The Florida Pioneer Museum in Florida City dates back to 1962 and the City of Homestead. The Florida East Coast Railway owned two bungalows which were the homes of the FEC section foreman and station agent. They were located on adjacent lots on the east side of S. Flagler just south of the Landmark Hotel. One of them, the station agent’s home, is the building the Museum is housed in now. The other one, the section foreman’s home, burned down. The FEC also still owned its Homestead depot, which was located on the west side of N. Flagler just south of N.E. 2nd Dr.
The station agent’s bungalow was moved in the mid-1960s to its present location, on a lot donated by Henry and Jackie (neé Edwards) Brooker, Jr. Henry Brooker, Jr.’s father, Henry Brooker, Sr., was one of three brothers who homesteaded in Florida City in 1911-1912. They were from Jupiter, Florida. His father owned Homestead Lumber Company, which later became Brooker Lumber. It was located on S.W. 2nd Avenue and 3rd St. in Homestead. His wife, Jackie, was the daughter of Bryan H. Edwards, an early mayor of Florida City and the man for whom the Florida City Campground park is named.
In the early 1960s, Herbert S. Zim, the author of the Golden Nature Guides series of books for children, who lived in Tavernier and was a collector of Native American artifacts, was looking for an organization to which he could donate his collection. A group of local leaders, mainly from 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 the Museum’s incorporation. Founding president Louise C. Ochs Hamilton (1911 – 2000), who was originally from Allentown, Pennsylvania and her husband Warren had retired to this area in the mid-1950s. At times, Louise had an all-woman slate of officers with Bea Peskoe as her vice president. Warren Hamilton passed away in 1965 and Louise married Leslie Coulter in 1970. Louise stepped down to become executive vice president in 1970 but she and her husband soon left this area, moving first to the Indian River area of Florida. Louise donated a photograph to the Museum, dating from the late 1800s, of her maternal ancestors. It hangs in the dining room of the Museum. Former South Dade News Leader publisher Ben Archer and agriculturalist Howard Bardsley provided much of the early Museum leadership and fundraising.
In 1976 the FEC Railway and the City of Homestead got into a dispute over the failure of the FEC to maintain its depot so the FEC put out a contract to demolish it. Their contractor accomplished about 1/3 of the task before local leaders, among them Henry Brooker and Jack Levy, intervened. $25,000 was raised and the remaining 2/3rds of the depot was moved from its original site in Homestead to a lot behind the Florida Pioneer Museum in Florida City that was donated by the Torcise brothers, who owned Florida Rock & Sand, among other businesses. The depot was restored at a cost of nearly $200,000 in 1988, only to be destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. What you see now is a replica of the original train depot. The depot is owned by the City of Florida City and is used for weddings and other events. It is not a part of the Florida Pioneer Museum – it is available for private events for a fee by contacting the City of Florida City.
The Museum is also owned by the City of Florida City and is operated by the Florida Pioneer Museum Association under an annual agreement with the City. It is open and free to the public from November through April and for organizations by appointment at other times.
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 displays the agricultural implements and tools that early settlers used to plow their fields with mules. Exhibits also feature Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway, schools, churches, archeology, Native Americans, and the 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 p.m. from November through April. It is also a great asset for youth and home school groups. Free tours can be arranged by sending an e-mail to Bob Jensen (bobmeda at aol.com) or calling 305-248-0976 or the Museum at 305-246-9531.