21 Historical Sites in Florida with Fun Facts
There could be more historical sites in Florida than any state in the union. Florida is a big state with many different inhabitants, influences and natural phenomena that produce some fun historical facts and anomalies.
Our travels to every county in Florida allow us to see some unique historical places that make great road trips. Our collection below is some of our favorites.
We suggest that St. Augustine is the most historical site in Florida and perhaps the country. The city itself is an attraction. The architecture, the streets, the museums and various old buildings collectively make it a complete history lesson about Florida’s past.
Of the many attractions in St. Augustine, none get more traffic than Fort Castillo de San Marcos. The fort was originally built by the Spanish in 1672. Then, 100 years later the British overran the fort and took control only to relinquish it back to Spain a couple decades later. Eventually, the United States took control of Florida (and the fort) in 1821.
During this period the various countries brought changes to the architecture, culture, and inhabitants including Native Americans and African Americans.
Other attractions in St. Augustine include the Oldest House Museum from the 1600s, Lightner Museum, and Flagler College. You must take a tour of the city in a horse-drawn carriage that will highlight the changing cultures throughout the streets.
We believe anyone truly interested in the history of Florida should make a trip to St. Augustine.
Silver Springs, Florida
Florida has well over 700 active springs. Many are state parks and all were the lifeblood of the Native Americans, settlers and travelers. These springs produce clear water feeding many of Florida’s rivers. One of the largest and most well-known is Silver Springs.
With over 550 million gallons of water per day flowing into the Silver River, the springs have been a natural attraction in Florida for hundreds of years. Today, Silver Springs State Park attracts thousands of visitors who get to see the beauty and power of a spring.
Many people will remember old movies and television shows like Tarzan, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Sea Hunt, and the James Bond movie Thunderball – all were partially made here.
Silver Springs is near Ocala, Florida in the central part of the state. This attraction is an easy day trip from Orlando, Jacksonville and about 2.5 hours from Tampa.
Bok Tower Gardens
Built on one of the highest points in Florida (295 feet), Bok Tower Gardens is a visual paradise. Located in Lake Wales, Florida, the attraction has seen over 29 million visitors since its inception in 1929. The reason goes beyond the tower.
The gardens around the tower are splendidly adorned with tropical species that are a photographer’s dream. In addition, the view into the valley surrounding the hill is magnificent. Bok Tower’s website claims there are over 126 bird species that visit the gardens. This historical site in Florida is worth a visit.
It is no secret that Key West is one of our favorite places in Florida to visit. It is true that Key West has become an international destination. However, long before the parties on Duval Street, Key West was once the richest city in America per capita. Around 1835 Key West was a bustling seaport. With plenty of industry, fishing and salvaging, the city and its founders were thriving.
Today, Key West is a hub of historical significance. Consider all these attractions in one place;
- Museum of Art and History – a year-by-year history recollection.
- Hemingway House – the award winning author spent winters in Key West writing novels.
- Key West Cemetery – A cemetery, you say? Oh, but it tells a tale of history.
- Key West Lighthouse and Keepers Quarters – climb the 88 steps to the tallest building on the island since 1848.
- Fort Jefferson
These are just a few of the many historical sites in Key West.
Key West and the Florida Keys were important islands to the development of Florida. Visitors today can find as many historical sites in this Florida town as they can fun along Duval Street.
Fort Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas National Park
- The fort was built in the mid-1800s.
- It took over 16 million red bricks to construct.
- Built to be protection for access to the Gulf, Fort Jefferson became a prison for Civil War prisoners.
- One of the most famous inmates was Dr. Samuel Mudd – supposedly a conspirator in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
The history of Fort Jefferson alone is enough reason to visit. The Dry Tortugas, a group of small islands around the fort make this a great Florida road trip. The clear clean waters loaded with coral, fish and lobster are perfect for snorkeling and diving. Some of the tour operators even offer a picnic on the beach.
We think the best way to enjoy a trip to Fort Jefferson is by seaplane from Key West. It is a 45-minute plane ride, but a 3-4 hour boat ride. More of our coverage of Fort Jefferson is here.
Historical Sites in Florida Along the Forgotten Coast
With all the glitz and glamour of Miami, Orlando and Tampa, sometimes people forget about The Forgotten Coast of Florida. While there are no specific lines of demarcation, the “forgotten coast” is generally considered to be Franklin, Gulf and Wakulla counties in the panhandle of the Gulf coast of Florida.
The remarkable thing is there are dozens of historical sites in Florida represented in these counties. Here are some of our favorites;
- Apalachicola – this fishing town was once the largest oyster producing area of Florida. Today the quaint town is a treasure of old Florida.
- Wakulla State Park Springs – this forest is anchored by a large spring and lodge built in the early 1900s. The springs feature a large swimming area along with kayaking, hiking and paddleboarding.
- St. Marks National Refuge – 65,000 acres were set aside in 1931 to keep the natural beauty and habitat along the coast of Florida. A brief walk through the refuge will quickly remind you of what Mother Nature used to challenge the settlers hundreds of years ago.
- Rt. 98 Florida Backroads – Sometimes history is today! Traveling some of the backroads of Florida you will find areas that haven’t changed in decades. One of those areas is Rt. 98 along the Gulf coast. The people, the towns and the landscape have bypassed our modern world. This section of 98 is that road.
- St. George Island – Situated just off the coast of Florida, just east of Apalachicola is one of Florida’s largest barrier islands. St. George Island is rich in history. The fish, oysters and crabs saved many starving ship crews in the 1800s. Today the serene beauty draws people to the beaches.
These are just a few of the attractions in the area. We can only imagine what challenges our forefathers had to manage as they settled this forest-laden part of Florida. The Forgotten Coast may be a reminder of days gone by.
The Seven Mile Bridge and Pigeon Key
One of the most breathtaking long bridge drives you can take is the 7-mile Bridge in the Florida Keys. The expanse runs from Marathon to Bahia Honda Key. The history involved with the bridge is a story of a dream and a hurricane.
Henry Flagler was a partner in Standard Oil Company in the late 1800s and early 1900s’ Flagler built a chain of hotels along Florida’s east coast, but he had a bigger dream. There was no way to get through the Keys except by boat.
Flagler wanted to build a railroad from Miami all the way to Key West. People thought he was crazy, but in 1905 he started the project. It took seven years, but in 1912 the Florida Overseas Railroad rolled into Key West. The railroad was a huge boost to the economy of Key West and the rest of the Keys, but it was short-lived.
On Labor Day, in 1935 a hurricane more intense than had ever been recorded struck the middle keys. The winds destroyed Flagler’s railroad, killed over 400 World War I veterans that were working on the Overseas highway and crushed everything in its path. Most of the workmen killed were housed on Pigeon Key.
Today, the 7-mile Bridge is a work of marvelous construction and a beautiful drive. However, the remnants of history can still be seen along the highway. You will see the old railroad tracks along parts of the bridge. Note that the pillars are still standing after weathering for over 100 years. You could easily consider the entire old railway as part of a list of all historical sites in Florida.
Some of the attractions along the way include;
- Pigeon Key – the key today is an island you can visit. It is hard to imagine anything or anyone surviving a hurricane with winds over 185 miles per hour. Pigeon Key is just at the east end of the 7-mile bridge.
- Bahia Honda State Park – the park is a great place to teach children about saltwater flats. Plenty of shallow water. You can see the remnants of the railroad bridge from the beach
Enjoy the drive and the reminiscing about how they built a railroad 110 years ago across these waters.
Historical Sites in Florida are Everywhere
History is everywhere in Florida. You will find where Ponce de Leon traipsed all across the state. Calusa Indians were all over the southwest with plenty of museums to document their existence and creativity. Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were in Ft. Myers. The Spanish went from the east coast of Florida to the west coast along the Spanish Trail.
Almost every city and county have historical sites in Florida. We have a wild wonderful state – we love it!
More From Florida Travel Blog
19 Island Adventures • Hidden Romantic Getaways in Florida • The Tampa to Key West Drive
• Historic Cedar Key · Hemingway’s Key West · Florida’s Nature Coast Surprises · Old Spanish Trail