Silver River Museum to reopen with new exhibit, wing

File photo: Scott Mitchell, the museum director, describes some of the features of a Native American dugout canoe in the Dugout Canoes: Paddling through the Americas exhibit at the Silver River Museum in Silver Springs State Park on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

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Posted October 16, 2020 | By Brad Rogers, Ocala Gazette | Photography by Bruce Ackerman

The Silver River Museum is planning to reopen its doors to the public next weekend, and it has a new gallery and new historic exhibit to show off when it does.

The museum, located in Silver Springs State Park, will open for weekends only beginning Oct. 24-25, said Scott Mitchell, museum director. It has been closed due to the pandemic since March.

The museum opens with a new exhibit, as well as a new 3,000-square-foot wing built specially to house it. The exhibit, “Dugout Canoes: Paddling Through the Americas,” features dugout canoes “from Florida to the Amazon and out to the Pacific Northwest,” according to a grant proposal written by Mitchell for the project.

The idea for the canoe exhibit sprung from what has been described as a major find of dugout canoes in 2000 at Newnan’s Lake, south of Gainesville, Mitchell said. During the drought of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the lake’s level fell to the point that major portions of its shoreline were exposed like never before. What was revealed was more than 100 Native American dugout canoes in the lakebed. No one knows why so many dugouts were in the lake.

“That discovery was really was the spark that led to this exhibit,” Mitchell said.

The Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida originally housed the exhibit, which took two tractor trailers to move it to Ocala. Researchers who measured and tested the artifacts said the ages of the canoes range from 500 to 5,000 years old.

Mitchell received a grant from the Ocala-based Felburn Foundation for $350,000 to build the addition to the museum. Local businesses, including Innovel Solutions, Bowden Construction and the Public Education Foundation of Marion County, also contributed time and services to bring the project to fruition. The Florida Museum at UF has loaned the exhibit to the Silver River Museum for a minimum of 10 years at no charge, Mitchell said.

“It was sort of a group effort between the two museums,” he explained, adding that the Florida Museum had planned to decommission the exhibit at their facility, thus making it available to Silver River.

“It’s a wonderful exhibit,” Mitchell said. “The dugout canoe is one of those cultural building blocks. It had great implications on human progress,” changing transportation, commerce and food collection and distribution.

The exhibit will not only show ancient dugout canoes but also explain how they were found, excavated, tested, researched and preserved.

“Just over 10,000 students visit the Silver River Museum annually,” the museum wrote in its Felburn grant proposal. “If this exhibit is up for 10 years, then a minimum of 100,000 students would benefit.”

Since the exhibit opened in late February, and the museum was forced to shut down in early March, Mitchell said it is virtually a new exhibit to the community.

“It’s going to be brand new to most of the community,” he said.

The museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

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