By Amara Nash
When the residents of Cortez wanted to check their mail, they went to the small post office at the Burton Store. When they wanted buy butter or bread, they went to the Burton Store. When they wanted to greet people or get supplies brought from Tampa (and beyond) on “run boats”, they went to the Burton Store. Youth would gather at the Burton Store to enjoy RC Cola and Moon Pies. Before people had radios and phones in their homes, folks who wanted to hear the news would go listen to the first radio in Cortez, at the Burton Store.
As you can see, the Burton Store was the nexus of early community life in the small fishing village of Cortez. From its humble roots in 1890 as a storage shed on the old Bratton dock, it was leased to Mr. Burton, added to over the years, and eventually grew into the Albion Inn. Given to Joe Guthrie as a wedding present in 1912, it had 24 guest rooms and was known for the best fish dinner around. The Albion Inn attracted both seasonal visitors from afar, and guests from the region, often arriving by boat.
After the devastating, unnamed hurricane of 1921, the Albion Inn was one of the few buildings still standing in Cortez, giving hope that the small community would also survive.
The fate of the historic building changed when it was purchased by the US Coast Guard in 1974. It served as the Cortez station until 1991, when the Coast Guard decided tear it down and build a new structure better suited to their needs. Today, the Cortez Coast Guard Station serves as a multi-mission small boat station with duties ranging from search and rescue to drug interdiction
True to the perseverant spirit of Cortez residents, they began fundraising to save the historic structure. They did not raise enough to move the entire building, but the original Burton Store portion was rescued from destruction.
The building was moved to a location across the street from the waterfront until a permanent home could be determined. After 15 years, and with support of the Cortez Village Historical Society, the historic Burton Store was moved to the campus of the Florida Maritime Museum. It had deteriorated badly by this point, but exterior renovations were completed in 2009 and the spacious front porch now serves as a stage for special events.
The next step for the Burton Store is to complete renovations on the interior of the building. Once funds are raised and construction is completed, the building will be infused with new life. It will house climate-controlled collections storage for maritime artifacts, archives and books, in addition to a research library and a multi-purpose space that will allow for expansion of both maritime exhibits and educational programming.