Historic Cedar Key on Florida’s west coast was once the center of trade and prosperity as the end of the line stop from Fernandina Beach. It was the transport destination for fish, sugar, spices, timber, pine resin, turpentine and salt, not to mention the many travelers who used this railway to travel to the north. This important part of Florida’s past has been preserved at Cedar Key Museum State Park.
Cedar Key Museum State Park costs $2 but is worth a million bucks. Its vast collection of memorabilia and displays from the 19th century, gives visitors a window into life on the key as it was then. Florida was still a vast frontier and sparsely settled. Sugar plantation owner and Florida senator David Yulee (Check out his state park here) built the Cross Florida Railway to Fernandina on the Atlantic Coast. Now he could ship his sugar up the Homosassa River, up the west coast of Florida and finally by railroad to the rest of the country.
But it wasn’t just Yulee who profited from the railroad. Salt at the time was a major commodity to the Confederate soldiers, lined up on northern fronts, eager for salt supplies to keep meat fresh during long campaigns. Huge metal cauldrons as big as Buicks lined the shores in Cedar Key. They boiled the seawater on the beaches and made salt.
It wasn’t long before Union troops took advantage of the lightly guarded seaport from Mississippi and invaded. Union soldiers destroyed the metal vats, effectively cutting off an important supply to the troops. The grounds of Cedar Key Museum State Park hold the remains of one of these huge metal vats. The fires that boiled the waters must have been enormous.
Besides the giant metal salt caldron, the museum grounds contain two separate buildings that house the treasures and history of Cedar Key. The first building houses a gift store, that’s where you pay the state park officer the entrance fee. Around the rest of the museum are dioramas and models displaying life as it was during the earliest days and during the frontier days. Arrowheads and other pre-Columbian artifacts are here as well as more modern artifacts from colonial times.
The other building is the St. Claire Whitman House. St. Claire Whitman (yes, Saint Claire was his first name) was one of Cedar Keys many residents. His collection of artifacts and home is preserved on the property and was the first museum in Cedar Key.
For more information on this great part of Florida History, visit the official website here.