History

Founded by William Jasper Crowley & Edina Truchot

Crowley Museum and Nature Center is a 501(c)3 community organization founded by Jasper Crowley (1900-1976) and Edina Truchot (1899-1976) in 1974.  John Crowley, Jasper’s grandfather, was an Irish immigrant who came to this area from Pennsylvania. He was a farmer and a blacksmith, a sawmill owner and his wife Sylvia was a teacher. He moved to Florida hoping to improve the health of his wife and daughter. In 1884, John applied for a homestead on 160 acres near Bayshore in what was then Manatee county. The first land the Crowley’s purchased in the Old Miakka area was purchased in the name of Charles Gustave Crowley in 1887, Gus would have been 23 years old. It is not clear whether the land was bought by Gustave, or whether his father put it in his name or whether John settled the land prior to buying it.  The Crowley family owned a large portion of the land along Myakka Road and Clay Gully Road.

James Jeremiah Crowley, son of John Crowley, was a storekeeper, machinist, carpenter, golddigger, County Commissioner, farmer, sawmill owner, and a bridge tender. The store and gas station he ran is at 2009 Myakka Road next to the home he built. There are plans in the works to restore this property. In Old Miakka around the turn-of-the-century, it was “grow your own or live without”. The land in the Miakka area was known as the best grazing land around. The Crowley families grew vegetables, oranges, and rice and raised milk cows, horses, oxen, hogs, and chickens.

William Jasper Crowley, son of James Jeremiah, was a teacher, farmer, conservationist, musician, and historian. He was raised on this land that is now Crowley. In his teens Jasper worked for Bertha Palmer at the Meadow Sweet Ranch, which became Myakka State Park. Later, Allen Crowley, Jasper’s brother would become the first superintendent of the state park and would eventually be the head of 11 state parks. Jasper got his degree from the University of Florida. In 1931 he began teaching at the Miakka one-room schoolhouse. He established the county’s first hot school lunch program. He would have students bring vegetables from home and he would supply meat from his farm and they would make a stew on the wood stove in the classroom. Eventually, the students planted a vegetable garden in the schoolyard. He then became the first principal of Fruitville Elementary School. He established the first Future Farmers of America, FFA in Sarasota County. He inherited his father’s house and kept three or four homeless boys in his house all the time. They worked the farm and tended the garden. Everyone spoke of his patient and gentle ways. Camping and cooking in the woods was a Crowley family affair and Jasper loved hiking and cooking over a fire. He was known as an accomplished cook.

This land was recognized as a unique habitat from the beginning. While this land was used to make a living; the beauty of the land was respected and preserved. Jasper saw that the pioneer history on the land was integrated with the nature center, depicting use with preservation. Every act, throughout his life, was in support of enlightenment and preservation. He collected books and artifacts used to settle the land to share with visitors. He rebuilt his grandfather’s cabin using the original heart of pine and furnished it with family heirlooms and items he collected. He wanted people to see how pioneer settlers like his grandfather John Crowley had lived. He invited busloads of children to his farm where he had many types of animals. He allowed the children to touch and interact with the animals and even milk a cow.

Jasper read an article in the column “A Bird of the Week” by Audubon President and founder Edina Truchot (1899-1976).

Jasper donated an additional five acres so that Edina could build a house on the land and become the resident naturalist. Upon her death she donated her home to the center. An avid fossil collector, she noticed unusual shells in the fill on her driveway. She tracked down the company and the site where the shells were excavated. The shells turned out to be several million years old and of many species. She preserved an recorded many of them. Sadly, after her passing her vast fossil collection was stolen. Edina taught in the field some 50,000 children from 8 surrounding counties. She was the local wildlife rehabilitator for several surrounding areas. She received many conservation awards from National Wildlife Federation, Florida Wildlife Federation, Sears Roebuck Foundation, Audubon and others.  She had visited the land and wrote that it should be preserved. He called her and plans for the center began. Edina, a fiesty and straight forward woman, was a strict naturalist and insisted that nothing be changed or inhibited in its growth, no spider webs removed, no grasshoppers “accidentally” stepped on.  Jasper, on the other hand, kept the undergrowth mowed, and he also would plant things of interest for visitors such as an old turtle shell, cow bones, or a snake skin. He had worked the land his entire life and knew what would happen if left to grow unchecked. Shannon Blount was a buffer for the two visionaries. When they walked the trails it was Edina in the front, Shannon in the middle, and Jasper in the rear. Later, Jasper would tell Shannon how many grasshoppers he “got”. Jasper preferred vegetables in the garden to grasshoppers.
In time, Edina came to understand the advantages of combining her areas of expertise in botany, zoology, and fossil collecting with the ideals of Jasper. Jasper wanted to mainain the area as it had existed since his forbearers established their homestead claims, by using the land for farming, cattle rearing, building, blacksmithing, sawmilling, and other activities essential for survival. Their stewardship of the land was evident in the Crowley family philosophy of “use half and leave half”. Today, Crowley remains a center for natural and cultural history as well as sustainable agriculture.