Micanopy celebrates 200 years, the historical museum reopens


Volunteers sifted through the boxes, finding pieces of history to display. Old photographs, century-old tools, paintings and more.

“Once you start learning about Florida’s history, it’s fascinating,” said Jean Stream, volunteer at the Micanopy Historical Society Museum.

After being closed last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum is set to reopen to the public on Friday as the city – with claims as the oldest inland settled community remaining in Florida – celebrates its bicentenary.

Ancient history

Although the city of Micanopy was officially established after the Spanish surrendered control of Florida to the United States 200 years ago in 1821, European settlers arrived there earlier and Native Americans long before that.

Nearby, Paynes Prairie recorded Native American settlements 15,000 years ago, and many tools used by these groups, such as arrowheads, can be found inside the Micanopy Museum.

More local history: At 15,000 years old, Paynes Prairie is “North Florida’s most important natural feature”

The Timucuan Indian tribes settled in the prairie region in the 1500s, around the same time that the conquistador Hernando de Soto landed near Tampa Bay in 1535 and headed north on a trail. which led him to present-day Alachua County.

The Muskogee Indians first arrived in the Micanopy area in the early 1700s, fleeing Georgia and the Carolinas as the English and Spanish fought in these territories. The Muskogee, also known as the Creek Indians, called those who fled to Florida “runaways.” The Spanish word for runaway, cimarron, is passed into Muskogee and English as “Seminole”.

The Seminoles traded with the colonizers who mainly focused their efforts on the coast – the Spaniards settled in St. Augustine, the state’s oldest city, in 1565. Former black slaves also joined the Seminoles in Florida where they mostly lived freely in tribes separate from the other Indians, but fought side by side in battle.

Meanwhile, the Seminole seat of power in Alachua was Cuscawilla, the town of the great chief known as the Cowkeeper. His successor, King Payne, established a new tribal capital of Payne’s Town, and the wealth and prestige of the nearby savannah earned it the name of Paynes Prairie.

supreme leader

When Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1821, everyone residing in the territory was granted the same rights as under Spanish rule. The United States has also agreed to honor all Spanish land grants.

In anticipation of the transfer, a group of beneficiaries, including Moses Levy, made plans to colonize the Paynes Prairie area. Levy and his partners at the Florida Association of New York drew Jewish settlers to the area in an attempt to create a safe haven for oppressed European Jews.

The owners negotiated with the Indians for the consent of their own settlement, which would include a new town where Cuscawilla was located. The owners chose to call the colony Micanopy, “supreme chief” or “principal chief”, after the young chief of the Seminoles.

The first building erected at Micanopy in March 1821 was the Wanton Trading Post, named after a highly regarded Spanish subject, Edward Wanton, who would manage it.

Peace would not last for longtime Indian settlers in north-central Florida. In 1832, Congress passed and President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, designed to move Indians from the eastern United States to reservations west of the Mississippi River. The Seminoles were assigned to Oklahoma, and Chief Micanopy had to make a decision on what to do.

Life in wartime

Chief Micanopy was not in favor of a war with the United States until he consulted with other leaders, including Chief Black Seminole Abraham, whom Micanopy was close to. By 1835, a consensus had emerged among the Seminoles that they should fight against the United States in order to retain their land and for the black Seminoles to retain their freedom.

During the Second Seminol War, which lasted until 1842, Indians ambushed a US Army supply train, burned down the Levy plantation, and burned down the sugar cane plantations. Two fortresses, Fort Defiance and Fort Micanopy, were built within the city limits. They are not yet standing like the oft-visited Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, but a recent archaeological dig has revealed the remains of a fort near the town’s downtown, located on private property.

Two battlefields are also located in the town, where the battles of Micanopy and Welika Pond were fought.

Despite some early victories against the Americans, the Seminoles could not compete with their numbers and resources. After Chief Micanopy and other warlords Osceola, Wild Cat and John Horse were captured and imprisoned, Micanopy was sent on a steamboat to Oklahoma where he continued to lead the Seminoles who were transferred there. . Osceola died in prison from malaria. Wild Cat and John Horse escaped their imprisonment and then rallied their Indian and black supporters to freedom in New Mexico.

All railways lead to Micanopy

After the war period, white settlers began to build in and around Micanopy to take advantage of the fertile land. Oranges, sugar cane and turpentine are among the products grown and transported out of the region. Prior to the 1880s, when railways were built closer to town, goods were transported by boat along Lake Alachua – the then inundated Paynes Prairie area, to the north shore where there were branch lines. .

In 1875, a settler and his family arrived in Micanopy from Georgia to start a business in a new location. John Thrasher III, 92, said his great-grandfather was among those who traveled to Micanopy during this time.

“Many families came to town after the Seminole wars and created plantations,” he said.

In the late 1880s, the development of several railway lines connecting Marion County to Bradford County boosted agriculture in the area, attracting even more settlers.

The building at 607 NE Cholokka Blvd., which currently houses the Historical Museum, was once the Thrasher Warehouse. It was built in the 1890s just off the Atlantic Coast rail freight line, for easy access to the storage of surplus goods from the nearby Thrasher General Store.

The store and other historic buildings that remain in downtown Micanopy can easily feel like stepping back in time, aside from the well-paved roads and modern automobiles that visitors see today.

Thrasher said the city was once buzzing with workers unloading trains and working the farms during the day. In the evening, people lined up in the streets to gather around a drink and have fun.

This was especially true during World War II, Thrasher said, when gasoline and tires for cars were hard to come by, and people chose to stay in town on weekends instead of heading to other places like Gainesville.

On the silver screen

Even the movie industry was charmed by Micanopy’s quaint and quaint appearance.

The 1983 film “Cross Creek” starred Mary Steenburgen as author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who lived near town. Thrasher said that although Rawlings was a calm person, she often sat around campfires with men from the town who feasted on their stories and inspired some of her own writings.

And 1991’s “Doc Hollywood,” starring Michael J. Fox, gave many residents the chance to be extras in the film, about a plastic surgeon whose car troubles brought him in the midst of ‘a sleepy town on its way to lucrative work in Beverly. Hills. In the movie, the city is said to be located in South Carolina.

A new “Doc Hollywood” exhibit featuring memorabilia from the film is among the new additions to the Historical Museum, along with an exhibit to commemorate the bicentennial.

Thrasher recalled that filming took place during a cold winter month, where he watched Fox perform a scene downtown.

“We watched this scene about 12 times,” he said. “And we decided that was enough film for us.”

Archiving, parades and festivals

Today, Thrasher spends much of his time in the Micanopy Archives building, where he and other volunteers digitally record the materials they have, including the cemetery archives, copies of photographs, and archaeological records. . The entire collection is made up of donated materials.

“A lot of people who grew up here were interested in sharing what they knew,” Thrasher said.

Some photographs show traditions that have spanned decades, such as Micanopy’s Independence Day Parade. The city’s annual fall parade and festival were both canceled in 2020 during the pandemic, but there have been conversations among local leaders about whether the Independence Day parade can take place again. in July. The fall festival has already kicked off for 2021, and an upcoming play on Micanopy history is also set to take place for a bicentennial celebration in November.

Monica Beth Fowler, who operated the Delectable Collectibles jewelry store downtown for 41 years, said she missed not having the festivities last year. She said business was starting to pick up and over the past year many Floridians have visited Micanopy as a nearby ‘stay’ destination because the area is not a COVID-19 hotspot.

She said traders who run second-hand stores, cafes, antique stores and art galleries all see themselves as friends rather than competitors.

“We are all here because we love Micanopy and we love each other,” she said.

The Micanopy Historical Society Museum will open Friday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and will be open during those hours throughout Memorial Day weekend, including Monday. During the month of June, the museum will be open from Wednesday to Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

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Patrick F. Williams