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By Susan Bridenstine
Special to the Chronicle
You will want to take a new look at The Old Courthouse Heritage Museum. Kathy Turner Thompson, historical resources officer, the Citrus County Historical Society and their creative volunteers have lots of ideas and activities that make The Old Courthouse Heritage Museum the happening place in Inverness.
And it doesn’t look it, thanks to ongoing renovations, but this unique icon will soon celebrate its 100th year. So, “Don’t forget to Save the Date! Come and Celebrate as Citrus County turns 125 and the Historic Citrus County Courthouse turns 100 years old” on June 2. There will be many exciting surprises in store.
A visit to the Courthouse Museum is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. With so many residents having come here from other localities, the museum gives us a sense of place.
Built before the existence of electricity in Inverness, the structure has seen tremendous change and development of the area and has maintained a record of it through archives, artifacts, photographs and collections.
Today, the Courthouse Museum plays a vital role in our community, offering so much to so many. More than 10,000 students have visited the museum where, Kathy Turner Thompson says, “Children learn that history is tangible and make the connection.” The Museum’s Outreach Program has taken artifacts, videos, living history and displays to Citrus County Schools reaching an additional 10,000 students.
The pre-history gallery exhibit, “Footprints in Time,” covers the climate, geography, animals, and people of Florida and features the Seminoles, who tenaciously fought for this land we now call home.
Exhibits from the 1800s to recent times are depicted in the local history gallery.
“A Long Way Home,” displays the development of the area as a result of the once prolific lumber, citrus and phosphate industries.
The museum also hosts rotating exhibits. Currently, “Art Teachers Make Art” displays the creativity of Citrus County’s art teachers and will run until Feb. 17. Beginning in March, “The History of the Girl Scouts,” honoring the Girl Scouts’ 100th anniversary, will be presented until June.
The various galleries offer dual-period history lessons. The galleries that now hold the exhibits were once the offices of the sheriff, tax collector and appraiser, and the original county courtroom.
Each year, four jazz concerts and four concerts of various types of music are held in the 1912 restored courtroom.
Next in the Jazz at the Museum Series, “Sweet Sounds of Jazz,” in time for Valentine’s Day, will be presented on Thursday, Feb. 9, featuring Southern Exposure. The final concert in this series, “Made in America — Celebrating Jazz Appreciation Month,” will be April 5.
On March 15, the Concerts at the Old Courthouse series presents Jimmy Crowley, from Cork, Ireland, performing Gaelic music.
The Old Courthouse Heritage Museum also hosts a number of guest speakers in the Coffee and Conversation series. The third presentation in this series will be Thursday, Feb. 16, when J. D. Sutton will portray William Bartram, in a first-person re-enactment of the early Florida adventurer. And in the fourth and final presentation in the series, Dr. Jeffrey Mitchem will speak on the Native American/Spanish contact that occurred in Citrus County. This archaeological program will be Saturday, March 10.
The courthouse and courtroom, in particular, draw people from all over the country to see where Elvis Presley starred in the movie “Follow That Dream.” The courthouse was the center of attraction for six weeks in 1961, when throngs of fans came to Inverness for a chance to see Elvis film the courtroom scenes.
On April 20, 21 and 22, the Citrus County Historical Society will host “When Elvis Came to Town,” an original stage production in the courtroom where Elvis starred in scenes of the movie. Last year, the show was such a hit that extra showings were added to accommodate the sold-out demand for tickets.
The historic courtroom is an impressive location for events and is available to rent for weddings, graduations and celebrations.
In October “ghostly guides” lead visitors on a haunted tour of the courthouse with A Night at the Museum: Haunted History Comes Alive! Last year’s haunting drew 530 visitors in one night when Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Dessie Smith Prescott, Elvis Presley, Nancy Yulee, the Grim Reaper and many other historical figures made a ghostly visit in the family-friendly event.
The Museum Store is worth a visit in itself and carries a variety of unusual gifts for adults and children.
The historic courthouse is believed to be one of a kind in the country because of its combination of architectural styles and how it is situated on the square. It is one of only 25 remaining historic courthouses in Florida. In 1992, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Courthouse Museum is wheelchair-equipped with an outside lift and inside elevators. Hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. There is no charge to visit the museum, but donations are greatly appreciated.
Visit www.cccourthouse.org for posts of events, exhibits, and for more information about The Old Courthouse Heritage Museum, or call 352-341-6436 for information on the museum or Coffee and Conversation. For information on “When Elvis Came to Town” or the Citrus County Historical Society, call 352-341-6427.
Volunteers contribute enormously through their involvement with the Courthouse Museum and are valuable assets. “I worked because I had to,” says Joanie Knapp, a volunteer. “I volunteer because I want to.”
For an opportunity to share talent, time or knowledge, call John Grannan, president, Citrus County Historical Society, at 352-341-6427 or visit online at www.citruscountyhistoricalsociety.org.
To help ensure the future of our past with a contribution, checks may be made to: Citrus County Hstorical Society Inc., and mailed to: Citrus County Historical Society, 1 Courthouse Square, Inverness, L 34450.
Susan Bridenstine, has lived and traveled around the U.S. and now resides in Inverness. She and her
husband, Kim, lived aboard their sailboat for seven years, often sailing moonlit seas after dark. You
can reach her at email@example.com.