By Gary McKechnie

When you drive along Highway 98 in Fort Walton Beach, there's a chance you may miss something that is really something.

On the north side of the 100 block of the Miracle Strip Parkway (aka Highway 98) is a large earthen mound built by the Pensacola culture Indians who lived here and built this around 800 CE. (Or perhaps it was 1600 CE; no one knows for sure).

Either way, where now stands the Indian Temple Mound Museum was a center of religious political and social activity that is still considered a sacred burial ground. One of the largest mounds found by salt water, this mound has a footprint of about 50,000 square feet, a width of 223 feet, and a height of 12 feet.

Most of us probably have driven by a place we’re familiar with, see that it’s gone, and then remember that and the other places that preceded it. Here that feeling is a little different. When you come here you’re in the middle of a trendy retail district and then you turn around and see evidence of Florida before it was Florida.

The people who lived here were 1,000 years away from electric light and cars and airplanes and radio and television. They were completely unaware that Spanish explorers would arrive in 1513 and that wars would be fought for possession of their land (and all the land to the Florida Keys) and that a new nation would be created from this shore to the Pacific Ocean.

Can you imagine them seeing that the place where they lived and worked and worshipped and hunted and fished is in the center of a commercial district?

It’s a strange juxtaposition, and fascinating.

The Indian Temple Mound and Museum showcases prehistoric American Indian artifacts and weaponry as well as a few hands-on exhibits on later Native American and Floridian history. The museum is part the Fort Walton Beach Heritage Park & Cultural Center and your admission fee also includes the Indian Temple Mound Museum Camp Walton Schoolhouse Museum and Garnier Post Office Museum.

This is one of three surviving mound complexes in the Panhandle; the others are Tallahassee’s Letchworth-Love Mounds Archaeological State Park and the Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park.

When you go...

Indian Temple Mound Museum
139 Miracle Strip Parkway SE
Fort Walton Beach, Fla.