The Indian Temple Mound 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.
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.
The Indian Temple Mound Museum opened in 1962 as the first city-owned Florida museum. The present building opened in 1971 and is located at the base of the mound on the east side.
Although there are thousands of artifacts in the museum's comparative collections, only about 1000 are on display at any one time, which means you can go again and again and almost always see something different. You'll find 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 and an ancient dugout canoe appears ready to float into an inland river.
The original Camp Walton settlement got its name from the fact that the area was, at that time part, of Walton County. In 1861 the Walton Guards, Confederate soldiers mustered in the town of Eucheanna, were assigned to guard the Narrows, an area along the Santa Rosa Sound that functioned as the "back door" to Fort Pickens and Fort Barrancas in Pensacola, where the National Naval Aviation Museum is located today.
Union soldiers based on Santa Rosa Island came across what is today Okaloosa Island on scouting missions that were designed to harass the Confederates. When the Walton Guards left to join the First Florida Regiment in Pensacola, they buried their cannon near the sound. Later, the cannon was unearthed and is displayed along with other Civil War artifacts in a small building near the Schoolhouse.
More recent history of Fort Walton Beach is found in three other buildings on the property, the Camp Walton Schoolhouse, the Garnier Post Office, and the Civil War Exhibits building, all located on the west side of the Temple Mound. Both the schoolhouse and the post office 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 1927 when a room for high-school aged children was added. In 1932, the front room was divided into two classes. By then, the town was outgrowing the little school and in 1936 the schoolhouse was closed.
Today the classroom is arranged as it would have looked during those early years, presenting a realistic picture of life in Ft Walton Beach in the early 20th Century.
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. Next to it and built in a similar style is the Civil War Exhibits building.
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.
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.