Explore how the current of time has shaped the face of Florida and its almost forgotten past. The history of the fishing industry has made Florida what it is today. The museum shares these meaningful stories and offers a snapshot of old Florida through the lens of the Cortez Commercial Fishing Village.
Surviving hurricanes, economic depressions and threats to their livelihood, villagers are passionate about preserving their time-honored traditions and culture, and Florida’s broader maritime heritage. Nestled within this historic fishing village, the museum sits on almost four acres of land known as the Cortez Nature Preserve, purchased with funds from the Florida Communities Trust Preservation 2000 Program and the Manatee County Board of County Commission.
Once at the core of civic life in Cortez, the 1912-built schoolhouse stands as a lasting symbol of the community’s perseverance. Community and government organizations raised funds to renovate the schoolhouse and grounds. Today this strong old brick building houses the museum’s main exhibits. Boat models, tools, and other fishing equipment tell a story of Florida's rich maritime history.
The remaining grounds offer views of native species as well as four other structures that all add to our story. Built in 1890, the Burton/Bratton Store was the first commercial building in Cortez. Originally located on the waterfront and moved to FMM grounds in 2006, the Bratton Store has truly withstood the test of time. Now it serves as classroom space and collection storage.
A historic wooden cistern stands behind the store, once used for drinking water in Cortez’s early days. To the west of the property, a replica of a Seminole chickee hut provides some welcome shade to relax and enjoy the sounds of nature. The 1907 Pillsbury Boatshop to the north was the first building constructed at Snead Island Boatworks, operated by Edward Pillsbury and his son, Asa Pillsbury. It was relocated to FMM grounds in 2007.
The museum also provides fun educational programs for all audiences, and our folk school offers many hands-on classes to learn and preserve classic skills. In addition, a small library in the Captain’s Corner offers a variety of books and archival material for research on maritime subjects with special emphases on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Serving the public since 2007, the museum's mission is to collect, preserve and share traditional knowledge, cultural artifacts and personal stories specific to Florida's fishing and maritime heritage. The Florida Maritime Museum is a part of the Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller's Historical Resources Department. Additional support is provided by the Manatee County Board of County Commission and the Friends of the Florida Maritime Museum. The Cortez Commercial Fishing Village and the 1912 Cortez Rural Graded Schoolhouse are designated on the National Register of Historic Places.