Depot Museum: Central Florida History in Lake Wales, Florida

Lisa Fritscher June 19, 2012 No Comments

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Depot Museum Central Florida

The Depot Museum is well worth a visit

Dad and I love the full-time RV lifestyle. Whether we are exploring big cities or discovering tiny towns, we always find something to do. Generally, however, our tolerance for small towns is limited to just a few days. By the end of the first week, we’re ready for some big city excitement.

Through no fault of our own, we recently found ourselves stuck for a month in Lake Wales, Florida, a city of fewer than 15,000 residents. Although we were unsure how that would go, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Had we stayed only a few days, we never would have discovered the Depot Museum.

About the Depot

The Lake Wales Depot was built as a passenger terminal by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad in 1928. Business and tourism were flourishing in Central Florida, and the railroad had outgrown the original depot nearby. Although the depot expanded in 1938, passenger service to Lake Wales was discontinued in 1954. Freight traffic lasted until 1974, when it shifted to the West Lake Wales Depot.

Depot Museum Pink Stucco Building

The pink stucco building was once a passenger terminal

Recognizing the historic value of the Spanish-style, red-roofed, pink stucco building, the Bicentennial Commission began a project to convert the building into a history center. The Depot Museum, officially known as the Lake Wales Museum and Cultural Center, opened in 1976.

Today, the Depot Museum serves as a valuable resource for the preservation and sharing of local history. The museum is open Monday through Friday from 9 to 5 and Saturday from 10 to 4. It is closed on Sundays and national holidays. There is no admission fee, but donations are greatly appreciated.

Our Experience

Truthfully, Dad and I did not expect too much. We’ve been to dozens of small town historical museums that were full of heart but sadly lacking in both exhibits and upkeep. Imagine our surprise when we stepped into a sparkling clean set of buildings packed to the rafters with carefully preserved and well-labeled items.

Depot Museum Tour Guide

Sarah was an excellent tour guide

We were the only visitors that day, and we were greeted warmly by Sarah, an extremely friendly young woman who was eager to share her knowledge and obvious hometown pride. Museum director and local preservationist Mimi Hardman joined us shortly thereafter.

Sarah and Mimi gave us an excellent overview of the City of Lake Wales and its history. The first room was packed with works by local artists, and Mimi explained the details of an annual art competition along with her thoughts when selecting this year’s winner. The works highlighted various local landmarks, and both Sarah and Mimi explained the significance of many of the chosen sites.

As it was a slow day, Sarah offered us a complimentary guided tour, which we gratefully accepted. Although all the exhibits were well-marked and many informational signs were on display, we greatly enjoyed the personalized walk through local history and lore.

From quilts to antique typewriters and dollhouses to military memorabilia, every time we turned around there was something new to look at. Native American history was highlighted in the changing exhibit space, and Sarah shared a great deal of information on the various artifacts. Despite growing up in the local area, Dad and I learned quite a bit! A particular highlight was the model train layout which is still faithfully maintained and added on to by an elderly local gentleman.

Depot Museum Model Trains

The model trains were wonderfully detailed

Outside are two railroad cars, but sadly the Pullman car is not currently open to the public. It was vandalized recently for its copper wiring and, according to Sarah, needs a great deal of work. The museum is hopeful that donations will come through that will enable staff to restore the once-luxurious car.

Sarah also took us to a small doll museum just down the sidewalk from the Depot Museum. The impressive collection features hundreds of Barbie dolls from the earliest models through today.

Tips for Parents

Lake Wales, Florida doll museum

Don’t miss the doll museum down the block

The Depot Museum is well worth a drive from anywhere in the Central Florida area. The staff’s level of knowledge is truly impressive, as is their obvious love for their town. Although a personal tour might not be possible on a busy day, feel free to ask questions or simply stop and chat. If you or your kids are into dolls, ask if you can see the Barbie collection.

Take a bit of time to take the museum challenge as well. The main museum building houses dozens of dolls that represent celebrities from actors to presidents. Sarah assures us that if you can name them all, there is a prize available. She also assures us that no one has ever been able to complete the challenge!

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avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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