The only thing constant in life—the only thing we can anticipate will happen—is change. While change is inevitable, and often dreaded, sometimes change is a sign of growth.
The pioneer families of Cortez changed their location, their seasons and to some degree their community when they made the trek south from Carteret County, North Carolina, in the late 1800s. In 1912, these same families, now expanded, outgrew the original 1896 one-room wooden school building and moved into the three-room Cortez Rural Graded Schoolhouse. While these changes may have presented their own set of challenges in the beginning Cortez wouldn’t be what it is today without them.
Over the years the Cortez Rural Graded Schoolhouse, which now houses the Florida Maritime Museum, has gone through many changes. Starting as a school for 1st through 8th grade in 1912, it also served as part of an art league and home to a famous master weaver, Robert Sailors. While the schoolhouse had many important stories during its life up until 1995 when Sailors passed away the building still sat empty for several years.
But, Cortezians are passionate about preserving their way of life. The community wanted to make sure the building remained a valuable asset and as a result the historic village and schoolhouse were placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Through the efforts of the people of Cortez, including the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (FISH) and the Cortez Village Historical Society (CVHS), and government organizations including the Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Courts Office, Manatee County Parks and Recreation, and the Florida Communities Trust, the 1912 schoolhouse transformed yet again. It opened to the public as the Florida Maritime Museum in December 2007.
While the schoolhouse remains the Florida Maritime Museum, we are entering a new phase. As the world changes around us we strive to be welcoming to a broad and diverse audience while providing a high level of accessibility which thinks about the needs of others. From ADA, language, and even the accessibility of children we are starting on the path to meet as many people on their level on any given day while also acknowledging some of our limitations due to the nature of our historic structure and grounds.
In an effort to adapt, the museum is preparing to unveil a “re-imagined” entryway, education room, and gift store in the museum as part of our multi-phase “Re-Imagination” of permanent exhibits renovation project. Construction for phase II began in June 2020. Anticipated completion was six months however the project was delayed due to construction limitations as a result of COVID-19.
The gift store features a “More than a Museum” exhibit showcasing photos and newspaper clippings from the history of the 1912 schoolhouse. The new “Captain’s Corner” in the north room displays the extensive Blake Banks shell collection and also includes a small maritime research library. Due to building maintenance in the south room, visitors will see a fresh perspective in the auditorium gallery that has been combined with elements of the Cortez gallery until maintenance is complete.
Each “re-imagined” portion of the museum has considered, and where possible accommodated for ADA accessibility including a new layout, lighting, and larger text. The museum has also considered Florida’s second largest demographic, the Latino population, and translated all new exhibits and most of the signage into Spanish. New cases and interactives have been built, where space allowed, to child-friendly heights. Also, new exhibit text has been written to grade 8 or below.
These changes have been made possible by the Friends of the Florida Maritime Museum who contracted with The Creative Pool museum exhibit design firm to spearhead the conceptual plan and fabrication for the museum’s “Re-Imagination” of permanent exhibits, in addition to the museum’s rebranding campaign that was launched in August. The “Re-Imagination” project was sponsored in part by the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs and the Florida Council on Arts and Culture (Section 286.25, Florida Statutes) with matching funds provided by the Friends of the Florida Maritime Museum.
The next phase of this extensive renovation project includes a new exhibit installation in the south room that will focus on early Florida maritime history. Also, a complete redesign of the auditorium gallery will bring the art of fishing and the time-honored traditions of a working waterfront to life. A date has not yet been determined for phase III construction.
We look forward to welcoming visitors back into the museum in January 2021. Hours will be limited and reservations are required. You can make your reservations online or call us at (941) 708-6120 if you need assistance scheduling your appointment.