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Museum ready to share its stories

Vivien Grant always has a story to tell about the exhibits in the Dunedin Historical Society Museum. She has put in a lot of hours at the Main Street building that was once the town's railroad station, so it's no wonder.

Grant, along with other society members and some volunteers, worked to prepare the museum for its opening earlier this month. They reorganized artifacts and helped with the new addition, which is a replica of the station's original freight warehouse.

The freight warehouse was torn down in 1987 because it was "about to fall down," Grant said.

Many agree that Grant is one of the museum's hardest workers and one of the most knowledgeable about the museum and its contents.

"She is the heart of the museum. She knows everything," said Laurette Barrett, who is on the society's board of directors.

"Vivien could be a storyteller," said Dr. Pat Snair, museum chairwoman. "She could just sit you down and talk to you for hours about the things that have happened in this town."

Grant, 81, has lived in Dunedin all of her life except for the 10 years she wrote radio scripts for a New York City advertising agency. For Grant, whose family settled in Dunedin before 1900, the museum is more than a civic activity; it's a reflection of some of her own history.

A black-and-white photo of Lee B. Skinner, Dunedin's first elected mayor, perches on a wall. He was Grant's paternal grandfather. Also on display is a piece of embroidery made in 1918 for Grant's Aunt Betty that calls for women's equal rights.

While the addition still was empty, Grant took a visitor through the building and stopped at a bare wall. She said it would hold an exhibit on the history of Honeymoon Island.

It goes like this:

In 1921, a hurricane came through Dunedin and split Caladesi Island. Seventeen years later, an entrepreneur, Clinton Mozely Washburn, bought the north end of the land, dubbed it "Honeymoon Island," and opened it to honeymooners in March 1940.

The island achieved international fame, as civic associations across the country recommended upstanding newlyweds for the free vacation spot. Two hundred fifty couples visited there.

But then came Dec. 7, 1941.

"Remember what happened on that day?" Grant asked her visitor. "Well that was the end of the honeymoon. No more honeymoon visits."

All the men "either (went) to war or they'd go to work in the war plant," Grant said.

Other exhibits in the new addition include the town's once-thriving orange juice industry, and Dunedin's Scottish heritage.

After completing the tour of the addition, Grant took her visitor through the door leading to the passenger station, which contains the old ticket windows.

Grant said the windows once were marked "colored" and "white."

"We're sort of ashamed of that," she said. "We don't like to tell people that."

There are no exhibits on Dunedin's African-American residents. There is just a notebook filled with newspaper clippings about a Dunedin educational program blacks attended and a book on a black man who grew up in Dunedin and went on to become a jazz pianist.

"We're going to have to go out to the community and start pulling some things together," said Snair, the museum chairwoman.

"If we can find information, we'll have an exhibit," Grant said.

Grant also remarked on the town's first ordinances that are encased in a free-standing display in the museum. One of the ordinances prohibited hogs from running loose in the streets. Animals found violating the law would be taken by the town marshal and either sold or reclaimed.

"My grandfather laughingly said they incorporated Dunedin in 1899 to legislate the hogs off the streets," Grant said.

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