This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Silver River Museum and 26 years since the ﬁrst Ocali Country Days festival, or Pioneer
Days as it was originally called. The festival was canceled for the ﬁrst time ever last year, but the past will come to life once again this month.
Ocali Country Days is fun, interesting, educational and entertaining, so we are thrilled to have it back on the community calendar. While fall festivals abound, this one is unique. It is ﬁrst and foremost a celebration of the Florida of old. Each year on the second weekend of November, folk crafters, historical reenactors, artists, musicians, vendors and other specialists in bringing the past to life ﬁll the museum grounds. Guests can spend hours exploring displays and observing demonstrations of nearly forgotten skills.
The museum grounds are shaded by statel live oak trees and provide a welcoming setting, but it is the museum’s pioneer village that really makes Ocali Country Days special. The “village” is a collection of authentic and replica buildings that represent life on the Florida frontier. These include 19th century log cabins, a blacksmith shop, a wood-ﬁred pottery kiln and an 80-gallon cast iron kettle used to make sugar cane syrup.
The buildings are not for show. During the festival they are staﬀed with experts in period attire demonstrating the technology of old Florida. In addition to a blacksmith hammering away at the forge, there will be a potter, a syrup maker, weavers, spinners, quilters, basket makers, wood workers, Seminole dugout canoe carvers, rope makers, coopers, folk musicians, ﬂintlock riﬂe makers, colonial era trader/trappers (think early Sunshine State mountain men), historians and Civil War soldiers (Yes, they do ﬁre an authentic cannon; no, they do not use real cannon balls.). In this way, visitors can walk “into and through” the past.
Other oﬀerings include the museum, vendors selling handmade crafts and art, tram tours of Silver Springs State Park and live music. This year’s performers include the Pasture Prime Bluegrass Band, Johnny “Debt” Prestage (folk and blues) and our own local Jeﬀ Brown, who is well known for classic rock of the ‘50s to ‘80s vintage. Add to this great food that includes slow cooked southern barbecue and you end up with an eclectic and fun festival.
Ocali Country Days will take place 9am-4pm Saturday and Sunday, November 13th-14th.
Admission is $8 per person (free for ages 5 and younger), which includes entry to the state park. All proceeds support educational programs at the Silver River Museum.
Scott Mitchell is the director of the Silver River Museum & Environmental Education Center. He has worked as a ﬁeld archaeologist, scientiﬁc illustrator and museum professional for the last 25 years.
The Silver River Museum is located at 1445 Northeast 58th Avenue and is open Saturday- Sunday 10am-4pm. Visit silverrivermuseum.com or call (352) 236-5401 for more information.
Top photo courtesy of Florida State Archives. Bottom photo courtesy of Silver River Museum.