The Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center opened in the fall of 2002 through the support of the Friends of Weedon Island and is run by Pinellas County. It focuses on the natural, cultural, and archaeological history of the preserve. Exhibits feature interactive displays on the ancient and present-day history and the unique wildlife habitats found within the 3,700 acre Weedon Island Preserve, located on Tampa Bay.
The extensive cultural history of the preserve helped shape the land with shell middens and mounds as well as a pine timber logging industry and the patchwork of mosquito ditches made in the mid 1900s. On June 13, 1972, Weedon Island Preserve was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. In 1974 the state of Florida purchased Weedon Island and its surrounding islands and it officially opened for public use in December 1980. In 1993, the state created a lease agreement with Pinellas County to manage and maintain the preserve. The county's Department of Parks and Conservation Resources presently manages the area.
William Sears of the Florida State Museum investigated the site again in the 1960s. Sears excavated a small area of shell midden near the burial mound, and there he found many sherds of plain, utilitarian pottery unlike the decorated pottery type recovered by Fewkes. This difference in pottery types in mortuary and domestic contexts is a pattern found at other Weeden Island sites along the central Florida Gulf coast. Archaeologists now recognize that the Weedon Island site is well outside the heartland of the Weeden Island Culture, and was likely part of the Weeden Island-related Late Manasota Culture. The Manasota Culture developed around 500 BCE, 700 years before the development of the Weeden Island sacred complex. The secular component of the Manasota Culture had no connection with the secular components of heartland Weeden Island Cultures.
Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center features exhibits to help visitors understand natural Florida, ancient and modern peoples and how the two shaped each other. The exhibit gallery, Weedon Island Preserve: Connecting People and Place, with 6,000 square feet of interactive exhibits, appeals to all ages. When you explore these exhibits, you have the opportunity to travel underwater, through mangrove swamps and even back in time. Hidden worlds will be revealed on your journey, so pay close attention to the sights and sounds that surround you. The gallery is free and open to the public during the center's normal business hours.
Nestled deep within the preserve is the Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center. Dedicated to reconnecting people with the environment, the center offers interpretive hikes, workshops, exhibits and other programs for public enjoyment.
In 2011, archaeologists and volunteers excavated an ancient dugout canoe from the shoreline of Weedon Island Preserve. The canoe was first discovered by a local resident in 2001. Initial arrangements to document and investigate the canoe, revealed a pine dugout canoe measuring 12.17 meters (39.9 feet), from bow to broken stern. The Weedon Island canoe is far longer than any other dugout found in Florida and is the only one directly associated with a saltwater environment. The canoe has suffered damage from mangrove roots and oyster growth, and the sides are deteriorated. Radiocarbon testing yielded a date of AD 690 – 1010. The makers of the canoe are considered to belong to the Manasota culture, a prehistoric Native American people who hunted and fished the bay, leaving shell mounds along the coast. Interpretation on how the canoe was used is still under study and analysis.
Friends of Weedon Island and the Alliance for Weedon Island Archaeological Research and Education are partners in the preservation of the canoe, a lengthy and expensive process. A specially constructed conservation tank funded by the FOWI and overseen by AWIARE held the sections of the canoe in a special bath of polyethylene glycol. Once the slow wood penetration treatment was completed, the canoe was reassembled and put on display at the Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center.
PLAN YOUR VISIT
ADDRESS: 1800 Weedon Drive NE St. Petersburg, FL 33702
PHONE: (727) 453-6500
HOURS: (Cultural Center) Thursday - Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Closed all county observed holidays (Preserve) Open daily, 7 a.m. to time posted (approximately 15 minutes before sunset). Daily closing time is posted at the entrance to the preserve. Weedon Island Preserve is closed on the day after Thanksgiving and Dec. 25.
page information credit: Pinellas County, Weedon Island Preserve, AWIARE, Friends of Weedon Island, Wikipedia, University of South Florida
photos from the sources listed above, as well as publicly posted online sites with thanks to the contributors