Cedar Key was settled in the early 1840s by Augustus Steel and flourished by 1861. With the completion of the Cross Florida Railroad constructed by Mr. David Yulee, the bustling port of Cedar Key was connected to the Florida east coast in Fernandina. The railroad carried lumber, turpentine, cotton, seafood products and passengers. Salt was an important commodity in the 1800s. During the Civil War, salt was obtained for the Confederacy from the evaporation of sea water in kettles and boilers around Cedar Key. In 1862 a Federal force attacked by sea and captured the city. The forces destroyed the kettles and boilers, depriving the Confederates of much needed supplies.
St. Clair Whitman, a local collector in Cedar Key, maintained an extensive collection of natural objects in his home. The Whitman House became the first museum in Cedar Key offering guided tours to visitors. Many years later, after his collection was moved to what is today's Cedar Key Museum State Park, the Whitman House was transferred to park property and restored to reflect life in the 1920s.
Originally called the St. Clair Whitman Museum, the repository was named after the man whose significant donation of shells, Indian artifacts and local memorabilia formed the bulk of the museum's first collection. The name was later changed to Cedar Key State Museum, and then to Cedar Key Museum State Park, as it is called today.
Various Florida dignitaries, including representatives from the state Senate to the University of Florida, were present for Cedar Key Museum State Park's grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony on February 24, 1962.
The brick Memory Walk was installed in 2001 and connects the museum to the restored St. Clair Whitman House, which was relocated to the property from downtown Cedar Key in 1991.
In 1867, John Muir, famous naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club, began a botanical walk from Kentucky to Florida. Upon his arrival in Cedar Key, he wrote in his journal: "For nineteen years my vision was bounded by forests, but today, emerging from a multitude of tropical plants, I beheld the Gulf of Mexico stretching away unbounded, except by the sky. What dreams and speculative matter for thought arose as I stood on the strand, gazing out on the burnished, treeless plain! " In April 1983, the John Muir historic marker was dedicated on the museum grounds, commemorating his historic trek.