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John Gorrie State Museum

The Apalachicola River's rich floodplains attracted many settlers during the 1800's and played an important role in the development of the town of Apalachicola.

A customs office was opened in 1821; and by the time a young physician named John Gorrie arrived in 1833, Apalachicola was already flourishing as the third largest port on the Gulf, harboring ships carrying cotton back to Europe and New England. During his residence, Gorrie served as mayor, postmaster, city treasurer, council member, bank director and founder of Trinity Church. His most significant work, however, was in medicine. During an outbreak of yellow fever, Gorrie's concern for patients ill with the disease led him to develop a method for cooling their rooms.Gorrie invented a machine that produced ice, laying the groundwork for modern refrigeration and air-conditioning. Gorrie died in 1855, unable to market his invention and witness the far-reaching effects of his discovery.

The coming of railroads in the 1850s affected Apalachicola's role in the formerly lucrative cotton trade. The town's dwindling economy was further shattered during the Civil War by a blockade that sealed off the harbor. The economy remained affected until a decade after the war, when a thriving lumber industry developed to revive the town's income. The town rode the crest of the lumber boom until 1930, when the Apalachicola River floodplain was stripped of cypress.

Facing another economic crash, Apalachicola began to capitalize on a readily available natural resource. The bay had been a source of sponges and seafood since the early settlement days, and seafood canning became the town's main industry.

Today, the seafood industry thrives with Apalachicola leading the state in the production of oysters and serving as a chief supplier of crabs, shrimp and fish. The Apalachicola Bay estuaries affect the fishing grounds of the Gulf for l60 miles, and the Apalachicola River with its delicate balance of fresh and saltwater provides a breeding ground for many marine species. With the town's continuing economic stability depending on the protection of the river system, preservation of the river has become an important statewide issue.

Today's Apalachicola is a picturesque setting of charming homes constructed in the 1800s and fishing fleets tied to piers with their daily catches.

Real Fun in the Real Florida

  • John Gorrie State Museum is located on Sixth Street in Apalachicola, one block off U.S. 319-98. A replica of Gorrie's ice machine, built from the specifications of his 1851 patent, is on display in the museum. The visitor center is open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The center is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.
  • For more information, contact John Gorrie State Museum, P.O. Box 267, Apalachicola, FL 32320 Phone: (850) 653-9347.
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