CONSTITUTION CONVENTION MUSEUM STATE PARK
A boomtown founded in 1835, St. Joseph competed with Apalachicola as a trading port on the Gulf Coast of Florida. The original settlement lasted only nine years, but during its short life the city hosted Florida's first State Constitution Convention. The museum commemorates the work of the 56 territorial delegates who drafted Florida's first constitution in 1838. Following four more constitution conventions, Florida was finally admitted to the Union in 1845 as the 27th state. Visitors can take a self-guided tour through displays and exhibits of 19th century life in St. Joseph. Life-size, audio-animated mannequins in the replicated convention hall demonstrate the debate and process of drafting a state constitution. Museum tours are available Thursday-Monday from 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m. Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Located in Port St. Joe, off U.S. 98.
More than 150 years ago, St. Joseph was selected over Tallahassee (the territorial capital) as the site of the state?s Constitution Convention because of antagonism between East Florida and Middle Florida and because of the efforts of boomtown promoters. St. Joseph, created in 1835, was a boom town when it competed with the town of Apalachicola as a trading port. Its population quickly reached 12,000.
By 1840, it was clear that the city of St. Joseph could not compete commercially with Apalachicola; and the town laid aside its role as a commercial metropolis and served as an attractive pleasure resort. In the summer of 1841, yellow fever reached epidemic proportions in the entire territory, and St. Joseph was especially hard hit. The population declined from already fewer than 6,000 to 400 in less than one year. Many of the deserted houses were dismantled and shipped to Apalachicola for reconstruction. Some still remain there today.
The hurricane of September 1844 completely destroyed what remained of the town. The only thing left was the town?s cemetery - a grim reminder of a small town?s struggle to compete.
During this nine-year period, work to bring Florida to statehood continued. Although Florida had been an American territory since 1821, many Floridians, especially those living in prosperous Middle Florida, had long favored a change from territory to statehood. On the other hand, East and West Floridians opposed statehood because of costs, feeling that Florida was too poor to assume the financial burden of a state government.
The first of Florida?s five constitutions was drafted by a convention that met on December 3, 1838. By working diligently for 34 days, the elected delegates hammered out a framework for Florida?s future and finished their work on January 11, 1839. The Territorial Legislative Council had called the convention without congressional authorization after a referendum election in 1837 showed a territory-wide majority in favor of statehood.
On the same day the convention voted to submit the completed constitution to the people for ratification, it submitted to congress the formal application of the people of Florida for admission to the Union. This proved premature. The new constitution squeaked through the referendum by only 119 votes. During the next six years, the beleaguered Legislative Council successfully petitioned Congress for immediate admission to the Union, for indefinite postponement and for division into two territories. The question was finally resolved when congress passed an act admitting Florida into the Union on March 3, 1845, as the 27th state. Florida entered the Union with Iowa, in line with Congress? practice of admitting Northern and Southern states in pairs.