Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A "Cracker" of a Museum

Wanna know why Sparky loves being out in nature so much? Because it CALMS her down and makes her focus for awhile. (Yep! confirms E. She needs all the nature she can get!) Sparky actually stops to check out things like this bee on some Queen Anne's Lace after making a visit to the Crowley Museum and Nature Center today.
Here's another interesting bloom that caught Sparky's eye...
The Crowley Museum and Nature Center is a quaint, very old pioneer homestead setting with early Florida outbuildings, cabins and a "Cracker" museum on the premises. More about the "Crackers" later.
At the Welcome Center, they have the coolest sculpture standing in the corner. It has to do with the watershed, but that's all the gal in the office could say about it.

This is the Tatum House c. 1888-1892, one of the oldest examples of rural architecture in Sarasota County. They didn't build houses on the ground, they built them up a little to deter snakes and other critters from entering.

As Sparky was coming in the narrow drive to the complex, she spotted three deer, one was a little fawn checking her car out.
She drove a little further, and a newborn calf was in the fields....She just had to get a photo, he's too cute!
This is a really great place to explore and see nature and learn about early Floridians....A half-mile boardwalk takes you back through 5 Florida habitats to a sawgrass marsh. Bet you haven't seen THIS on a hiking sign lately! It says, "Yield to cattle on the trail"....This farm property/museum is an open range it seems.

The boardwalk as you walk further in, is heavily shaded which is really nice on a hot day like today. The colors of the ferns, the decaying palm leaves in the water, were beautiful.
There's a tower and observation deck a half mile into the boardwalk where you can observe the Tatum sawgrass marsh.
You can come down from the tower and continue on a ground level trail, but it was too wet and flooded today....

Sparky watched for snakes all along the way. She vigilantly checked the rails on the sides for them and for them possibly hanging down from low hanging branches. She only was startled once, by this little guy, who slithered sideways along the railing, hoping Sparky wouldn't see him, thus making him look like a SNAKE!

Sparky retraced her steps from the tower back and checked out the outbuildings, the blacksmith shop, another cabin and the children's trail. That was really cool! The 3/8 mile Children's Discovery Path has a mini zip line and cool statues at learning stations for kids. Sparky liked the eagle spotting station, although she didn't see any soaring above today.
The panther learning stations was cool. They have a little suspension beam for kids to walk to see how agile panthers can be.
As Sparky walked PAST the statue, she saw something out of the corner of her eye, and was startled, thinking a big cat was behind her. It was just the realistic looking panther statue, but the way he was crouched was a little startling if you saw it out of the corner of your eye as you passed by. The spider web climbing rope ladder was cool! Kids learn about the types of spiders in the area at this learning station.

The last stop at the homestead was the museum...all about the Florida Cracker culture...The Crackers were settlers who practiced sustainable farming. They believed in "use half and keep half". These settlers were different from the settlers who settled the north in colonial days, both in their farming and in their style of houses dictated by the hot humid Florida climate. The Crackers were terrific herdsmen, and had strong family ties.  A lot of people believe that this style of farming and architecture was heavily based on the Celtic peoples' lifestyles and that the Crackers came from Celtic stock. They scratched a living from the soil, they believed in having the minimal to sustain themselves. They made a living from their environment wherever they settled in Florida where others couldn't make it. If they were on the coast, they fished, they grew sugar cane. In the north central part of the state, they relied on wild game hunting and pig farming. River dwellers hunted alligators and catfished. Personal independence and self reliance were far more important than material possessions, so some thought the Crackers were poor or lazy because they seemed to be living in poverty. The Crackers just used things up until they wore out, so there aren't as many artifacts left from their society today.

Cracker houses had funny names like Single Pen, Dogtrot, Saddlebag, and Shot Gun--On this last one, if a shot was fired from the front porch it would exit straight through the house without hitting anything because of the way the rooms were lined up. They were constructed from materials from whatever happened to be handy lying around, so they were worn and had a thrown together look. The Marjory Rawlings house in Cross Creek, FL, is probably the most famous Cracker house known and it's one of the nicer ones. Sherry, of In the Direction of Our Dreams, did a great blog on this house and has a lot more history if you are interested. Here's a link to her post on the Rawlings House.

It was a great visit to the Crowley Nature Center and Museum today...highly recommended!


  1. Love this place. I have never read about the Crackers. Thanks for the history lesson. Great job with the photos.

  2. The name "crackers" came from how they cracked the whips when hearding cows, and native Floridians today are called "Florida Crackers".... and proud to be one...

  3. another addition to my folder of places to see. . .we're gonna hafta travel til we're 90 to get them all in. . .LOL!

    Thanks for sharing. . .great post. . .

  4. Really interesting post Jeannie. Love the learning things for the kids. Wish they had one of those climbing webs for BIG kids. I'd love to do it. Thanks for the shout out on my Marjorie Rawlings post. I had several relatives in Florida in cracker country who came from Indiana and Ohio in the 20's, built cracker houses and were subsistance farmers.