Boca Raton Tourist Attraction of the 1950's
Although the most famous Boca Raton tourist attraction was Africa USA, Boca Raton did have another attraction. Ancient America, which was open from 1953 until 1958, featured displays of Native American culture and artifacts.
Why build an attraction about Native Americans in the middle of Boca Raton? The answer lies in the special location that the attraction occupied. The 24 acre site was indeed an important Native Florida Indian burial mound and village. It is estimated that the site was occupied from 1,000-2,000 years ago by the Tequesta Indians. Three different Indian tribes occupied ancient Palm Beach County - the Tequesta, the Jeagas and the Ais. None of these tribes exist today as they died of disease brought by the Spaniards or were forced into slavery.
The founder of Ancient America, E.G. Barnhill, was a famous early Florida photographer. Born in 1894 in South Carolina, Barnhill is famous for his hand-colored photographs and paintings of the old Florida landscape. He was also interested in Native American culture and collected artifacts throughout the nation.
His Boca Raton attraction was one of many that he ran that dealt with Native American artifacts. The Boca Raton attraction featured a tour of the large Indian burial mound, which was tunneled through. Inside the tunnel, windows were set into the soil to allow the visitor to peer into the burial sites. He also had many items from the Spanish conquest of Florida including ship cannons and anchors.
The attraction never proved to be popular as traffic to Miami was rerouted from U.S. 1 when Florida's Turnpike opened. The land was sold and was undeveloped until the 1980's. The Palm Beach County Commission considered purchasing the property as a historic site, but it was sold to developers who built the Boca Marina Yacht Club development. A portion of the Barnhill mound is visible from the front entrance.
Front entrance of Ancient America
This concrete ship was located at the entrance was on U.S. 1 until the 1970's.
Excavations by Dr. Ripley Bullen of the Barnhill Mound in 1958
Famous Treasure Diver Art McKee at Ancient America in 1954
Art's son Mick at the entrance to Ancient America in 1954
Click here to download a PDF file about Ancient America with additional photographs.
The entrance to the Boca Marina Yacht Club with the Barnhill Mound clearly visible in December 2008.
Display from Ancient America showing a depiction of the ancient village at Boca Raton.