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It can be hard to treasure the history of Florida when you aren’t sure you like it very much. I am a native Floridian. Actually, I am a fourth-generation Floridian- a rarity these days. As a child, I did not think it was a special place but my grandparents did. They hauled me all over the state throughout my childhood hoping to open my eyes to its beauty. We went fishing along river banks, took long drives through the orange groves, and stopped at every historical site on our path. Yet it was not until I had children of my own that I began to realize the distinct beauty and treasure of the history of Florida.
The vivid memories of long-forgotten places came to mind. I began to see the land with new eyes and find fresh perspectives on its rich history. I wanted to share my new appreciation with others, just like my grandparents had shared with me. Let me introduce you to my Florida, where history and nature are intertwined. Florida is a treasure waiting to be found!
The history of Florida is our family’s favorite subject. We love reading about it and taking field trips to historical places. Here in Florida, we have the opportunity to study history spanning the discovery of North America to the present day. Taking a unit study approach will lead down unexpected paths.
Creating a unit study can be as simple as pairing a destination with a piece of literature. By using state and county parks as your guide, you can easily travel back in time and bring the history of Florida alive for your whole family. Over the years, we have found the Florida State Park system extremely proficient in the preservation of historic places and their natural resources.
St. Augustine is a great place to begin because there is plenty of the history of Florida for either a broad or narrow focus. It is the first city of “La Florida” and was a critical site to be conquered for power and protection. The entire city allows visitors to be immersed in the history of exploration, settlement, and the North American territorial war. Castillo de San Marco State Park is the oldest masonry fort in North America and was constructed with very distinctive architecture. The park offers wonderful tours with hands-on history lessons. Shooting the cannon is a boy’s dream. Literature picks for this area would be Maria by Euginia Price and Osceola and the Seminole Wars by Clifford Alderman.
Next, Jacksonville is another historic city to visit. It offers a little-known landmark that played a distinctive role in the Civil War. The Battle at Olustee in 1864 was between the north and the south. Over 10,000 troops entered into a five-hour battle that ended in more than 2,800 casualties. The civil war is a reminder of healing and solidarity after a vast loss. Young and old alike can learn together about the tumultuous events that changed the course of history.
Olustee State Park performs a re-enactment every February in honor of that memorable battle. We also visited a small, traveling Civil War Exhibit and went to the Rifles, Rails and History reenactment event at Wooten Park in Tavares.
Next, I want to take you underground to the Florida State Caverns in Marianna. We have visited this fascinating exhibit of earth science twice in recent years. This particular spot can cover science and history together. It is fascinating to learn about the way water and minerals work together to form stalagmites and stalactites. It is like treasure hunting underground.
Actually, the depression era will come alive here as you learn about the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Firstly it was President Roosevelt who created the CCC as one of his “New Deal” plans in 1933 to relieve our country during the depression. For instance, most of the parks we visit now were built during the lifespan of the CCC. Funding for these projects was dissolved in 1942 as America joined the war efforts of WWII. One of our favorite books on the Great Depression is A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck.
Now, let’s travel down the St. Johns River to Blue Spring State Park. Have you been here before? It was in the wintertime to see the graceful manatee as they seek refuge in the warmer, natural spring from the colder river temperatures. The Thursby family home serves as a museum of local history.
This family was instrumental in bringing steamboat traffic to the St. Johns River. They were ahead of their time in the production of citrus and commerce between New York and Florida. Our family enjoys this fascinating period of time. There are many fabulous books, but I will narrow my choices down to Brave the Wild Trail, by Milly Howard and The Last Egret by Harvey Oyer. Both will take you on exciting adventures depicting life in Florida during the late 1800s.
Next are the towns of Enterprise and DeBary. Enterprise is home to a secret gem that I love sharing with friends, Green Springs. This is a Volusia County park that boasts wonderful oak-lined walking and biking trails that transport you back to old Florida. The spring is literally emerald green. It is the sulfur in the spring that gives it a magical quality which folks used to say had healing powers. This spring was home to fancy resorts in the late 1800s and early 1900s for those traveling by steamboat. The boats stopped right at the entrance to the resort where northerners could vacation and renew their youth.
Mr. DeBary was the sole agent for G.H. Mumm & Co., the biggest champagne company in France. His mansion was tucked away in palmettos and palm trees and saw overnight guests of American royalty.
DeBary Hall is now operated by Volusia County and is preserved in detail. Visitors can take a living tour through the exciting history of this little-known river town. I recommend the guided tour which will help you understand why this is the best-kept secret in Central Florida. Mr. DeBary was an avid collector of birds and there is a curio of taxidermy birds that includes many that are now extinct. Ask for Holly as your tour guide. I hear she gives a great tour.
A unit study on the history of wildlife in Florida can begin right here. I recommend The Story of John J. Audubon by Joan Howard, For the Birds by Peggy Thomas, and The Flower Hunter by Deborah Kogan Ray.
Tapping into your community and area resources can provide a springboard to many unit studies. These adventures might just become some of the most cherished memories of your homeschool years. I recommend you pack a lunch, take your bicycles and always keep your bathing suits on hand as you meander your way throughout this beautiful state and its rich, engaging history. Now is the perfect time to get outdoors and explore the real Florida.
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Rainbow Springs State Park Florida
Haw Creek Preserve Florida