St. Clair Whitman moved to Cedar Key as a boy in the late 1800s and during his life he was involved with two of Cedar Key's major industries, the cedar pencil mill and the fiber factory. He was well known for his extensive personal collections of seashells and Native American artifacts which he displayed to the general public in the front room of his home. Mr. Whitman and his collections were featured in National Geographic magazine in 1955.
When Mr. Whitman died in 1959, he donated his collections to the University of Florida's Florida Museum of Natural History with the intention that they would be displayed in a museum in Cedar Key. The new St. Clair Whitman Museum opened its doors in 1962 and a plaque commemorating the dedication can still be viewed in the museum's entrance hall in between displays highlighting St. Clair Whitman's life.
The museum's name was later changed to the Cedar Key Museum State Park and Mr. Whitman's home, which was the first museum in Cedar Key, was donated by his family in 1991. That home, which was originally built in 1880, has been restored and is now open to the public so that they may get a glimpse of what life was like in 1920s Cedar Key.
Aside from the historic Whitman home, the main museum building also offers guests a chance to go back in time. The exhibits were designed by a team from the University of Florida, which at the time was designing all of the state park system's museums. This offers guests a unique opportunity to not only learn about the history of the town of Cedar Key, but to also appreciate the incredible handcraftsmanship that went into museum displays in the 1960s.
Cedar Key Museum State Park encompasses 18 acres and offers guests an opportunity to imagine themselves as John Muir, taking a quiet walk past large pines and oaks down to view Cedar Key's salt marshes. John Muir did in fact spend a few months in Cedar Key in 1867 and his time spent in the little town is commemorated with a state historic marker which is located on the museum grounds.