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Posted: Friday, February 27, 2015 12:00 am

Florida City’s Florida Pioneer Museum dates back to 1962 and the City of Homestead.  The Florida East Coast Railway owned two bungalows like the building the Museum is housed in now and a Depot on Flagler Avenue (earlier Railroad Avenue) like the one behind the Museum now.  They were constructed in 1904 as the first buildings in the City.

  A Florida Keys collector of Native American artifacts was looking for an organization to which he could donate his collection.  A group of local leaders mainly from the Homestead’s library board organized what was to be the Florida Pioneer Museum with Irving Peskoe as its pro bono attorney.  Donations were slim and so Irving actually paid most of the fees associated with incorporation.  Founding president Louise Hamilton at times had an all-woman slate of officers with Bea Peskoe as her VP until she stepped down to executive vice president in 1970.  Former South Dade News Leader publisher Ben Archer agriculturalist Howard Bardsley and grove owner Herman Lucerne provided much of the early Museum leadership and fundraising. 

  In the year of our country’s bicentennial 1976 the FEC Railway and the City of Homestead got into a battle over lack of maintenance of the Depot and the Railway put out a contract to demolish it; their contractor accomplished 1/3 of his task before local leaders led by Jack Levy intervened.  $25,000 was raised and the remaining 2/3rds of the Depot were moved from its original site in Homestead to a lot behind the Florida Pioneer Museum in Florida City donated by the Torcise brothers.  The missing 1/3 was later added using a grant from Miami-Dade County.  Then Hurricane Andrew in 1992 leveled the Depot down to its floor and platforms.  The current Depot is a replica constructed after Hurricane Andrew. The station agent’s bungalow had been moved years earlier to a lot donated by the Henry and Jacqueline Brooker family.  Thus two of the three of Homestead’s earliest buildings and much of its heritage ended up in neighboring Florida City.

  The Museum is owned by the City of Florida City and operated by the Florida Pioneer Museum Association under an agreement with the City.  It is open and free to the public from November through April and for organizations by appointment at other times.

  Historically, the Museum has been the recipient of the generosity of the Rotary Club of Homestead and the Woman’s Club of Homestead and the Junior Woman’s Club.

  Visitors to the Museum explore life as it was in South Florida in the early 1900s with rooms furnished as they would have been then with artifacts donated by local residents.  Children find many items that they can touch and operate such as early telephones, cash registers and kitchen equipment.  A tool room honors the men and women who made agriculture our primary economic force when they plowed with a single mule and planted using the most basic of tools.  In the very early days entire families worked the land and harvested the crops often processing and packing them in the backyards of their homes.  Families’ field crates honor their contributions.

  Exhibits also recognize the FEC Railway, schools, churches, archeology, Native Americans, and a very strong and varied early tourism industry.

  The two docents on duty are volunteers and the Museum is always looking to expand its docent corps.  No previous knowledge of local history is necessary; training is provided.

  The Florida Pioneer Museum offers families a free excursion into our past every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon from 1:00 to 5:00 pm from November through April.  It is also a great asset for youth and home school groups.  Free tours can be arranged by emailing bobmeda@aol.com or calling 305-248-0976 or the Museum at 305-246-9531.

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