A history museum with an intriguing past
Linda Kranert, museum coordinator for the Apalachicola Arsenal Museum, first saw the building back in 1993, when she was touring the grounds of Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee after being hired as a medical unit supervisor there.
By Janet Scherberger
Featured image above: The history museum includes a log from the mid 1800s when the buildings were used as a penitentiary.
The hospital itself was once part of a 10-building compound built in the 1830s and used as a fortress for fighting the Second Seminole War. In later years it was a supply depot and training ground for Civil War soldiers, a Freedmen’s Bureau for former slaves, a prison and, finally, a mental health hospital with a forensic wing. The former officers quarters, now an administrative building for the hospital, is in the National Register of Historic Places.
Kranert’s tour back in 1993 included a stop at the dilapidated building once used for storing gunpowder and weapons.
“The roof had caved in. There were trees growing through it and critters running around. But these beautiful columns were still there and it was just a unique, beautiful building,” Kranert said.
When Kranert heard the building was slated for demolition, she sprang into action, successfully applying for a grant for its preservation.
Fast forward to 2014, when Kranert returned to Chattahoochee from her new home in Orlando for the grand opening of the preserved building, and her former boss convinced her to come back.
“She told me I needed to finish what I started,” Kranert said.
And so she did.
Today, the museum, named for its location near the Apalachicola River, offers insight into the history of the arsenal and hospital and the region. Situated on the grounds of a mental health facility owned by the state Department of Children and Families (DCF), museum hours are limited.
It functions largely as a place to hold special events and conferences, with lunch-and-learns open to the public on the third Thursday of each month and tours available by appointment.
This summer, it will be open at least three days a week and on one weekend day, either by reservation or through general admission, as host of the Smithsonian Institution’s “Water/Ways” exhibit on display August 28 through October 23, 2021.
Permanent exhibits explore the history of the entire region.
There’s everything from a Native American exhibit to furniture from the original officers’ quarters, Civil War-era letters, an original penitentiary log, documents from the Florida State Hospital dating back to the 1800s, and a celebration of the Arsenal itself and a long-gone shot tower used to make bullets and cannonballs. At one point, the five-story tower made it the tallest building in the state.
“The museum covers a little bit of everything,” Kranert said.
A wide variety of supporting events have been scheduled around the “Water/Ways” exhibit, including a kayak trip and river clean-up led by the Apalachicola River Keepers, presentations from the water management district and the Florida State University marine lab, and a showing of two dozen photographs of the Apalachicola River by Clyde Butcher.
The museum is currently holding a contest inviting people to paint 10-inch wooden water drops that will be auctioned off after the “Water/Ways” exhibit.
“We’re doing things to involve the community and get them excited about it.”
Water is an important part of life in Chattahoochee. A dam built in the early 1800s provides a perfect spot for viewing nearby Lake Seminole, and the Apalachicola River is central to the community.
“It’s a big fishing community,” Kranert said. “People used to swim and water ski in the river. People boat on the river. A lot of our residents have homes in Mexico Beach and visit the Gulf. Water is a primary attraction to people in the area and often taken for granted because they’ve grown up with it. This is bringing more attention to the importance of waterways and the role they play in our lives.”
Kranert also hopes it draws attention to all that Chattahoochee has to offer.
“When people think about us, they think about the hospital. But there’s so much more here. It’s just a beautiful area,” she said.
“We’re so off the beaten path and such a small area, I never thought they would give it to us,” she said. “The people here are thrilled. It’s a perfect fit.”
For more information on the museum and events related to the “Water/Ways” exhibit, visit the Apalachicola Museum Historical Society on Facebook.
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