Florida Finds: Micanopy Historical Society Museum

Any traveler on U.S. Highway 441 from Gainesville to Ocala will stumble upon a history lesson that is worth the stop when driving by Micanopy.

The Micanopy Historical Society Museum is just a few hundred yards from the highway, as visitors follow the path leading into town. It’s impossible to miss and impossible not to want to take some time to explore the old Thrasher Warehouse, the museum’s home.

“Everything in here means something to so many people,” said docent Marge Taylor. “When people come here, often they are looking for something. Many people come here and say, ‘Oh, my grandmother used to talk about this place.’”

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That’s because the Thrasher Warehouse really is a part of the town’s history. It was built around 1890 and was used by J.E. Thrasher Sr. as part of the general merchandise business he opened in 1896. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

The weekends are the busiest time. On the Sunday I visited, the place was packed. There were about 20 visitors when I arrived, and more kept arriving.

Visitor Sandra Friedrich was out for a ride with her husband and her two daughters when they saw the signage about Micanopy on U.S. Highway 441 and drove into town.

Daughters Sienna and Amaya were delighted, because they could see things up close and touch them, as they could do with an old manual typewriter and an old rotary telephone to simulate dialing a call.

“This is the best and most interesting museum we have ever been to,” Amaya said.

Benjamin Collection at Micanopy Historical Society Museum

Micanopy itself was founded in 1821 and is believed to be the oldest inland town in Florida. It takes its name from Chief Micanopy of the Seminole Indians.

Essentially the museum is one big room that is not unlike a creative kindergarten teacher’s classroom, where every section of the room pays homage to something else.

Every corner of the museum is a treasure trove of artifacts and pieces of information stuffed into a space where you would think nothing more could fit.

Inside there is a small exhibit replicating the old J.E. Thrasher General Store, with original accounts of book records on display and Wanton’s Trading Post where a Seminole deerskin hangs over the exhibit, recognizing what was the first white settlement in the area.

There is a display paying tribute to botanist John Bartram and his son, William, who both achieved much as naturalists in the 1700s. William is well-known for his accounts of his travels in what were then the southern U.S. colonies and as one of the first ornithologists born in what became the United States.

Other treasures at the museum include a tool shed, an Indian canoe, Wilma’s Beauty Shop, and a small exhibit about a Rosenwald school for African American children who lived in the area in the 1920s.

Schools like Rosenwald were built across the southern United States in a joint effort headed by Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute, and Julius Rosenwald, philanthropist and president of Sears Roebuck. According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Rosenwald Schools served a third of the South’s rural black school children by 1928.

The museum has a gift shop, with some memorabilia, but most notable is its wide-ranging offering of books related to the area, including the works of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.

“Our book selection is very, very big,” said docent Arlene Holmes. “People come here because they know they can find just about anything.”

The museum has no paid staff. It is instead volunteer-driven and docent-run, with about 20 people on the docent list.

Why do they do it?

“I just get happy when I get here,” Holmes said. “I think I’m going to meet new people today and be able to share my exuberance with them.”

There is also the lure of getting to know each other.

“At the end of the year we have a wonderful Christmas dinner and an ice cream social in May,” Taylor said. “And we get a $20 gift card to spend in the museum.”

Last year, she purchased her own copy of “The Yearling” movie.

The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at 607 NE Cholokka Blvd. There is a suggested donation of $2 for entry.

Micanopy museum books

This is the latest in a monthly series featuring museums, parks and other family friendly activities in North Florida. To view previous stories, click here.

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