Cracker Trail Museum
Wauchula, FL - Events of Tuesday, January 24, 2017
When we were in Pittsburgh for Christmas and Paul was having lunch with his former co-workers, he found out one of them was planning to be in Florida with his wife for a week in January, so the guys made tentative plans to get together. A couple of weeks ago, Paul got a text from Roger saying that he and his wife, Paula, would be passing through Wauchula last Tuesday. We made plans to do a little sightseeing when they stopped by and then to maybe grab a bite to eat before they continued on their way to Lakeland that evening. We haven't done much sightseeing since we've been in Florida this year so it would be a welcome break.
Unfortunately, high winds on Monday postponed their plans for an air boat ride until Tuesday morning, so they arrived at the co-op a little later on Tuesday afternoon than planned. We had scheduled a visit to Solomon's Castle located in nearby Ona, Florida, but the castle closes at 4 p.m. Therefore, we went with Plan B, which was to go the Cracker Trail Museum in Zolfo Springs because the museum is only about 5 minutes away and it is open until 5. After chatting a while, we headed to the museum.
The Cracker Trail runs east and west across central Florida and was used by pioneers in the early 1800s to move cattle across the state to ports on the Gulf and the Atlantic Coasts. The trail runs from Fort Pierce on the Atlantic side to Bradenton (called Bradentown back in the day) on the Gulf of Mexico. The road on which the SKP Co-op is located (State Route 64) is part of what was once the Cracker Trail. We first encountered the Cracker Trail last year when we visited Manatee Village in Bradenton. Click here to read about that visit. The name "Cracker" comes from the crack of the whips of the cowmen as they drove their cattle.
Beginning in 1987, a group called the Cracker Trail Association began a ride of the 120-mile trail on horseback. The ride takes 9 days with overnight stops at various ranches along the way. Up to 250 riders participate in at least a portion of the ride.
The Cracker Trail Museum is part of Pioneer Park, which is run by Hardee County. The park also includes a campground and a wildlife refuge. We didn't have time to visit the wildlife refuge, which sits at the far end of the park along the Peace River, so we'll have to go back someday.
The museum isn't very big, but the admission is only $2.00 plus tax ($2.14 total), and they do have some interesting artifacts. The museum consists of two rooms, the smaller of which has household items such as furniture, cookware, sewing machines and looms.
The larger room has artifacts from the early days of Zolfo Springs and Wauchula.
The larger room is dominated by the tanned hide of an 11-foot alligator.
As if the 11-foot 'gator isn't big enough, they also had the skull from a 14-footer.
"Zolfo" is the Italian word for sulfur, and that's where Zolfo Springs gets its name. In the early 1800s, a crew of Spanish and Italians who were coming down the Peace River searching for phosphate came across a spring in the area that smelled of sulfur.
Wauchula gets its name from the Indian word "wa-tu-la," which is the name for sandhill crane. Wauchula was originally settled to support Fort Hartsuff, which was one of many U.S. Army forts in Florida during the Seminole Wars in the mid-1800s. Wauchula later became the seat of Hardee County and was a center for phosphate mining, cattle, and citrus. It was also once known as the "Cucumber Capital of the World," but citrus and watermelons are much more important today.
The museum has displays of fossils from prehistoric sharks, camels, horses and mastodon that once inhabited the area. Most of the fossils were collected from the banks of the Peace River.
In addition to the fossils, the museum's collection includes Indian artifacts and items representing early businesses, ranches, and residents of the area. One interesting item is a reproduction of Florida's first flag. The flag never became the official flag of the state because of the controversial motto.
Outside, there is a small collection of old buildings. There is also equipment such as a sugar cane press and a sugar kettle, an old pump from a phosphate mill, and a mobile irrigation device. The outdoor display is dominated by a wood-burning locomotive that was built by the Baldwin Locomotive Co. in 1914. The 2-6-2 locomotive was donated to the county by Kervin Revell who used it in his crate mill in Wauchula.
The outdoor display also includes a cabin built in 1879 by W. H. Hart. The cabin was relocated to the park in 1979 from its original location elsewhere in Hardee County.
We have been doing research into local restaurants ever since we first go to the co-op late last year, and Giovanni's Main Street Kitchen is a place that gets good online reviews and that was also frequently recommended by fellow co-op members. It is located close by in downtown Wauchula, so that's we headed for dinner after the Cracker Trail Museum.
Lunches at Giovanni's range in price from $6 to $11 and include hot and cold subs, pizza and pasta dishes. Dinners are $9 to $16 and include a number of Italian classics such as ravioli, chicken Parmesan, linguini with clam sauce, and lasagna. All entrees include the soup and salad bar. Paula had Chicken Marsala, and Roger had Tilapia Bella Napoli, which is a tilapia fillet covered with shrimp, mussels, clams and squid served over pasta. Their meals looked amazing, and they both said the food was delicious. We shared a pizza with sausage and mushrooms. The pizza was baked in a wood-fired oven. It was also yummy.
After dinner, Roger and Paula continued on their way to Lakeland and we relaxed with an evening of TV. We needed to rest up for a big, multi-day event scheduled to start at the co-op the next day. We'll tell you about it in our next post.