”Yes, this museum is educational, but because of the walk through history, it entertains your imagination with what once was and the possibilities of what will be."
As you walk up the steps to enter the Marion County Museum of History and Archaeology, you are walking on and into part of the area's history.
The museum is a research and teaching institution located in the McPherson County Government Complex at 307 SE 26th Terrace, Ocala. East Hall, where the museum is housed, was once part of the Florida Industrial School for Girls, a reclaimation school for delinquent females.
The school was established by the Florida legislature in 1915 and opened in 1917. The industrial school originally accepted girls from 9 to 17 years of age, but later accepted only those ages 12 to 17.
East Hall was designed by architect Frank Parzaile and was built in 1936 by the Public Works Administration. It was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on July 28, 1995.
According to the museum website, http://marioncountyarchaeology.com/mcmha/mcmha.htm, "Our displays, exhibits and programs cover 13,000 years of human history in this wonderful county."
The website marioncountyfl.org states that Marion County got its official start when “Gabriel Priest, the first state senator from Marion County, represented Alachua County when he introduced a bill to create the new county. The territorial legislative council authorized the formation of Marion County. Richard Keith Call, the territorial governor, signed the law on March 25, 1844.”
Territorial Florida became a state on March 3, 1845.
Visitors to the museum will see artifacts found in the area and photographs and documents of events and places that have been a part of Marion County since 1844. The rooms are set up in a timeline fashion so visitors move from the earliest times to the present as they walk through the displays. Visitors can tour the museum on their own or take a guided tour.
The guides and those who are on hand to answer questions, along with those who work behind the scenes arranging programs and other aspects to keep the museum interesting, are all volunteers. They often are board members of the Marion County Historical Association, the parent organization of the Marion County Museum of History and Archaeology.
Zach Pagels started volunteering at the museum as part of his community service requirements for high school. Pagels spent his summer break from his studies in historical archaeology at the University of West Florida working on redoing displays at the museum, answering the phone and giving guided tours to visitors.
Pagels, who is a member of the association board of trustees, said he came to Marion County at about age 2. He clearly loves working at the museum and sharing his knowledge with visitors.
"I would recommend that others who are interested in the history of the area volunteer,” he said, adding that he hopes to one day to be a curator of a museum.
“The best thing about the museum is that it is focused on our local Marion County history,” said Hoyalene Parramore Thomas, also a member of the board of trustees.
Thomas can trace her roots back to Gabriel Priest and others who lived in the area from the early 1800s. She described the museum as “a work in progress,” as the displays and content are always being worked on and changed.
She said the museum is a good place for those who have moved to the county in recent years to learn about the area’s long history. She also said it should be on every Marion County resident's list of places to visit, no matter how long they have lived here.
Thomas also said that since the history of Marion County is so vast, she hopes one day there will be a museum annex so more artifacts and information can be displayed.
Price Landrum, president of the board of the association, has given tours at the museum three days a week for about four years. His roots also run deep in Marion County, as one of his early ancestors can be found in the Camp Izard area in the 1850s.
Landrum said that although the venue's research library is small, “it contains items that someone researching the area should check out, rather it be the history of the county or genealogical research.”
If the venue does not have what the researcher is looking for, volunteers on duty will be able to point them in the right direction, he said.
His sister Marylin Corsiglia also is a volunteer at the museum.
"Everyone takes something home from the museum tour,” she said.
Corsiglia pointed to a wall that contains original paintings and said museum visitors “are always fascinated in the art.”
Jimmy and Shirley Flaherty, who have lived in Marion County for four years, recently visited the museum for the first time. They said they found it online when they were looking for places to visit. Both said that everyone they talked to was helpful, friendly and "very positive.”
On that recent day, volunteer and board member Richard Cardinali was giving a tour to members of Graceway Church in Leesburg.
Cardinali said he came to Marion County 22 years ago and has learned what he shares on the tours from reading "Ocali Country" and other publications, and what he has learned from others.
"Ocali Country: Kingdom of the Sun, a history of Marion County, Florida" was written by Eloise Robinson Ott and Louis Hickman Chazel and was originally published in 1966. It is available for check-out through the Marion County Public Library System.
Ocali according to the book, "Where peninsula Florida narrows before making a broader thrust downward toward the blue waters of the Gulf Stream there was once a country called Ocali. The first Spanish explorers made their entrance into the region described by them as the 'Province of Ocali.' A letter dated July 9, 1539 (during the Hernando DeSoto expedition) is the first ever recorded from Florida and the earliest mention of Ocale (Ocali)."
Ocali is believed to mean the "Big Hammock."
Cardinali started the tour with the group sitting around a large table in the research area as he gave an overview of Marion County through time. He then walked the group through the displays, explaining each one and telling why each of the eras represented has played an important part in the history of the area.
When he explained to the group that Seminole Indians did not come to Marion County until the 1830s, you could see the shock on people’s faces as many did not realize that although the Seminoles are a very important part of Marion County, they are relative newcomers when you look at the complete timeline.
Linda McKenna, trip coordinator for the church, said she is “always on the lookout for interesting places to bring the group” and would be returning with others in the future.
Judy Delk, another of the members of the board, coordinates programs at the museum the third Sunday of every other month beginning in January.
Many of the programs are lectures, such as on subjects ranging from the history of golf to Paradise Park to the Dixie Highway. Some of the Sunday afternoon gatherings, however, are more hands-on, such as building a sailboat and learning how pioneer women from the area would have lived.
The programs begin at 2 p.m. in the nearby Green Clover Hall, at 322 SE 28th Ave. A reception at East Hall follows each presentation. Admission is a requested $5 donation (free for association members). Upcoming programs include the Historic Ocala Preservation Society presenting "The History of Ocala and HOPS" on Sept. 16 and the history of "The Great Fire" and City Fire and Rescue services on Nov. 18.
"I always try to schedule programs that will be of interest to Marion Countians," Delk said. "With every presentation, I personally learn something new.”
Cardinali said there are two types of museums – educational and entertainment.
”Yes, this museum is educational," he said, "but because of the walk through history, it entertains your imagination with what once was and the possibilities of what will be."