A local gem in the heart of The Real Florida.
Hidden among the pine forests in Central Florida, the Silver River Museum sits hidden near an old-Florida attraction that originated in the 1800s and is still in operation today. Tucked away on the property of Silver Springs State Park in Ocala – known for its glass-bottom boat rides through crystal clear springs – this small museum that packs a lot of history.
The museum grounds have an indoor building that houses the exhibits, a library (books can only be checked out by county school students), and a gift shop. Outside, visitors can walk through an old Florida “Cracker” town and see a replica Seminole village.
Inside the wonderful air-conditioned building, a state park employee collected our entrance fees, told us about the museum, and provided the kids with a scavenger hunt worksheet. From there, we started with the exhibits that date back roughly 12,000 years.
When we first stepped into the museum, a towering 14-foot-tall Columbian Mammoth skeleton with a sign that explained how divers found bones from these mammoths in the nearby Silver River during the 1970s greeted us.
We observed displays of ancient arrowheads from all over the state. There were several dioramas of Florida’s habitats and the animals that inhabit them. On interesting diorama showed threatened species like the manatee and the Florida panther.
There’s a fun, interactive exhibit that explains how Florida’s aquifer works. My kids enjoyed pushing the buttons to see where our water comes from, and to get a glimpse of Florida’s unique underground porous limestone system.
The first thing we saw in this section was a life-size painting of a Timucuan man with his dog.
This gallery was all about the various native groups that have called Florida home long before Juan Ponce de Leon gave it its name. A large window display offers visitors a look into the lives of Seminole Indians in the Silver Springs area, including clothing, dolls, and pictures.
Besides the native peoples, British and Spanish explorers also occupied Florida during period ranging from the 1500s to the 1800s. The museum has two Spanish cannons and a display case about the period of British rule in the Florida territory from 1763 to 1783.
Dugout Canoe Exhibit
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t typically get excited about canoes. But after a visit to the Dugout Canoes: Paddling Through the Americas exhibit, I changed my mind.
The Silver River Museum had a few real canoes and many replicas on display. The kids enjoyed hands-on activities, including a touch table, a paper paddle-making activity with a lesson about the styles and intricacies of the paddles, and an etching of a Mayan picture with various animal-like deities in a canoe.
Videos in this exhibit explain where University of Florida archaeologists excavate, date, and preserve the canoes (when it’s possible to do so). There are also fascinating videos from people throughout the Americas explaining the significance of carvings and designs on the canoes, and the protective spirits that watch over them.
This entire wing of the museum is presented in both Spanish and English, as it covers the history of dugout canoes not only in Florida, but all across the Americas.
Pioneer “Cracker” Village
One of my favorite parts of this museum lies just outside the building, where a fully immersive pioneer village spreads across the grounds. Here you’ll find cabins, a schoolhouse, a church, a blacksmith shop, and even a sugarcane mill. Set a little further back down a short trail, is a replica of a 19th century Seminole village.
Visitors can tour the outside of these buildings anytime the museum is open. However, in order to go inside the buildings, you must visit during a twice-monthly tour or a special event – which I’d definitely recommend. Several years ago, my family and I attended both the Ocali Days (second weekend in November) and the Knap-In (third weekend in February) and both were amazing events. During these days, volunteers in period attire teach visitors about the history of the pioneer village and central Florida. Don’t miss the live demonstrations, cooking, and vendors.
Because the Silver River Museum works with Marion County Schools, their website (linked below) is full of information and free printable worksheets for Kindergartners through 5th grade students.
The Silver River Museum is only open to the public on Saturdays & Sundays from 10a-4p. There are two costs to enter: the first charge is to enter the Silver Springs State Park area. This charge is $8/car or $2/person, depending on which entrance you use. This fee gives you access to the entire state park, if you’d like to check out more of the area after the museum. The second charge is for the museum itself, which is $2/person (children under 6 are free).
Looking for other amazing places to visit in the area? Check out The Haile Homestead: The House With the "Talking Walls" and 5 Awesome Things to Do in Gainesville for Families!
Have you visited this secret gem in the heart of central Florida? Would you like to? Leave a comment below. We'd love to hear from you!