Since 1971, the Heritage Museum of Northwest Florida has been a vital part of Okaloosa County historical preservation with its collection and cataloging of the history and culture of the region.
Through themes like Native Americans, Pioneering, Agriculture and Lumber and Turpentine, the museum seeks to educate and entertain with programs and events that reach well beyond the exhibits.
Beginning with the earliest Native Americans, some 12,000 to 14,000 years ago, the museum’s exhibits follow the region’s inhabitants through time and development of skills. A collection of arrowheads and Indian pottery found along the gulf coast speaks of the earliest people, while actual trees that were used in turpentine production show skills used to extract the gum in the 19th and 20th Centuries (see Jean Lufkin Bouler's book Exploring Florida's Emerald Coast for an entire chapter on sawmills, logging and turpentine).
The museum also features exhibits on commercial fishing and boat building, so vital to the livelihood of the area. A collection of household items shows what a typical Northwest Florida pioneer house would have looked like. Children particularly enjoy the Discovery Room, where they can dress up like a pioneer, learn barrel making, weaving, dig artifacts out of the sand like an archaeologist, and “go to school” in an authentic one-room school.
More than a place for exhibits, the museum is also a community gathering place for preserving crafts and skills of the past. Local groups use the museum’s large community room for tatting and lace making, basket weaving, weaving and more. In addition, the museum has an extensive research library used for genealogy research and by college students and historians.
The facility is also the depository history museum for Okaloosa County, preserving and cataloging anything of historical importance. A large storeroom houses items the museum hopes to have on display one day. In the planning stages is a state-of-the-art museum facility that will be located on the Northwest Florida State College campus and which will make the museum’s entire collection more accessible to the public.
The museum also has a long tradition of featuring the military presence of the region as exemplified by Eglin AFB, the country’s largest military installation. Speakers are often invited to present such topics as “Military in the Sunshine State,” “Aviation Training During WWII,” and Eglin AFB contributions to American’s space program.
In June 2010, the museum played host to the traveling exhibit, “The Wall that Heals,” the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. This half-scale replica of the memorial in Washington D.C. is 250 feet long and honors those military personnel who fought in the Vietnam War. In addition to hosting the Wall, the museum is working with Eglin AFB, which is home to the Air Force Armament Museum, to produce the Vietnam Project, a collection of stories and photos of that era depicting Northwest Florida’s military involvement.
Each April, the Heritage Museum hosts Saturday in the Park, a day-long popular community event that features over 100 artisans and crafters, antique dealers, historical re-enactors, storytellers, and food vendors. Other annual events include Steak on the Take, the Fall Wine Tasting and Yule of Yesteryear Festival.
The Heritage Museum of Northwest Florida is located at 115 Westview Avenue, Valparaiso, Florida, 32580. For more information about the collections, research library or programs, visit Heritage Museum or call the museum at 850-678-2615.
If you like this museum, you might also like to visit the Baker Block Museum which has a log cabin village and a genealogy library.