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The Crowley Museum and Nature Center

To visit Sarasota County’s Crowley Museum and Nature Center is to experience life in “Old Florida”. Among the 17 pre-1880 buildings is a one-room school house and a pioneer home to inspect and be thankful for today’s conveniences. There are acres of wilderness like the early Florida settlers lived in. The “Florida Cracker” cattle on site are descended from those brought by the Conquistadors, prized for their resistance to parasites. The cows as well as the bulls have horns. “Horse whispering” is demonstrated with semi-wild animals within their natural areas.

The facility was founded in 1968 by Jasper Crowley with Edina Truchot, Audubon Society president on property homesteaded by Jasper’s grandfather, John Crowley. John, an Irish immigrant, came to this area in 1884 hoping to improve the health of both his wife and daughter. He was a farmer, a blacksmith and a sawmill owner. His wife, Sylvia, was a teacher. The Crowley family made almost everything they needed. They grew vegetables, oranges and rice. They raised pigs, cattle, chickens and more. If you didn’t grow it, you didn’t eat it.

The 1889 Tatum-Rawls House at Crowley Natural and Cultural History Center is one of the oldest examples of Pioneer Florida architecture still standing in Sarasota County. The building is a record of southwest Florida’s rural history. You can watch on-site blacksmiths forge wrought iron objects to order as did John in the 1880’s. A working mill produces raw sugar from cane grown on site. A half-mile boardwalk through marshland designed to accommodate children as well as persons with disabilities is an adventure. Take a guided nature walk through a rare piece of undisturbed native Florida land and learn about the plants, birds, animals and bugs of five habitats including Pine Flatwoods, Oak Hammock, Maple Branch Swamp, Tatum Sawgrass Marsh and Myakka River. Maps and descriptive materials are free.

There is a Children’s Discovery Path and a Native Trail with numbered markers. It is a must-do for precocious children (and whose children aren’t?) There are more than 20 wild edible plants to taste. A friendly chicken pesters you to pet her. Classes in wilderness self-reliance and survival are a staple. You will learn how to make dirty water clean, start a fire without matches and find your way without a compass.

Primitive (tent/hammock) camp sites are available by reservation. There are ten such sites, each named for Native Americans (Indians) who occupied the land before the “white man” arrived. When you depart a site must appear as though no one had been there. In addition to the availability of these campsites the Nature Center has kayaks and equipment for the outdoorsman to rent or purchase. Classes in campfire cooking and even cardboard box baking are scheduled.

A visit to the Crowley Museum and Nature Center is rewarding. As it is both fun and a learning experience for a range of persons from cub scouting age to youthful seniors. Birthday party programs can be arranged. There are picnic areas where kids can climb a giant rope spider web or crawl into a tortoise burrow. They don’t want to leave. Visitor reviews are all “excellent” and remark that there is something for every member of the family to enjoy.

The Vision: To be the best steward of southwest Florida natural and cultural history. The Mission: To facilitate the enjoyment and understanding of Southwest Florida’s nature and history and to promote environmental awareness.

Call 941-322-1000 for directions, to reserve a campsite, set-up a birthday party, or attend a class.

Copyright © Leland Desmon for One Image Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher.

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