Get on the Trail to discover some of the most significant sites of Native Americans in Florida.
Five centuries ago, Florida was home to approximately 100,000 native people living in hundreds of communities and representing many different cultures. For more than 12,000 years, the original Floridians left traces of their lives and work on the landscape. Their ceremonial mounds, village middens, hunting camps, and other archaeological remains are fragile messengers from this profoundly different time. Our archaeological heritage is a legacy that we are privileged to experience and obligated to protect. It is a link to people and cultures that are mostly extinct, as well as to the vibrant native cultures of the present. Thanks to the Trail of Florida's Indian Heritage, you can experience the places and the lives of Native Americans in Florida.
This tour will begin in Gainesville and travel south to Crystal River, continue down the west coast of Florida and end at Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation in the Everglades. This tour will highlight just a few of the stops covered in the Trail of Florida's Indian Heritage, Inc. brochure.
Be sure to visit the trail's website before you leave at www.trailoffloridasindianheritage.org.
The Florida Museum of Natural History, (352) 846-2000, is located on the University of Florida campus in Gainesville. Archaeology enthusiasts will especially enjoy exhibits in the Hall of Northwest Florida Waterways and Wildlife and the Hall of South Florida People and Environments. To get to the museum from I-75, take exit 384 and travel 1 mile east on State Road 24 (Archer Road). Turn north (left) on State Road 121 (SW 34th Street). Travel to the third traffic signal. Turn right on Hull Road. The entrance to the University of Florida Cultural Plaza is on the right side of Hull Road.
Get back on Archer Rd. (S.R. 24) and go west for 36 miles (from I-75) to U.S. 19/98 and travel south for 33 miles to Crystal River Archaeological State Park, (352) 795-3817 located two miles north of Crystal River off U.S. 19/98. See where coastal dwellers relied on the rich marine estuaries of Florida's Gulf Coast and traveled to Crystal River for the burial of their dead and other religious and political purposes for thousands of years. The visitor center showcases artifacts from Crystal River and related sites, and also includes a video.
The next stop is the May-Stringer Heritage Museum, (352) 799-0129, in Brooksville located 30 miles south of Crystal River. This 14-room, four-story Victorian mansion, built in 1856, houses more than 10,000 artifacts including many from excavations on the mounds at the Weeki Wachee Springs attraction. To get to the museum from Crystal River take U.S. 19/98 south to U.S. 98/S.R. 50 into Brooksville and go straight on Alt. 50. As S.R. 50 turns left, the museum is one block on the right past U.S. 41.
Head south to the Suncoast Parkway (toll road 589) for your next stop at Safety Harbor Mound, (727) 669-1947, located in Philippe Park in downtown Safety Harbor. From I-275 take Hillsborough Ave. west (Exit 47) and stay on S.R. 580 to Philippe Pkwy., which becomes Bayshore Boulevard. Jutting out over Old Tampa Bay, this ancient mound continues to stand as silent sentry over the history of the people that came before us. It was at this location that the Tocobaga thrived. Just four miles south of the mound is the Safety Harbor Museum of Regional History, (727) 726-1668, offering a look into the area's history from prehistoric to modern times. Dioramas and displays tell the story of Florida's first people and the arrival of Spanish explorers in the 16th century.
Start the day at Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center, (727) 453-6500, in St. Petersburg along the western shores of Tampa Bay. From I-275 go east on Gandy Blvd. (Exit 28); turn south on San Martin Blvd., then east on Weedon Dr. N.E. The preserve will be the third turn on the left. This 3,164-acre nature preserve was home to at least four prehistoric cultures. Perhaps the most celebrated group is the Weeden Island Culture whose distinctive ornate pottery was first recorded on Weedon Island (the cultural period is spelled differently from the island) in 1924 by Jesse Walter Fewkes of the Smithsonian Institution.
Visit Portavant Temple Mound at Emerson Point Preservenear Bradenton, (941) 776-6885, the largest temple mound in the Tampa Bay Area overlooking the scenic Manatee River. Take I-275 across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and stay right for U.S. 19, taking Business 41 into Palmetto. Turn right on 10th St. W. and continue to Snead Island. On Snead Island turn right on Tarpon Ave., left on 17th St. W. to the park. Emerson Point Park has witnessed extensive human use for more than 4,500 years. The most striking evidence is the 1,200 year-old temple mound and surrounding village middens. Interpretive signs describe the ways of life of former inhabitants and Florida pioneers.
Next, explore the South Florida Museum, (941) 746-4131, which houses the world-renowned Montague Tallant Collection of Florida artifacts. Known as one of the premier collections of Florida aboriginal artifacts, the collection includes pottery, shell tools, lithics, beads, gold, silver and other metals dating from the Paleo-Indian period to the arrival of the Spanish explorers. To get to the museum, take I-75 south to S.R. 64 (Exit 220) west about seven miles to downtown Bradenton. Turn right on 10th St. The museum is two blocks on the right.
Still have some energy? Head to Osprey, approximately six miles south of Sarasota off U.S. 41, and explore Historic Spanish Point, (941) 966-5214. Experience more than 5,000 years of human history on this 30-acre National Register historic site featuring shell middens, a pioneer era homestead and formal gardens. In "A Window To The Past," walk inside a 15-foot high midden where you are surrounded by a thousand years of human occupation.
Take a drive over to Pine Island next. From I-75, take exit 143 west on Pine Island Rd. (C.R. 78) through Matlacha to the end. Take Stringfellow Rd. north to Pineland Rd. and turn left. Continue along Waterfront Dr., past Tarpon Lodge to the gate on the right. Here, you'll find the Randell Research Center at Pineland, (239) 283-2062, where you can observe archaeological excavations in progress and find out why Calusa people constructed mounds and canals.
The tour will end with a stop at one of Florida's Indian reservations, the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, located 40 miles south of Clewiston and approximately 75-miles from Fort Myers. From Fort Myers, take I-75 south to C.R. 833 and turn left (north). Follow the signs to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, (863) 902-1113. The museum has the largest collection of Seminole clothing worn during the 1900's. Besides clothing, there are many artifacts of everyday life that reflect the past of Native Americans in Florida.
For a copy of the Trail of Florida's Indian Heritage brochure, or to arrange a guided tour, please call 877-621-6805.