Magazine article American Heritage

Florida's Surprising Past: Our 50 Picks of the Sunshine State's Top History Sites

Magazine article American Heritage

Florida's Surprising Past: Our 50 Picks of the Sunshine State's Top History Sites

Article excerpt


Great swathes of white sandy beaches and citrus groves, along with the glitter of Disney and Miami, have often diverted the spotlight from Florida s rich heritage: a history older than any other state's, chockfull of historic homes, battlefields, lighthouses, ancient Indian mounds, and forts so long standing that they have flown the flags of five different nations.

Whether it's enjoying a living history Indian village at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum in the Big Cypress Indian Reservation, wandering the streets of St. Augustine, America's oldest continuously occupied city, admiring the writing studio where Ernest Hemingway wrote A Farewell to Arms, or climbing into a replica of an Apollo capsule at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida offers a breadth of history unrivalled anywhere else in North America. Visitors can tour the homes of Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, President Harry Truman, writer William Dean Howells, and the gardens where John James Audubon drew inspiration for his "Birds of America" folio.

In creating this guide, the editors at American Heritage carefully sifted through hundreds of historic sites, finally narrowing it to our 50 favorites. You'll find a rich mix of the famous and obscure, the urban and rural, each site offering a portal into our nation's extraordinary past. We've reluctantly--left out many worthy sites, but feel that the 50 we've identified represent the best cross-section of what Florida has to offer.

To help identify sites of particular interest to you, we've marked each with an icon indicating the type of site. (See the key on this page for details.) We recommend calling or checking a site's website before visiting.

Safe travels--and remember to shoot us an email at and tell us what you liked best about your trip.



1. Torreya State Park [HH]

The park is the home to the Gregory House, a fully furnished antebellum plantation. Andrew Jackson's armies crossed a river running through the park during the First Seminole War in 1818. The remains of a Confederate gun pit are visible. (850) 643-2674 or


2. Air Force Armament Museum [M]

The museum features an extensive collection of planes and aerial weapons, including a WWII-era B-17 hombre: It also houses a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, first tested in 2003, which is often referred to as the "Mother of All Bombs" for its unrivaled explosive power. (850) 651-1808 or


3. Fort Barrancas & Fort Pickens [F]

During the Civil War, the Confederacy held Fort Barrancas while the Union held Fort Pickens. Well before that, the British and Spanish had built fortifications atop the bluff on which Fort Barrancas now sits. The post-war Fort Pickens held Geronimo, the Chiricahua Apache warrior who surrendered to the federal authorities in 1886. (850) 455-5167, (850) 934-2600, planyourvisit/fort-barrancas.htm, or fort-pickens.htm

4. Historic Pensacola Village [M][HD][LH]

The village includes the T.T. Wentworth, Jr. Florida State Museum, which covers nearly 450 years of history, while the Discovery Gallery inside the museum engages young visitors. The eight and a half acre village complex also contains the 1832 Old Christ Church, the 1871 Dorr House, and other museums, including the Pensacola Museum of Industry and the Pensacola Museum of Commerce. (850) 595-5985 or


5. National Naval Aviation Museum [M]

The museum's 300,000-square-feet building houses 150 Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard aircraft, including a number of A-4F Skyhawkjets that served in Vietnam. The most visited museum in Florida also contains a flight simulator and an IMAX theatre. …

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