Just 35 miles north of Destin and Fort Walton Beach, the Baker Block Museum lets visitors step back in time with exhibits, historical interpreters,
log cabins and an extensive genealogy library.
Located in the small town of Baker, Florida the museum is the centerpiece of a once significant logging community. Today the town rests on the edge of the vast Blackwater River State Forest, not far from the Blackwater River State Park. With a grocery store and a gas station, it is a great supply stop for campers, canoeists, and hikers heading to the recreation spots in Florida’s largest state forest.
The museum is comprised of four buildings that were part of the original 19th Century town of Baker, Florida. The main building is the old mercantile store that still has some of the original cases, counters and store equipment. The artifacts in the museum have been donated or are on loan from local residents whose families were the original pioneer settlers of the region.
Two large exhibit rooms house items from early Native Americans to the mid-20th Century. Arrowheads, typewriters, children’s toys, Victrolas and Civil War uniforms share the space with musical instruments, textiles, dolls, and tools of Northwest Florida’s early turpentine industry (see Jean Lufkin Bouler's book Exploring Florida's Emerald Coast for an entire chapter on sawmills, logging and turpentine). All the exhibits are carefully grouped into displays that visitors walk through rather than past.
A large room off the main exhibit room houses the museum’s extensive genealogy research library. Volumes of historic documents and boxes of old newspapers, photographs, and vital records line the walls. Researchers may use the tables to spread out and take notes and browse through cemetery records, family histories, New Orleans ships’ passenger manifests, and census records dating to the 1850s.
Records and books from Florida, Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia, and South Carolina, and Native American records are housed here as well as oral histories of the area that is an ongoing project of the museum. Just some of the items include an 1832 census of the Creek Indians, Walton County and Okaloosa County newspapers dating to the 19th Century, and court and tax records from New Jersey and North Carolina.
Outside to the west of the history museum building is a small but growing pioneer village comprised of log cabins and other structures from the 18th and 19th Centuries. All of the buildings have been moved on site from nearby locations and include a dogtrot house, a log cabin, a farm corn crib, a chicken house and a blacksmith shop.
The Jackson Veneer Mill building was once part of a large lumber mill company in Laurel Hill, and the Otahite Post Office was once in the Otahite community. Originally a Native American outpost on the Indian trails of Northwest Florida, the community has today disappeared back into the Blackwater River State Forest.
As a history and heritage museum, the Baker Block Museum offers a variety of programs and services, some of which can be found on their website. School field trips and home school groups are welcome and the website offers teaching materials as well learning pages, including some pioneer recipes. Every November, the museum presents Heritage Day with special living history demonstrations.
A visit to the Baker Block Museum makes a great day trip. Bring a picnic lunch and explore the area as you learn about Northwest Florida history. The museum is free and open to the public Tuesdays through Fridays and every third Saturday from 10:00 AM to 3:30 PM. For more information, or to schedule a group tour, contact the Museum at 1307 Georgia Avenue, Baker, Florida 32531 or call 850-537-5714.
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