VALPARAISO -- The Heritage Museum of Northwest Florida has artifacts from Northwest Florida ranging from prehistoric Native American projectile points and pottery, to items that document the railroad, cotton, and turpentine industries of the Florida panhandle during the 19th and 20th centuries.
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And recently they’ve added to that collection several hulking relics from the Cold War that have a connection to Northwest Florida.
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On Tuesday workers were busy unloading three large non-functioning railguns, donated from Eglin Air Force Base, that will sit on display outside the museum at 115 Westview Avenue in Valparaiso.
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The railguns were originally part of President Ronald Reagan’s 1983 Strategic Defense Initiative, which sought to create a system that would prevent missile attacks from other countries. The program was nicknamed Star Wars for some of the unusual technology being considered, which included spaced-based lasers and the electromagnetic railguns.
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Unlike a conventional gun which relies on an explosive charge, the railgun uses two magnetic rails and an electric current to propel a projectile down the barrel and to its target.
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Two of the three railguns donated to the museum were built at Eglin Air Force Base and all were tested by the base’s Air Force Research Laboratory at an Eglin test site on Santa Rosa Island.
The Strategic Defense Initiative program officially ended in 1993, and the railguns have been gathering dust since. When the building they were being stored in was slated for demolition, Eglin archaeologist Catherine Nolan reached out to the Heritage Museum to see if she could find them a new home.
"It’s part of history," said Nolan. "We have original guns built on Eglin. You have something really unique that’s closely tied to local history."
And while it’s an unusual addition to the museum, board of trustees chair Barb Palmgren said she thinks it’s a good fit.
"It’s an historic artifact," said Palmgren. "When we can find historic artifacts, that’s what we’re about."
In addition to the display of the three railguns outside, there will be a smaller prototype railgun model on display inside the museum, along with some of the projectiles used in the guns.
Palmgren said she hopes to have that display, and fencing around the railguns completed when the museum reopens to the public on June 5.