Crystal River Day Tripping: The Coastal Heritage Museum
A recent exploration of the Coastal Heritage Museum in Crystal River’s historic section was overdue. I have long admired the rock construction building located at 532 N. Citrus Avenue. It was built in 1939 with WPA labor. The exterior is constructed of natural limestone that was quarried locally, but what is inside?
Waunee Endsley, a local teacher and volunteer docent, was very helpful, showing me the ceilings made of magnolia wood. “Magnolia trees are very thick with sap, which dulls a lot of saw blades,” Waunee explained, “so the ceiling is somewhat unique.”
It sure it beautiful!
Waunee was available to answer any questions and to help me find the depth of history that is available in this Nature Coast gem.
This building was the first permanent home for the Crystal River City Government and was used as city hall until the early 1970s. The room I walked into was the city government, including the Mayor’s office. To the left, the second room held the city’s fire truck and and the back room sported the Police department, complete with a second generation jail cell!
A diorama of Crystal River before US 19 was extended here was eye-opening when accompanied by the audio “tour” available by pushing a button above the diorama. There used to be a circus that stayed winters across the street from the museum where they would work on their acts before residents and visitors.
The entire side of Citrus Avenue south of the US 19 intersection was destroyed by fire in the 1920s, but the Citrus Avenue north of US 19 was unaffected, so the shops on that side of the highway are housed in buildings that date back to the 1800s and early 1900s.
I was impressed with the breadth of subjects covered in this small museum. From historic schools to famous visitors and colorful residents of Citrus County, a lot of information is available here, much of which needs to be read to appreciate the whole story.
Having driven north on US 19 to get to Crystal River for nearly all of my visits here, I was fascinated to learn that development of Crystal River began from the north, coming down from Tallahassee. Red Level was developed first as a turpentine camp called Cedar Grove. Workers came from near and far to work the turpentine camp and a beautiful church was built in 1893, which has been moved to the South Florida Fairground Yesteryear Village in West Palm Beach.
Turpentine and Cedar tree harvesting were the first two major industries in west Citrus County. The area was once covered with huge red cedar trees which were harvested and milled into pencils for the Dixon pencil company. A display shows each part of the pencil. A mill was located nearby.
There have been many floods of this part of Florida’s Gulf Coast, including Crystal River and the museum’s building. There are some photos of the no name storm of 1993 and its damage to this area.
Some interesting books on local history are available for purchase and donations are gladly accepted.
The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. The museum is completely volunteer run, so its hours are short: Wednesday through Saturday from 11 am to 3 pm. It is free to visit and group tours are welcome.