasher Warehouse, a building constructed in 1890 and used by J.E. Thrasher, Sr. for his merchandise business. Today, it’s used by the Micanopy Historical Society. We started at the left of the entrance to the museum and followed the timeline of the town’s history.
Before the arrival of Spanish explorers, Timucua Indians occupied Northeast and North Central Florida. Though they did not leave a written record behind, local archeologists know of their existence through the stories from explorers and from the legacy the natives left behind. These items, such as stone tools, pottery, and a wooden canoe, are on display at the museum.
The museum dedicates the next exhibit to naturalist William Bartram, who traveled to the southeastern United States, including the Micanopy area, in the late 1700s. He recorded information about the plants, animals, and Seminole Indians, and published them in a book titled Bartram’s Travels.
The display dedicated to Bartram contains some of the exotic animals and fauna he came across on his travels, like a bobcat, Florida largemouth bass, palm fronds, and the American Lotus. Bartram later claimed this area was one of the most beautiful he’d ever seen.
Seminoles, Forts, and Wars
A museum about the history of Florida’s interior wouldn’t be complete without a Seminole exhibit. Micanopy (previously called Cuscowilla) was once the site of two forts built by the U.S. military.
They built Fort Defiance in 1835, to protect settlers from the Seminoles during the Second Seminole War. This fort saw several skirmishes before being burned down by the military in 1836 because of a fever outbreak. They later built Fort Micanopy on the site, which served as a military hospital and supply depot.
There’s a large replica of what a general fort would have looked like during the Seminole Wars in this section of the museum, showing the different types of buildings and items stored there.
Also on display is the uniform worn by U.S. soldiers during the Seminole Wars, their thick wool layers unsuited for Florida’s hot and humid environment. I like to see the soldier’s uniforms compared to the Seminole clothing in a nearby case. The lightweight, adjustable materials worn by the Seminoles showed how adapted they were to their environment.
Railroad nails, a large compass, and coal chunks adorn the table with Micanopy’s rail history. From the late 1800s until the 1940s, Micanopy had a freight rail line which connected to Gainesville.
Like many towns in north and central Florida, Micanopy’s industry thrived on the production of turpentine and citrus. The sap collected from pine trees was an important compound during the industrial age. Industrialists used the resin to make kindling fires easier. The end product, turpentine, was an important maritime material, used to keep ships watertight.
Florida’s best-known industry is perhaps the production of citrus. In the mid to late 1800s, north central Florida was the heart of citrus production for the state, necessitating the railroad connection from Micanopy to Gainesville. However, after several major freezes near the turn of the century, many citrus growers traveled further south to replant their groves.
As the population grew, Micanopy needed a school. In 1885, they built their first public school building. Several decades later, while U.S. citizens lived under laws of segregation, the town received its first school for black students, a Rosenwald School.
Julius Rosenwald, former president of the Sears Roebuck Company from 1908 to 1924, began a philanthropic endeavor to build schools for black children throughout the nation. According to the Micanopy Historical Society: “In 1912, Rosenwald teamed up with Booker T. Washington of the Tuskegee Institute to build six small schools in rural Alabama. More construction followed.”
The Rosenwald School in Micanopy ensured that all the town's children received a proper education.
Outside the Museum
This museum houses too many great items for everything to fit indoors. When we stepped through a door on the opposite side of the museum, a ramp led us down to a lean-to shed where we saw antique farm tools and equipment. I particularly like to photograph old equipment as it gives a glimpse into what life was like for people in the past. In the shed, we saw a gristmill, a sugarcane mill, and a giant kettle. There’s also more information about Micanopy’s railroad history.
After we visited the museum, we took a stroll down the Americana-inspired main street, Cholokka Blvd. Massive hundreds-year-old oak trees provide shade for the benches in this park-like setting. Several cafes serve food, drinks, and ice cream along the main thoroughfare.
If you’re looking for sweets or coffee, I highly recommend the Mosswood Farm Store & Bakehouse, which is in a yellow building next to the museum. They have fantastic coffees, desserts, and farm stand items like pickles and soap.
Looking for other things to do nearby? Check out The Historic Haile Homestead: The House With the Talking Walls!
Know Before You Go
Address: 607 NE Cholokka Blvd.
Parking: Free parking in front of the museum
Fees: Free Admission; Donations Appreciated
Hours: Weds – Sun 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.
Broaden Your Horizons
Have you seen one of the famous movies filmed in Micanopy, like Doc Hollywood (1991) or Cross Creek (1983)? Would you visit this adorable gem in North Central Florida? Leave a comment below. We'd love to hear from you!