History, nature and wildlife intersect at the Tallahassee Museum, telling a story about the culture and natural history of Florida’s Big Bend region
The Museum’s first location in the McMillan House
From its first temporary location to the nationally recognized, accredited, 52-acre institution it is today, the Museum's educational commitment to the region and active learning has strengthened and broadened. Now providing programs for children, schools, families and adults, it serves a population of over 435,000 people in a 13-county region, promoting knowledge and understanding of the region’s cultural history and natural environment, and inspiring people to enrich their lives and build a better community.
In the late 1950s a group of visionary educators and interested citizens saw a need for children to enjoy hands-on experiences while learning about wildlife, nature, history, culture and other countries and customs. To meet this need, they established the Tallahassee Junior Museum, which received its charter on July 24, 1957, and held its first annual meeting on October 29, 1957. Early supporting organizations included the Service League (Junior League of Tallahassee), the Leon County School Board, the Association for Childhood Education, and the National Foundation for Junior Museums (Natural Science for Youth Foundation)
The Museum opened downtown in the old McMillan house in 1958, hosting a busy schedule of exhibits, programs, classes and field trips. School classes benefited from loans through its Treasure Chest program and a Pet Lending Library.
In 1960, the board voted to purchase 10 acres of land on Lake Bradford. The site promised exciting opportunities to explore nature, conservation and science.
The lakeside property provided space for the preservation of regional community buildings, beginning in 1961 with the creation of the Big Bend Farm exhibit.
The board of trustees established a building fund and announced the first architectural competition ever held for a children’s museum. A panel of judges selected a distinctive design featuring a series of buildings with upswept roofs connected by covered boardwalks. The architects camped on site for inspiration. They described their concept as visually representing the enthusiasm, happiness and playfulness of youth.
Museum buildings under construction 1961.
On March 25, 1962, Museum founders and community supporters gathered to dedicate the four new buildings, which included three for exhibits: the Phipps Gallery, the Founders Building, and the Fleischmann Natural Science Building. The fourth, a classroom building named for Katherine Nunez, became the Museum’s Preschool, a nationally accredited program established in 1968.
In 1972, after the purchase of additional acreage, the small animal collection began expanding to the current Wildlife Florida exhibit displaying native animals in, large natural habitats.