Indian Temple Mound and Museum
The Indian Temple Mound and Museum is a small but significant Florida history museum located in the Heritage Park and Cultural Center in downtown Fort Walton Beach. Listed as a National Historic Landmark on
the National Register of Historic Places, it is one of the most famous archaeological sites in Florida. In 1883 it was examined by the Smithsonian Institution and has since been excavated nine times. The rare findings of pottery, tools and weapons gave name to the Fort Walton Culture of prehistoric people.
Although today the Indian Temple Mound is considered sacred by Native Americans, excavations of the surrounding areas show that the site has been visited for over 14,000 years. Prehistoric people of the Paleo, Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian Cultural Traditions have inhabited the area which was finally settled around 500 B.C. by beach dwellers who ate seafood and developed fishing as opposed to an agricultural economy.
Indian Temple Mound Historic Site
The Indian Temple Mound today is about 12 feet tall and covered in trees and bushes which would not have grown there in ancient times. An estimated 200,000 basket loads of earth were used to create the structure. The mound is a truncated pyramid about 223 feet long by 220 feet wide. On the flattened summit stands a replica of the Temple which was both a sacred building and home to the political or spiritual leader.
The Fort Walton Beach Temple Mound is the only ceremonial mound built directly on the Gulf Coast. It is one of three mound complexes in Northwest Florida, the others being Lake Jackson Mounds in Tallahassee and Letchworth-Love Mounds near Monticello. It was built and used between 700 and 1500 A.D. as a ceremonial and political center. The mound was also used as a place of burial and pieces of funerary vessels and ceremonial Indian pottery have been found here.
Florida History Museum
The Indian Temple Mound Museum opened in 1962 as the first city-owned Florida museum. The present building opened in 1971 and houses over 6,000 artifacts of stone, bone, clay and shell that include prehistoric Indian pottery, tools and weapons as well as the finest collection of Fort Walton Period ceramics in the Southeastern United States. Exhibits also feature artifacts from European explorers, local pirates and Civil War soldiers. In her book, Exploring Florida's Emerald Coast, author Jean Lufkin Bouler devotes the entire first chapter to the museum and local archaeology.
The museum offers several hands-on displays that are popular with kids. They can grind corn on a grinding stone or see how ancient people made stone tools. Paintings by local artists show how some of the Indian pottery and tools were used. A dugout canoe appears ready to float into an inland river and a Civil War cannon seems ready for firing.
The original Camp Walton settlement actually took its name from the Walton Guards, Confederate soldiers from Fort Barrancas where the Pensacola Naval Air Station is located today. In 1861, they guarded the East Pass into the gulf. The Walton Guards made their camp at the base of the ancient Temple Mound until being fired upon by Union soldiers based on Santa Rosa Island. When they left, they buried their cannon on the site, which today is on display on the south side of the mound.
Ft Walton Beach, Florida History
More recent history of Fort Walton Beach is found in the two other buildings on the property, the Camp Walton Schoolhouse and the Garnier Post Office, located on the west side of the Temple Mound. Both structures date from the early 20th Century and have been meticulously restored.
The Camp Walton Schoolhouse was used as a one-room school for grades 1 through 8 from 1912 to 1936. Arranged as the classroom would have looked during those years, it gives a realistic picture of life in Ft Walton Beach at that time. Located behind the Camp Walton Schoolhouse is the Garnier Post Office, which was operated by E. A. Mooney and his wife Julia from 1918 to 1956.
Access to the Indian Temple Mound is via a viewing platform that is free and open to the public. Admission to the museum includes all three buildings and is $5 for adults, $4.50 for seniors and military, and $3 for children ages 4 to 17. Children ages 3 and under are free. For more information call 850-833-9595.
Note: This article first appeared January 30, 2010 on Suite101.com.
For more area history click here to visit the Heritage Museum of Northwest Florida.
You might also enjoy a visit to the Air Force Armament Museum.
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