Sponge Diving in Carrabelle and the North Gulf Coast of Florida

Friday, October 1 through Thursday, October 31

There is no charge for admission but donations are gladly accepted. The museum and exhibit are open Wednesdays 12-5 pm, Thursdays thru Saturdays 10 am – 5 pm and Sundays 12 – 5 pm. Carrabelle History Museum is located, one block from Carrabelle Harbor, at 106 SE Avenue B, Carrabelle, FL.  For more information, contact 850-697-2141.

Funded in part by the Franklin County Tourist Development Council.

Sponging diving started in the Bahamas and moved west to Florida in the early 1800s. From Key West it spread up the Florida Gulf Coast. “By 1879, Carrabelle had the largest sponge fleet in Florida next to Key West”, according to David Shubow in the Tequesta: The Journal of the Historical Association of Southern Florida.

Florida’s tough, soft sponges were considered to be some of the best in the world. Sponges from the northern Gulf were denser than other Florida sponges because of the colder water. Many of them were harvested just off of Dog Island.

Eventually “new” diving technology revolutionized the industry. Heavy brass helmets, diving suits, and weights – weighted belts and lead in the shoes would enable divers to walk along the sea floor. They would breathe through a long tube connected to the boat above. While this enabled divers to stay down longer and harvest more sponges it was also much more dangerous.

This temporary exhibit will explore the history of sponge diving in Carrabelle and the area. Come and learn about the migration of Greek sponge divers to and from Carrabelle. This exhibit will include history photos of Carrabelle sponge boats and local sponge divers, an old, brass sponge diving helmet and more.

World’s Smallest Police Station

SMALL BUT MIGHTY

In 1947, Albin Westberg became Police Chief and the only day policeman in Carrabelle. He and his night officers had to protect the citizens, answer calls, pump water for the tugboats at the City Dock, catch speeders on US 98 (old 319) and tend to all prisoners in the jail at City Hall. They needed help. In 1953 the phone company installed a phone in call box bolted to the wall of the building on the northeast corner of Tallahassee Street and the Highway. The officers could answer the calls while out walking the beat. Then they began to have problems with folks making unauthorized long distance calls on the police phone. The vandals loved to mess it up, too.

Johnnie Mirabella, St. Joe Telephone and Telegraph's lone Carrabelle employee at the time, first tried moving the call box to another building, but the illegal calls continued. He also noticed the policeman would get drenched while answering phone calls in the rain. So when his company decided to replace a worn out phone booth with a new one, he decided to solve both problems at once by putting the police phone in the old booth.

On March 10, 1963, Mirabella and Westberg, with the help of Deputy Sherriff Wilburn “Curly” Messer, moved the phone booth to its current site on U.S. 98 under the chinaberry tree. The Chief hired a man to do the lettering to mark it as the City of Carrabelle Police Station. It worked well and increased the efficiency of the two man police force. They could park the patrol car in the shade, do required paperwork, listen for the phone while watching for speeders and other suspicious characters. The booth did protect the officers from the elements, but some people still snuck into it to make long distance calls. Eventually the dial was removed from the phone, making it impossible for folks to call out. It continued to serve the police of Carrabelle for decades.

Sarah Purcell, the host of the television shows “Real People,” was visiting her father and discovered it. She had to feature it on the show in 1991 where they dubbed it as the “World’s Smallest Police Station.” Later that year Johnny Carson had a lively interview with then Carrabelle Police Chief Jessie Gordon Smith on the “Tonight Show.” It has been featured on other television shows, " That’s Amazing,” "Ripley's Believe It or Not", "The Today Show” and in the movie "Tate's Hell".

Collections & Exhibits

This exhibit space tells the story of Carrabelle’s earliest history from prehistoric to Carrabelle’s boom time. Some of our most fascinating, local artifacts are housed here including our Native People's exhibit; a diorama of the local skirmish during the Civil War created by one of our talented artists, Fred Aman; a large, original Civil War-era salt kettle; the founding of the Town of Carrabelle; the history of the railroad in Carrabelle; the actual surveying equipment used to produce the 1957 map of the City of Carrabelle; and fossils like sharks' teeth and ancient oyster shells.

Especially of note in this room is our growing collection of artifacts from Carrabelle’s “first people” who lived here over two thousand years ago. The Apalachee tribes were a prehistoric people who had many villages along the shore of St. George Sound and all the local rivers in those times. Their Council House and Temple Mound was located in the Tallahassee area near Lake Jackson. Over 40,000 members of the tribal family lived between the Apalachicola and Aucilla Rivers. Archaeologists have found evidence of villages, middens (garbage piles) and burial grounds within the city limits of Carrabelle and several others in the area. Carrabelle is thought by some to have been an important trade port during that time, as it was after the Civil War, because of its natural deep water port at the confluence of three rivers.

This room features many photos of Carrabelle families and artifacts actually used by “Miss Ruth” Varner, “Miss Janie” Brown and other local treasures. One of the highlights of this room is the photos of families from the pioneer days to the present. Photos, scrapbooks, and genealogy records about many of Carrabelle’s families. A butter churn, an icebox and an old wash board are reminiscent of earlier times when home life was hard without modern inventions.

The Carrabelle High School exhibit highlights high school sports trophies across the decades, starting from the 1930s, including football and girls’ basketball. Vintage cheerleader outfits, letter sweaters, stadium cushions, band jackets and cafeteria trays show the transition from Carrabelle Mullets to Green Devils and finally the Panthers. High school yearbooks, school team and activity photos, and school portraits are featured as well.

Also displayed in this room are iconic Carrabelle businesses from years past including Burda’s Drug Store, Julia Mae’s, and White Kitchen Café to name a few. Photos, menus, a large commercial mixer, old Coca-Cola bottles bottled in Apalachicola, a vintage cash register, a slot machine, and more are filled with nostalgia for the beloved restaurants and shops.

Here we find a room filled with artifacts and photos of various industries such as seafood, logging, naval stores, mechanics and gas stations that have supported the economy of Carrabelle through the years. Highlights in this room include a shrimp net with a turtle excluder, oyster tongs, handmade nets, sponge diving helmet, and oars. Interesting equipment from Jackson's Standard Station, Ganders Hardware and Bragdon's Garage each have a story. Milton Cox's cat face cutter was use to get the rosin out of pine trees to make naval stores such as turpentine, tar and pitch.

This exhibit is filled with items and photographs of the people, places and events important to the residents of Carrabelle. We have items such as the medical bag of the beloved midwife "Miss Tillie" Miller. Local heroes are highlighted, like famous baseball icon, John Jordan "Buck" O'Neil. Buck was a famous first baseman and manager for the Kansas City Monarchs, was one of the first black scouts in Major League Baseball, and was the first black coach in the Major Leagues with the Chicago Cubs.

A special display pays tribute to several local men who served, some of whom also sacrificed, in our country’s Armed Forces. The exhibit honors several men from Carrabelle who served in the military representing WWI, WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

In addition, the original "World's Smallest Police Station", featured on The Today Show, Ripley's Believe It or Not, and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, can be found here.

The SS Tarpon was a huge steam-powered cargo and passenger ship that traveled from Mobile, AL to Carrabelle, FL every week in the early 1900s. It sank on September 2, 1937 during one of her weekly voyages. At the time of her sinking, this 160-ft steam ship had made the journey every week for over 30 years - over 1,500 voyages - with the same captain, Captain Willis G. Barrow. This exhibit shares the harrowing story that cost at least 18 people their lives, and the heroic efforts of a crewman, whose bravery and determination saved many others.

SHIPWRECKS OF DOG ISLAND

THE LEGEND OF TATE'S HELL SWAMP

CARRABELLE HISTORY LIBRARY

ABOUT THE CARRABELLE HISTORY MUSEUM

The Carrabelle History Museum is a project of the local non-profit organization, Carrabelle CARES. It started as an idea of the Carrabelle Waterfront Partnership found in their document, "Charting the Course for the Carrabelle Waterfront: A Vision Plan". It is sponsored by the Carrabelle History Society and the City of Carrabelle with support from the Franklin County Tourist Development Council with a community partnership from the Franklin County Public Library. Our museum is located in the Old Carrabelle City Hall. It opened in April of 2009. 

 

An anchor historical building in the heart of our historical downtown. The museum has 4 rooms to display its collections, a workroom/office for the volunteers to process the incoming artifacts and a nice long hallway for special seasonal displays. The City conducted its business here for 75 years. It was named in honor of the local brick mason who created each block and brick with hand-crafted local materials. It was built in 1933 during the Depression as a work program to employ locals. The structure is a two story brick vernacular style of that period. Mr. Justiss is often called the "Father of Carrabelle" since he built over 119 businesses and homes throughout the 1930's when the town was rebuilt at its current location after being ravaged by storms and fires. We are gradually rehabilitating the building with the help of the City and the Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources. The building has undergone extensive restorations and the museum plans to expand into the newly refinished upstairs exhibit area very soon.

Carrabelle’s Old City Hall wins a 2020 Florida Preservation Award

One of the most long standing efforts of the Carrabelle Waterfront Partnership over the past 12 years has been the restoration of Carrabelle’s Old City Hall and its reuse as the Carrabelle History Museum. The partnership between the City of Carrabelle and the Carrabelle Historical Society was recognized on Thursday, July 30, 2020 by the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation with a 2020 Florida Preservation Award.

These Florida Preservation Awards recognize people, organizations and communities who have worked to protect Florida’s extraordinary history and heritage. The Florida Preservation Award “nominations were made by the public with recipients selected by a jury from around the state representing a variety of backgrounds and experiences” according to the press release from the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. “Although we are living in unprecedented times, it was important to us to continue our work recognizing excellence in historic preservation in our state,” said Florida Trust Board President Friederike Mittner. “Thank you to our award winners for all they do for preservation in our state.”

Now home to the Carrabelle History Museum, Carrabelle’s original City Hall was constructed in the1930s Depression Era. “The restoration of this vital part of Carrabelle’s history was and is an important achievement”, says Tamara Allen, Director, Carrabelle Historical Society and Carrabelle History Museum. “The mission of the Carrabelle Historical Society is to preserve the history and culture of Carrabelle and to serve as an inspiration for the future. Rehabilitating the Old City Hall, such a significant anchor in the heart of our historical downtown, is a meaningful part of that mission.”

This project’s success was due to a true cooperative effort of many partners - the Carrabelle Waterfront Partnership, Carrabelle Historical Society, Florida Department of State–Division of Historical Resources, the City of Carrabelle, MLD Architects and Godfrey Builders. According to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, “The project promotes the concept that sustainability of a historic site begins with its ability to engage its community. The Historic Carrabelle City Hall is not only significant for its long-standing association with the history of Florida, but also because of its past and future legacy of a commitment to serve, teach, inspire and support both current and future generations.”

ABOUT CHM

Welcome to the Carrabelle History Museum!

We opened in April of 2009, and since then, residents of the community have generously shared their pictures, genealogy, memories, household and work items to build our collection. Our first artifact was the medical bag of beloved midwife Tillie Miller, donated by Rita Brown Millender and John Brown. From then Carrabelle History Museum has grown to house thousands of items in its collections. Gratefully, we still receive wonderful local artifacts.

The museum is located in the Old Carrabelle City Hall, built by local mason Marvin Justiss in 1933 during the Depression as a work program to employ locals. The museum has exhibits rooms to display collections, a large entry hall for special displays, and a workroom/office for the volunteers to process the incoming artifacts. We have several displays that highlight Local Heroes; the Steamship Tarpon, which was key to building our community in the early 1900's; and Carrabelle's "First People", indigenous people who lived here thousands of years ago.

HELP US RAISE FUNDS FOR AN ELEVATOR

Take a chance on this beautiful 2-piece crystal candle holder to help us get an elevator to the second floor of the Carrabelle History Museum.

We have applied for a historic preservation grant from the state of Florida but we need to raise $13,500 in matching funds for the elevator to the second floor. The good news is we have already received $7,500 in donations for the elevator fund. And the even better news is there is plenty of opportunity for you to help!

Raffle tickets are $1.00 a piece or 6 for $5.00.
Drawing to be held December 5, 2021, just in time for Christmas.

You can also make donations online via this link
(You do NOT have to have Paypal to use it. Just please add "Elevator Fund" in the notes section)

SUMMER EXHIBIT EVENT

This summer, The Carrabelle History Museum presented a special exhibit featuring Carrabelle High School memorabilia. It is part of the new and expanded Family Life Room with high school sports trophies across the decades starting with the 1920 football team and the 1937 state champion girls’ basketball team. There are old cheerleader outfits, letter sweaters, stadium cushions, band jackets, and cafeteria trays marking the transition from the Carrabelle Mullets to the Green Devils, and finally the Panthers. Old pictures and artifacts of local drug stores and popular restaurants are alongside Coca-Cola memorabilia. Family genealogy notebooks and school yearbooks to peruse offer a trip down memory lane. 

PLUS we hosted a special CHS Reunion & Alumni Reception on Saturday July 31!  See event photos below thanks to Rod Gasche and Joan Matey.