On Location: Tallahassee’s John G. Riley Center & Museum

The John Gilmore Riley Center & Museum for African American History & Culture, Inc. is a historical and cultural gem that sits at the bottom of a hill in downtown Tallahassee, at the corner of Meridian and Jefferson Streets. The Riley House was constructed circa 1890 on the fringe of a community called Smokey Hollow. Its owner was a former enslaved man, John Gilmore Riley, rose to prominence as an educator and civic leader. – Museum Website

This beautifully restored Queen Anne house with its wrap-around porches serves as the perfect headquarters for this museum of African American History and Culture. One night say that the home once anchored the east-side community of Smokey Hollow which was lost due to so-called urban renewal in the 1950s and 1960s.

Currently on exhibit, Legacy and Learning, an “intergenerational exhibit exploring the history and cultural traditions of everyday life.” Artifacts and art show how everyday appliances and other objects hve changed over time. The museum also features Heritage Education, tours, and history trails. Among the tours is the Smokey Hollow Commemorative Site and its “spirit home” models of the shotgun style houses that made up most of the community.

You might also enjoy the jogging and biking and trails at nearby Cascade Park.

If you live in and/or are visiting Tallahassee, all of this belongs on your things to do list. I was initially surprised when an individual in a Facebook group focusing on Tallahassee said he was born and raised there and had never heard of Smokey Hollow. I realized that the once-vibrant African-American neighborhood has been gone for about sixty years. Those of us who lived there sixty years ago knew about the community as well as the debates in government and the press about getting rid of it. But younger people very easily could be unaware of it. The park and the museum fix that problem.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of short stories and novels, many of which are set in the Florida Panhandle where he grew up.