Phone: 941-322-1000 | Email: [email protected]
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, blacksmith and sawmill owner. 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 Crowleys purchased in the Old Miakka area in 1887 was purchased in the name of Charles Gustave Crowley, “Gus” would have been 23 years old. It is not clear whether the land was bought by Gustave, or his father put it in his name or whether John settled the land prior to buying it. The Crowley family originally owned a large portion of the land along tMyakka Road and Clay Gully.
James Jeremiah Crowley, son of John Crowley, was a storekeeper, machinist, carpenter, gold miner, county commissioner, farmer, sawmill owner and bridge tender. The site of the store and gas station he ran was located at 2009 Myakka Road. Unfortunately the store burned down in Hurricane Irma, the home he built still stands. In Old Miakka around the turn-of-the-century, life was “grow your own or live without”. The land in the Miakka area was also known as excellent grazing. The Crowley family grew vegetables, oranges, rice, milk cows, horses, oxen, hogs, and chickens. They were happy to share when they could and teach this way of living to others, exactly as we strive to do today.
William Jasper Crowley, son of James Jeremiah, was a teacher, farmer, conservationist, musician, and historian. He was raised on the land that is now Crowley Museum & Nature Center. In his teens “Jasper” worked for Bertha Palmer at the Meadow Sweet Ranch, which later became Myakka State Park. Allen Crowley, Jasper’s brother would become the first superintendent of the state park and would eventually be in charge of operations for 11 state parks. Jasper got his college degree from the University of Florida. In 1931 he began teaching at the Miakka one-room schoolhouse. While there 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. With students he would make a stew on the wood stove in the classroom. Eventually, the students planted a vegetable garden in the schoolyard. Later, Jasper became the first principal of Fruitville Elementary School there he established the first Future Farmers of America in Sarasota County. Jasper inherited his father’s house where he fostered three or four homeless boys at all times. He taught these boys to work the farm and tend the garden, thus enabling them to better care for themselves given uncertain futures. Everyone who speaks of Jasper comments on his patient and gentle ways. Jasper loved hiking, birding and cooking over a fire. He was known as an accomplished cook. All of his hobbies and knowledge he readily shared with others, focusing on children.
The 191 acres that later became the Crowley Museum & Nature Center was immediately recognized as unique and ecologically important. While this land was and still is used for agriculture; the beauty of the natural land was respected and preserved. Jasper saw to it that Florida pioneer history was integrated with conservation efforts, thus teaching early sustainable agriculture. Every act, throughout his life, was in support of environmental awareness and preservation. He amassed a collection of books and artifacts from Florida’s settlement to share with visitors, these can still be enjoyed by school groups and visitors today. One such immersive exhibit is his grandfather’s rebuilt cabin, using the original heart of pine and furnished with family heirlooms and items he had collected. His goal was for people to see how pioneer settlers like his grandfather, John Crowley had lived. He invited busloads of children to his farm where he showed him these things and introduced them to many types of animals. He allowed the children to touch and interact with the animals and even milk a cow. This is a practice we still do, serving thousands of school children per year.
Jasper read an article called “A Bird of the Week” by Audubon President and founder Edina Truchot (1899-1976). Inspired, he donated an additional five acres so that Edina could build a house on the land and become the resident naturalist. Still today, Crowley is a hot spot for birding and part of Audubon bird counts and the Great American Birding Trail. Upon her death she donated the land back to Crowley. Edina, a naturalist, taught some 50,000 children from 8 surrounding counties. All of these counties are still served by our programs. She was also the local wildlife rehabilitator and for this reason we allow responsible wildlife releases from rehabilitation centers on the property today. Edina received many conservation awards from the National Wildlife Federation, Florida Wildlife Federation, Sears Roebuck Foundation, Audubon and others. After a thorough inventory of the land and ecosystems, she concluded that it should be preserved, Jasper called upon her and others as plans for the establishment of 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 crop pests stepped on. Jasper, on the other hand, kept the undergrowth mowed, and 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 it was all left to grow unchecked. Shannon Blount came in as a buffer for the two visionaries, someone who could marry the concepts of conservation and management. In time, Edina came to understand the advantages of combining her areas of expertise in botany, zoology, and fossil collecting with Jasper’s generational knowledge of agriculture and childhood education. Jasper’s vision was to maintain the area as it had existed since his for-bearers established their homestead claims. He achieved this by using the land for ecologically responsible and sustainable farming, cattle rearing, blacksmithing, woodworking, and other activities essential for survival. The attention to 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. We use all of the resources on the property for several areas of education.