Sponge Diving in Carrabelle and the North Gulf Coast of Florida

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. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. 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.

The museum is honored to be the recipient of a welcome surprise of the loan of a fascinating artifact for the exhibit. A turn-of-the-century Greek sponge diving suit complete with helmet and weight belt has been loaned to the museum and is a fabulous addition to the sponge diving exhibit. The Sponge Diving exhibit also includes a recently donated authentic, brass sponge diving helmet used by a former local diver as well as a diorama of the sponge docks, early images and historical photos of Carrabelle’s sponge boats and local sponge divers plus a fascinating video of sponge diving.

After the sponge industry in Greece collapsed in the late 1800s, Greek divers brought their practices to Florida and created an extremely lucrative industry. Apalachicola, Tarpon Springs, and Key West emerged as top sponge trade ports. By 1900, Apalachicola was home to two sponge warehouses and employed around 100 men. Carrabelle developed a large sponge fleet of its own during that time. “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.

Small sailboats embarked on month-long harvesting trips in the northern Gulf. Each vessel carried several small dinghies. A pair of men worked each dingy with one man rowing as the other looked for sponges using a glass viewing box pressed against the surface of the water.

The arrival of diving technology in the early 1900s, the diving suit, brought more efficiency to harvesting. The diving suit enabled the men to walk along the sea floor to more quickly harvest sponges. By around the 1930s a combination of overharvesting, blight, and the invention of synthetic sponges led to the depletion of the sponge industry which virtually closed in this area at that time. In recent years sponge harvesting has made a bit of a comeback and locally-sourced sponges can once again be found in Franklin County.

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 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


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


The Carrabelle History Museum is excited to announce the opening of a new exhibit, “Shipwrecks of Dog Island”. 

This exhibit explores Dog Island’s rich maritime history, and especially focuses on those shipwrecks that resulted from the direct hit of the 1899 “Carrabelle Hurricane” through amazing photographs. Dog Island was a safe harbor for European explorers, smugglers, fishermen and lumbermen. In 2018, Hurricane Michael uncovered parts of two ships that were wrecked during the 1899 event. Learn why these ships were visiting Carrabelle and which of our exports they took back to Europe.

An original video featuring expert underwater archaeologist Chuck Meide describes the process of identifying the sunken ships. It informs visitors about what to do when they come across an artifact on public land whether that's a piece of a shipwreck, an arrowhead, or a piece of pottery.  READ ABOUT OPENING DAY HERE.

This exhibit was funded in part as a heritage education project by the Florida Department of State, Division of Historic Preservation and the State of Florida.

This exhibit, created by curator Joan Matey, is the first to be installed in the museum’s refurbished upstairs. Please note that the upstairs currently can only be accessed by stairs and is therefore temporarily not accessible to those with mobility issues. An elevator has been funded through a grant and through dedicated fundraising efforts and will be installed by next summer. A special video program will also make it possible to learn about the Shipwrecks of Dog Island exhibit from downstairs to accommodate all visitors during this transition period.


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. 



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.


Donate to the Carrabelle History Museum via PayPal or credit card. You do NOT need a PayPal account to make a donation. Select one of the suggested donations, or enter any amount.

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.”


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.


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)


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.