Take a Walk into History at the Florida State Fair
On the outrageous meter, Cracker Country at the Florida State Fair doesn't compare with cheesy fried enchilada funnel cake or the latest thrill-seeking midway ride. And that's OK with Ruthie Tidwell.
Ruthie, a Cracker Country docent for more than 20 years, remains enchanted with the living history museum's effect on visitors. She recalls an eager second-grader who toured the historic village shortly after a family vacation to Jamaica. The girl later told her mother Cracker Country was better than Jamaica.
"It's the children," says Ruthie, who is one of 125 museum docents, almost all of whom live in Hillsborough County. "Just seeing how much they are absorbing it."
Cracker County, which also appeals to adults, again will be a low-key but highly popular feature at the Florida State Fair, which runs Feb. 8-19, 2018. The fairgrounds are at 4800 U.S. Highway 301 N. east of Tampa, off Interstate 4.
Some say Cracker Country is beloved because it's unique among the annual fair's offerings. The museum for decades has provided "a slice of rural Florida history" to fair guests. It also offers year-round tours for students and groups.
During the Florida State Fair the exhibit is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on most weekdays. It's free with admission to the fair.
The goal is to recreate life in a typical Florida village in the 1890s. Thirteen buildings dating from 1870-1912 now stand on the site, including homes, a schoolhouse, a general store, a blacksmith shop, and other structures. Docents dress in period costumes, and visitors can churn butter, make candles, and listen to music popular in the 1890s, among other activities.
"Cracker Country has been a Florida State Fair tradition, welcoming guests since 1979," says Cheryl Flood, executive director of the Florida State Fair Authority. "We're honored to have this historic gem as part of the Florida State Fair offerings for visitors to enjoy and learn more about the history of Florida's rural past."
Cindy Horton, the museum's director, says part of Cracker Country's charm is that it differs from the rest of the fair. "I have heard many people describe it as an oasis," she says. "It's quite a contrast from the lights, sounds, and colors of the midway, and I think it illustrates just how much variety of experience we offer at the Florida State Fair."