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Visitor center is next focus at Fort King

The education chickee features a sign with information about its uses in Seminole history. (Courtesy photo)

Progress continues on the implementation of a 15-year, $14.7 million master plan approved in 2020 for new projects at the 42-acre Fort King National Historic Landmark in Ocala. The Seminole Tribe has been a partner in its development with the Fort King Heritage Foundation since 2015, and has been a fixture at the site for many years through weapons demonstrations and the reenactments of events that sparked the Second Seminole War.

The past few years have seen three projects completed: construction of an education chickee, working blacksmith shop, and new restroom facilities. Officials said a $5.5 million, 16,000-square-foot visitor center, which would highlight the tribe, is the next project it wants to accomplish. However, a considerable amount of funds still need to be raised before construction would begin.

Fort King was considered the most important interior U.S. Army fort of its time in the first half of the 19th century. It is unique among other sites in Florida and the U.S. because it not only represents the period associated with the Indian Removal Act, but also the resistance to it.

Led by Osceola, the Seminoles ambushed a detachment of soldiers near Tampa where Osceola killed Gen. Wiley Thompson, the U.S. agent to the Indians. The Seminoles then moved on to Ocala and waged another attack, burning down the fort.

The events are considered to be the spark that ignited the Second Seminole War.

‘Created a friendship’

William Rodriguez-Cayro, who manages Fort King as the city of Ocala’s parks division head for the past seven years, said he and his staff keep in close communication with the tribe. He is also the city representative on the Fort King Heritage Foundation board, while Quenton Cypress, from the Big Cypress Reservation, represents the tribe on the board. The foundation serves as the main fundraising arm for projects in the master plan.

Rodriguez-Cayro took members of the board to Big Cypress in September to tour the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and the Major Billy L. Cypress building to spark ideas for how parts of the visitor center might be designed. The Major Billy L. Cypress building houses the programs that fall under the tribe’s Heritage and Environment Resources Office – the museum, Tribal Historic Preservation Office, Environmental Resource Management Department and the To-Pee-Kee-Ke Yak-Ne Community Center.

“As we plan to build the visitor center, we wanted [the board] to see what [facilities] of that caliber looked like,” Rodriguez-Cayro said. “It’s great to design things on paper, but until you see it, it doesn’t hit home. They had great reactions. They didn’t realize how big the museum was, and to see exactly what they’re displaying was a big eye opener.”

Like the museum, the visitor center would incorporate elements of modern Seminole life and Seminole history in consultation with the tribe. The center would also include a library, lecture room, media room and storage space.

“It’s not our job to tell their story; we want them to tell it, and give them a place to do that,” Rodriguez-Cayro said. “We’ve had a great relationship. It’s not just about work, we’ve created a friendship.”

The foundation board will seek an allocation from the state for $750,000 during next year’s Legislative session for the design-build of the visitor center. Rodriguez-Cayro said if the funds are approved, it’s possible the center could break ground in 2025. He added that the board’s private fundraising efforts are ongoing. It was $174,000 in donations, for example, that funded the blacksmith shop, which offers homesteading classes.

Meanwhile, Fort King’s annual festival takes place Dec. 2-3. The tribe’s Osceola Warrior Legacy group is expected to take part in the reenactment events and Rodriguez-Cayro said Daniel Tommie will talk about the tribe and its history at the education chickee.

More is at

An education chickee was built at Fort King in September 2021. (Courtesy photo)
Gil Yzaguirre of the Immokalee Reservation oversaw the chickee’s construction. (Courtesy photo)
A working blacksmith shop opened in June 2023. (Courtesy photo)
Alyssa Osceola, Tribal Historic Preservation Office monitor, left, and Bill Rodriguez-Cayro recently toured the museum with members of the Fort King Heritage Foundation. (Courtesy photo)
Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at