Tallahassee is a city that reveres its history, keeps property in families and doesn’t throw anything away.
The result is that visitors can explore the histories of both the city and the state in homes and museums that re-create life as it was decades, centuries and millennia ago.
My husband and I began our exploration at the Museum of Florida History, where the skeleton of a mastodon discovered in nearby Wakulla Springs greeted us.
From there we headed off through a permanent exhibit called “Forever Changed,” which traces the development of the area from 1513, when Ponce de Leon claimed it for Spain, to 1821, when it became a U.S. territory.
The exhibit is set up in walk-through environments — from native villages to Colonial forts and missions — peopled with life-size casts of Native Americans, explorers and settlers.
The most moving spot for me was the dock where visitors can see a 16th-century European ship arriving from the indigenous peoples’ perspective and then board the ship to look back at the sight that greeted the newcomers.
Throughout the museum are cases filled with artifacts used in everyday life.
Other exhibits illuminate the growth of Florida’s citrus industry, Florida’s World War II POW internment centers and the Florida Highwaymen, a group of 26 self-taught African-America landscape painters from the mid-20th century.
“Living the Dream,” a temporary exhibit that chronicles 20th-century Florida, will be open through July 29, 2018.
Children will never be bored. If the dioramas and re-created settings don’t engage them, the interactive projects will. They can weave a fishing net, fashion a projectile point from a shell, try on period clothing in Grandma’s Attic and more.
Our foray into the past next took us to Mission San Luis, a principal village of the Apalachee Indians and the westernmost headquarters of the Spanish between 1656 and 1704.
The beleaguered Spanish finally burned the complex to keep it from their enemies, but it has now been restored according to archaeologists’ findings.
Here are the church, friary, mission, chief’s house and blacksmith shop along with the council house, an impressive structure that at five stories high and 125 feet in diameter could hold 2,000 to 3,000 people. This was where the Apalachees held ceremonies, conducted business and housed visitors.
Best of all are the knowledgeable costumed interpreters who tell stories about life in the village. Children can take part in a scavenger hunt that challenges them to find historic objects around the property.
Another chapter in Tallahassee’s history unfolds at Goodwood, a Southern mansion with a story as rich as its furnishings.
Congress first awarded the land to the Marquis de Lafayette in appreciation of his service during the Revolutionary War.
His agents sold one of the parcels to Hardy Croom, who perished in a shipwreck with his wife and children as they traveled to their new home.
Croom’s brother, Bryan, claimed the land and finished constructing the plantation house, but Hardy’s mother-in-law also made a claim and prevailed legally.
She sold the house and it went on to other owners, but for reasons no one can explain, when each family moved on they left behind their treasurers.
Thus visitors to Goodwood today can see the rooms exactly as they were in the house’s heyday.
The Grove Museum is a Greek-Revival mansion handed down over two centuries of the Call and Collins families, all of whom worked in public service.
The first owner was a slave-holder, Richard Keith Call, who served with Andrew Jackson and was Florida’s territorial governor.
The last owners were his great-granddaughter, Mary, and her husband, Leroy Collins, who also became Florida’s governor and was ironically an outspoken proponent of civil rights and chairman of the 1960 Democratic National Convention.
Except for Collins’ office and a few other rooms many of the furnishings have not survived, so the museum’s organizers put their emphasis on educating visitors by means of large interactive computer screens that tell the stories of the home’s owners and their slaves.
“We don’t have a lot of artifacts,” said Jonathan Grandage, executive director, “but we have extensive research.”
Another day we found the Tallahassee Museum to be surprising in several ways.
For one, it’s almost all outside and includes a zoo filled with indigenous rescued animals.
For another, it is the home of the Bellevue plantation house, once the home of Princess Catherine Murat, George Washington’s great-grandniece who was married to a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte.
What touched me most here, however, were the slave quarters and the black church where it’s possible to press a button and hear the congregation singing.
Further proof of the city’s penchant for hanging on to its past is the quirky Tallahassee Automobile Museum, the brain child of local collector DeVoe Moore.
In addition to more than 140 cars, there are 200 other of his eclectic collections that range from pocket knives and Steinway pianos to dolls and golf clubs — not as historically significant, maybe, but still a lot of fun.
Winders is a freelance writer based in Indiana
If You Go
For more information: visittallahassee.com
• Museum of Florida History: museumoffloridahistory.com
• Mission San Luis: missionsanluis.org
• Goodwood: goodwoodmuseum.org
• The Grove Museum: thegrovemuseum.com
• Tallahassee Museum: tallahasseemuseum.org
• Tallahassee Automobile Museum: tacm.com