Past Forward

The Headwaters Heritage & Cultural Center

The Headwaters Heritage & Cultural Center coming to Fellsmere will showcase Florida’s food history with displays of cooking tools from pioneer homes. Note the flour sifter once found in nearly every kitchen, essential for baking without benefit of mixes. GREG RODGERS

New center will celebrate the flow of Florida history

Displays of distinctive Seminole clothing

Displays of distinctive Seminole clothing will help tell the story of the tribe and its contributions to Florida’s cultural history. FLORIDA REMEMBERED SOCIETY photos

While citrus groves, pastures, oaks and tall pines disappear around us, a group of history enthusiasts — with deep roots in Florida — plan to build a museum that will showcase the state’s fascinating past. They expect to break ground on the Headwaters Heritage and Cultural Center, designed in old-Florida style, later this year. Located on nine acres in Fellsmere, the northwestern Indian River County site is far removed from the cacophony of train horns and highway traffic.

Anne Sinnott, of St. Lucie Village, serves as president of the Florida Remembered Society, a nonprofit formed in 2019 to build and operate the Headwaters center. Its name derives from its proximity to the headwaters of the St. Johns River — Florida’s longest — which flows north for 310 miles before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean, east of Jacksonville.

The river and its headwaters are historically and ecologically significant, Sinnott said, so the museum will highlight the “interconnectedness of our lands, waters, people, flora and fauna.” The museum grounds used to be a citrus grove. Now, volunteers are planting native vegetation. Butterfly gardens and non-exotic trees, shrubs and flowers will eventually bloom amid trails and picnic areas on the property.

The 5,000-square-foot museum will have a gallery with space for exhibits and programs, as well as a gift shop and a Citrus Cafe with a permanent display of citrus labels and citrus artifacts. There will also be a large meeting area for cultural heritage presentations and private rentals.

An iconic part of the campus will be the 40-foot fire tower that once stood on 4th Street, near 43rd Avenue, in Vero Beach. Unused for decades, the forestry service tower was dismantled and turned over to the city of Fellsmere, which moved it to the museum site. When it is rebuilt, visitors will be able to climb to the top and get a panoramic view of rural Florida, Sinnott said.

Sinnott has more than 30 years experience in local history and art museums, as a museum educator, exhibit curator, researcher, volunteer coordinator, director of cultural and folklife programs, and with school and summer camps programs. She was a member of the A.E. Backus Museum and Gallery board of directors and board of associates. She has volunteered at the historic St. Lucie School, in St. Lucie Village, for 34 years. She taught English at Palm Beach and Indian River state colleges, for 25 years.

“Welcoming diverse peoples and meeting the needs of the underserved populations in the community will be our focus,” Sinnott said. “We will serve as a learning resource for local schools and students of all ages [to] cultivate an understanding and appreciation of Florida’s history and multicultural heritage.”

General contractor Robert Banov, architect Amy Banov, Florida Remembered Society secretary/treasurer Greg Nelson, president Anne Sinnott, and board member Brenda Burnette study the plans for the center, with a groundbreaking expected later this year.

General contractor Robert Banov, architect Amy Banov, Florida Remembered Society secretary/treasurer Greg Nelson, president Anne Sinnott, and board member Brenda Burnette study the plans for the center, with a groundbreaking expected later this year.


Souvenirs from a citrus packinghouse

This scary souvenir, above, came from a citrus packinghouse that was closing. Dolls, right, hand-made by Seminole women have become popular collectibles. GREG RODGERS PHOTOS


Board member George Hamner of Vero Beach noted that agriculture in what was to become Indian River County first took root in Fellsmere. New Zealand mining engineer Nelson Fell and other investors were drawn by the prospect of striking it rich with large citrus groves and winter vegetable farms grown in the rich muck near the headwaters. Fell organized the Fellsmere Farms Company in 1910, when his group bought 118,000 acres of swamp, west of the St. Sebastian River. By 1915, 250 miles of drainage canals had been dug and 45,000 acres of farmland had been reclaimed.

“Our goal is to build upon this early beginning to educate people on the importance of agriculture to our area,” Hamner said. Besides museum displays, the group plans school visits and public events to promote the region’s cultural heritage, as well as its agricultural history. 

The board’s secretary/treasurer, Greg Nelson of Vero Beach, said the group has raised $985,000 toward its goal of $1.65 million. When it’s open, the museum will be funded by individuals, private foundations, grants, memberships, admission fees and charges for special events.

As well as appreciating donations of any size, “we also welcome any persons interested to volunteer in any capacity, from educator to maintenance assistance, and other talents and skills,” Nelson said.

Rounding out the board are vice president Fernando Herrera, a 50-year resident of Fellsmere, and Brenda Burnette of Vero Beach, executive director of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame in Winter Haven.

Volunteer Paul Sinnott plants native plants on the grounds of the center

Volunteer Paul Sinnott plants native plants on the grounds of the center, a nine-acre expanse that used to be a citrus grove. An old 40-foot fire tower has been moved to the site. When it is reassembled, visitors will be able to climb it and see ‘old Florida’ from above. FLORIDA REMEMBERED SOCIETY


The Florida Remembered Society

The Florida Remembered Society kicked off the public phase of its fundraising campaign with a reception at the Heritage Center in Vero Beach in November. Guests included, from left, Vinnie Parentela, Ben Bailey, Mary and Charley Replogle. FLORIDA REMEMBERED SOCIETY

The museum will stand about five miles northwest of Fellsmere’s historic district, in the 16500 block of Fellsmere Grade Road, just east of the Fellsmere Reservoir — also known as Headwaters Lake or Egan Lake. The state created the 10,000-acre body of water by flooding a network of small ponds. It was stocked with nearly a million Florida bass, along with bluegill, redear sunfish and crappie. The rich environment of submerged vegetation — mostly hydrilla — has helped the bass population flourish, state wildlife officials say.

The rule for fishing Headwaters Lake is catch-and-release. Anglers can reel in more than 40 bass on a good day at Fellsmere, with a chance of snagging one weighing more than 8 pounds, according to the state. The average size is 1.5 to 3 pounds. Birders can also have a good day at Fellsmere, since roseate spoonbills and other wading birds can be seen from land on their nesting islands, sometimes in profusion. Sinnott said the museum will offer outreach programs such as field trips and camps to help acquaint visitors with the natural environment.

“The museum will strive to reflect the authenticity of the rural Fellsmere community,” she said. “We will invite visitors to reflect on the past, present and future of the surrounding area and the state.”

Banov Architects of Vero Beach designed the project; Integrity Custom Builders, also of Vero Beach, will be the general contractor.

To honor Florida’s long and significant role in U.S. history — St. Augustine was founded in 1565, decades before Roanoke, Jamestown or Plymouth — the planners intend to open the museum by the summer of 2026, when the nation will mark its 250th year. 

For more information, visit or email. The mailing address is Florida Remembered Society, P.O. Box 592, Fellsmere, FL 32948.

For questions about volunteering, call 772.267.4873.

See the original article in print publication

Janie Gould
Janie Gould

Janie Gould (editor and lead writer) is a longtime Indian River Magazine writer and creator and host of the WQCS radio show Floridays. A lifelong resident of Vero Beach, she is past president of the Indian River County Historical Society and a former director of the Florida Historical Society and the Heritage Center of Vero Beach. She has published two illustrated volumes of Florida stories as well as a cookbook.