Lease approved for Cypress Knee Museum

Dr. Harris Friedman and Tom Gaskins III were given the task this year of development of a management plan for the historic Cypress Knee Museum so the threat of a wrecking ball can be removed forever. The county recently approved an 18-month lease for the property on U.S. 27 at Fisheating Creek, which gives the duo time to put the plan together.

The old museum building is still in pretty good shape despite the fact it has been used as a party hangout and place for graffiti artists to apply their talents. The first step is to create a non-profit organization.

Friedman said he was very pleased that Glades County made this commitment, “Which means that the museum will not be bulldozed as the state had agreed or stated it would do if nobody were to take it on. That’s a major commitment by the county and also a great opportunity for the county.”

Friedman said he envisions a government-private partnership that works together to find out the best way to help the museum and vice versa. The site needs to be cleaned up and some minor repairs done to the building itself.

Friedman said the CBS structure needs a new roof and the murals have been damaged by spray paint. Otherwise, the building is structurally sound and can be restored with money and time.

Another positive is the collection of cypress knees created by Tom Gaskins are still around and available to be put on display. Friedman said these are Florida Treasures.

“A good deal of the original collection of knees is still around as well as the historic signage that was one of the treasures of the museum,” he added.

Friedman calls these Florida cultural treasures. The unique signs along major roadways attracted tourists to the museum during its heyday. It first opened in 1951.

The land and the museum were sold by Lykes Brothers in 1999 when the state purchased up a large chunk of land along Fisheating Creek.

Friedman said the museum can be married to the Fort Center site and Fisheating Creek. He said the project could have economic benefits.

“The creek is the only relatively unspoiled free flowing body of water in South Florida and is the gem of Glades County,” he noted.

Also nearby is the popular Gatorama tourist attraction. The plan for the museum must be developed by next spring and accepted by the state. Eventually the group will be able to take financial donations. They will also need people willing to donate their time, energy, and wisdom to help the effort.

Friedman said the potential for eco-tourism with this project is outstanding. Glades County has for years sought to bring in clean industry and new business. One of their greatest assets is natural beauty and the environment.

“The project would be clean and compatible with the traditional culture of the county,” he added.

Friedman points out Fort Center was once a Spanish colony and robust major population center. There were a series of mounds built by the Indian people for religious and spiritual purposes.

“Fort Center was the largest of these. It sustained a substantial population for over 1,000 years, perhaps 2,000 years,” he noted.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife has created a trail that people can walk between S.R. 78 north of Moore Haven down Banana Grove Road. You can walk from there to the Fort Center site. The state also put in a number of kiosks that highlight what went on at the site and the history of it. In low water times hikers and tourists can also walk all the way to U.S. 27 and the Fisheating Creek campground and the museum. In high water they can use canoes.

Friedman said a number of artifacts from Fort Center are available at the Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida. He was able to reach a deal with the museum to provide artifacts from Fort Center at the Cypress Knee Museum.

“These artifacts are invaluable. They include thins like statues of panthers and bears and other wildlife. It was told if I can bring the museum back I could get these archaeological treasures returned to Glades County,” he noted.

Friedman would also like displays on Fisheating Creek and its ecology at the museum. He said he sees the museum as the central visiting place for tourists who want to visit the area and learn about its history.

For more information on the museum you can visit this website: http://kozmicdreams.com/tomgaskins.htm.

Special to Glades County Democrat

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