North Florida's history and economy is rooted in the business of forestry since the early 1800s. In 1965, Congressman Don Fuqua proclaimed Taylor County, with over 525,000 acres of forested land, the `Tree Capital of the South". Commemorating this honor, Forest Capital Museum State Park opened in 1968. The museum pays homage to the area's notorious longleaf pines with nearly 5,000 products manufactured from pine. In 1972, Senator Pete Gibson¿s family donated the Cracker Homestead to the park Which was built by Wiley W. Whiddon's family in 1863. The home is a classic Cracker dogtrot design, constructed from handhewn logs, and features a clay and stick fireplace in each room.
Forest Capital Museum State Park opened in 1973. Its purpose is to interpret the history of the Florida forestry industry. One of its main attractions is a reconstructed Cracker homestead, consisting of an authentic 1864 Cracker house and associated farm buildings. This photograph show the Cracker house shortly after its move to the park and prior to its restoration.
Most of the outbuildings in the Cracker homestead were reconstructed to provide visitors to the park with a more complete view of what a late 1800s to early 1900s homestead in the North Florida pine barrens would have looked like. An exception to the reconstructed buildings is the smokehouse, an original structure built in the 1920s that was used for curing meat. It was moved to the park in the early 1970s.
Developing a new state park can be challenging, and Forest Capital Museum was no exception. The restoration, reconstruction and furnishing of the Cracker homestead buildings, the construction of the museum and the creation of exhibits and interpretive plans involved a great deal of staff time and effort. For example, in addition to regular duties, former Museum and Exhibits Supervisor Elizabeth Ehrbar and her staff, along with a group of Taylor County volunteers, hand-rived cypress shingles and re-roofed the Cracker house.
The Cracker house and its surrounding buildings provide visitors the opportunity to explore and learn about the form and function of each structure. For example, the Cracker house was built with an open hallway or 'dogtrot' and elevated on piers to allow for ventilation in the hot environment of North Florida.
The Forest Capital State Museum building was completed in 1974. The building was designed by Florida native and architect Mays Leroy Gray and built to honor the tree, both in its circular shape and in its extensive use of wood throughout. Pine, red cedar, pecky cypress, ash, red maple and other types of native woods were used in the building's construction.