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Stop 9: The 1961 Pioneer Florida Museum & Village

Copyright © 2024

    The essence of preserving one’s history may have been inherent to early homesteaders. Most migrated to Florida to start new lives and their stories were bursting with adventure, arduous work, and multi-faceted endeavors. The Pioneer Museum & Village holds an enormous hands-on collection of the history of Dade City, Pasco County, and frontier Florida. It is located at 15602 Pioneer Museum Road, Dade City, Florida. This is not a walking stop as it is not in Dade City proper; please consult the website for hours and accessibility, and for now, enjoy the QR.

    The museum was chartered in 1961, and includes 21 acres of authentic exhibits which tell the story of pioneer Florida life through 1945. The vintage exhibits encompass relocated structures and homes that were moved to the museum and revitalized to illustrate daily life and history.

     Casper Rhode, a farmer from Iowa was drawn to the San Antonio, Florida area and moved with his family in the 1890s. He paid $2 per acre for 40 acres, and some 70 years later, his story continues to unfold. Just before his son Rudolph’s death in April of 1960, Rudolph and sister, Annie Rhode donated 37 of their father’s antique vehicles and tools to the Pasco County Fair Association (a spring surrey, two wagons, cane mill, farm tools, and hand tools are samples). This generous gift set into motion a spark for the creation of a museum and village.

      The Rhode’s donation intrigued rancher, Daniel A. Cannon and Extension Agent James Higgins and furthered a passion for artifacts that illustrated pioneer life. From there, some 87 community members eventually organized as members, and on April 28, 1961, the museum was chartered by the State of Florida as The Pioneer Florida Museum Association, Inc.  The collections were housed at the Pasco County Fairgrounds for many years.


As you will discover on Stop 56 which celebrates the Friedman-Larkin building in Dade City proper, William Larkin was named a “Great Floridian” and served as county attorney and as a lawyer in the area from 1938 to 2000. His beloved wife, Emily Rerick Larkin who was the daughter of an editor of the Dade City Banner and an accomplished Tampa Tribune journalist herself and later law clerk for her husband, donated six-and-one half acres in her husband’s memory to the charter group which enabled them to move from the fairgrounds to their very own site, north of Dade City.

      Several years later, Emily donated an additional ten acres. The land was adjacent to Little Everglades Ranch, one of the extraordinary ranches which the Larkin family put together, perfecting breeding techniques from the Florida scrub cattle that were part of Open Range and utilizing Brahma and Santa Gertrudis cattle.

     Governed by a Board of Trustees, the Museum is dedicated to educating, promoting, fostering, and encouraging public interest in Florida life and history from pioneer times until 1945. To accomplish its mission, the Association acquires, collects, preserves, restores, exhibits, interprets, researches, and publicizes items of historical significance, aimed at depicting pioneer life in Florida through an organized community effort. The Association has established a museum that recalls the basic, simple values of our forebears, asserts the dignity of labor, and emphasizes the value of craftsmanship.

     The longstanding trustees and board have managed a facility and community treasure. Donations over time such as those from Emily Larkin, Albert Smith, Paul Rhinesmith, and Richard & Carol Lee Madill Lockey, and so many more  have built a collaborative and synergistic non-profit institution that preserves and teaches history. The museum works with the Florida Humanities through a grant from the National Endowment for Humanities that has provided additional resources and knowledge. As a recipient of multiple National Smithsonian Institute  Grants they have offered topics of cultural and specialized history that have enlightened and enhanced understanding of history.

Link to site of Museum: 

  • Background

    Casper Rhode, farmer from Iowa was drawn to the San Antonio, Florida area and moved with his family in the 1890s; paid $2 per acre for 40 acres; some 70 years later, his tools used to plow fields, etc. became the start of the Florida Pioneer Museum.

  • 1960

    Just before his death in 1960, Rudolph Rhode and his sister, Annie Rhode donated 37 antique vehicles and tools from their father’s collection to the Pasco County Fair Association (spring surrey, two wagons, cane mill, farm tools, and hand tools. The Rhode’s donation interested rancher Daniel A. Cannon and Extension Agent James Higgins and attracted community members which eventually organized with 87 charter members.

  • 1961

    Museum was chartered as non-profit and operated on grounds of Pasco County fairgrounds in a tin shed to display relics and artifacts of pioneer family life. With 25 trustees and ten honorary, admission was 25 cents for children and 50 cents for adults and open on Sunday afternoons. The group launched fund drive headed by Robert D. Sumner, Esquire with goal of $50,000. SLOGAN: PRESERVING THE PAST FOR THE FUTURE.

  • 1966

    Pioneer days featured beard-growing contest, silent films, and square dances.

  • 1969

    Annual Antique Exhibit and Silver Tea originated by Libby Peel and Christine Douglas.

  • 1975

    Moved to site on land donated by Emily Larkin with a Butler type prefabricated building (50 feet wide and 100 feet long) on a six-acre tract on Lemac Road. Dade City Mayor John S. Burks purchased first membership to Pioneer Florida Museum.

  • 1975

    Labor Day was first festival with ‘Pioneer Day.’

  • 1976

    Old Lacoochee School became first building in museum’s collection.

  • 1976

    The 1896 Trilby Depot was added.

  • 1977

    The 1905 Enterprise Methodist Church building was added.

  • 1977

    The old Cummer train was relocated from fairgrounds to museum.

  • 1978

    Doll collection of 36 Florida First Ladies’ dolls and inaugural gowns were created and presented by Tampa Doll Club. It was said to be a first of its kind in Florida.

  • 1982

    Pioneer Florida Museum Cookbook with pioneer recipes was published (new edition in 1992); local postmaster on hand with special cancellation stamp commemorating Pioneer Florida Day.

  • 1982

    The 1860’s Overstreet house was open for exhibit.

  • 1986

    Magazine, Southern Living did a feature in the March issue, page 50 on the Pioneer Museum by Dianne Young, Travel Editor for Southern Living.

  • 1992

    The J.L. Bromley Shoe Repair Shop was donated by his family and added as a working exhibit.

  • 1997

    Alice Fryer Hall Memorial Gate and the 1893 Pioneer Merchandise Store (Smith General Store) were new features.

  • 1998

    Albert Smith, retired teacher, donated $40,000 out of his sincere devotion to the museum.

  • 2006

    The history center was moved from downtown Dade City’s Atlantic Coastline Depot to the Pioneer Museum (Aka the Cassie Page Dowling and Carolyn Dowling Falls Memorial History Center.

  • 2006

    The 1910 Blanton Packing House was added.

  • 2007

    Donation of a 1947 Dade City Fire “Ladder” truck and Big Al, 12-foot stuffed alligator mount as well as partnership with Dade City Trolley Tours & Citrus History were in place.

  • 2009

    Hosted first model train show with model train layouts, and railroad memorabilia in the Mabel Jordan Barn which has 12,000 square foot showroom.

  • 2011

    Celebrated Fiftieth Anniversary with Pioneer Days Festival!

  • 2016

    Richard & Carol Lee Madill Lockey’s tool collection was added with tool and funding donation by the Lockey’s for an environmentally controlled room to display tools that could also be used for board and training.

  • 2017

    Smithsonian Exhibit on “The Way We Worked”… represented the first time a Smithsonian exhibition was on display in East Pasco County.

  • 2018

    Smithsonian Sports Exhibit entitled “Home Town Teams” in conjunction with the Florida Humanities Council selected the Pioneer Museum for the prestigious program.

  • 2020

    Cabin donation received 156-year-old Florida style cracker house.

  • 2021

    Reenactment of The City Massacre at museum for 186th anniversary of the Battle of Black Point indicative of ongoing reenactments at the museum.