SEBRING — It’s been over a hundred years since a pottery manufacturer from Ohio was so taken with the beautiful landscape that would eventually become Highlands County, he founded the city of Sebring in 1912. Sebring is now home to Florida’s first state park, Highlands Hammock State Park. It is also home of the oldest continuously used race tracks in the country, which also happens to be the site of the 12 Hours of Sebring race.
But it wasn’t until 56 years later, on August 9, 1968 that the state of Florida finally issued Articles of Incorporation giving life to the Sebring Historical Society (SHS).
The idea of having a historical society was formed back in 1962. Some Sebring High School graduates met after their alumni reunion and began to discuss and reminisce about the past. Soon they were having regular, organized meetings. Then, in 1967, a board of directors was formed and the very first officer were elected. Sebring’s very first Postmaster, Ray Graddy was elected as the Historical Society’s first President.
Now that they were an official organization, discussion turned to where were they going to keep important historical documents? The archives were kept in the basement of the Sebring police station beginning in 1973 and they began actively collecting memorabilia by 1976. Unfortunately, this room was prone to flooding and had no climate control.
Twelve years later, in 1988, Woodrow Harshman gifted the historical society $85,000. Harshman was a member of Sebring Historical Society. The SHS worked out a deal with the Sebring Public Library to build a place onto the back of the library for the archives to go. The library agreed and in 1991 the Sebring Historical Society moved its archives to a new 1,700 square-foot, climate controlled space where is still housed today.
“We’re the depository for the historical records of Sebring,” said Jim Pollard, vice president of the Sebring Historical Society. While the archives chronicle the history of the city and various entities, the museum part of the Sebring Historical Society houses items to teach the history of the area and to show visitors artifacts from Sebring’s history. Currently on display, visitors will see many artifacts tied to the history of Highlands Hammock State Park. Where else can you find an authentic ranger’s uniform or 80 year old sheet music containing a song about the park?
Even though they are the Sebring Historical Society, they cover surrounding areas as well. For instance, Highlands County has only existed since 1921 when DeSoto County was split into Charlotte, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and DeSoto Counties. Anyone tracing the history of a person or business past 1921 would have to search archives in DeSoto or Hardee county, maybe even farther.
Tracking down pertinent historical information from five or more counties is a large undertaking. To help with this, Pollard had the idea of doing a Centennial Certificate program. With this program, residents of Highlands County would research and come up with proof that their family has been in the area since or before 1921. Documented information from genealogical records, census records, and similar documentation would prove that a particular family was here over a hundred years ago. This proof would then become part of the historical archives and the family would receive a Centennial Certificate that would act as proof of their heritage in Highlands County. “We would automatically have a really great record on some pioneer families that we didn’t even know we had.” said Pollard.
“How do you know where you’re going, if you don’t know where you’ve been?” asked Pollard. He talked about the importance of looking back on history and knowing what came before. “It’s all they’re going to have to look back on, because they’re not making much history.”
Pollard says the fast pace of today’s society and young people being involved in so many activities can prevent families from spending time with each other. Pollard and team use the museum as an interesting and fun way to present items and information from Sebring’s history to young people and adults alike. This includes special exhibits, such as a race themed one during the 12 Hours of Sebring and the newest exhibit charting the history of Highlands Hammock State Park.
This makes the Sebring Historical Society, and other organizations like it, so very important. It’s important to know what came before and how we got here if we are to understand the best way to move forward. Sebring has a rich and fascinating history that one only has to peak behind the curtain to see it.
A celebration is planned for Saturday, Oct. 13 at the Jack Stroup Civic Center, 355 W. Center Ave. in Sebring. The event will be catered by Chef Mac of The Palms.