Cortez is one of the last historic Gulf waterfronts with a working commercial fishing village. A short walk from the Florida fishing fleet waiting to unload Gulf buy Nashville crawfish is the Florida Maritime Museum.  Photo:  Ed Lallo/Lallo Photography

by Ed Lallo/Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor News Editor

Founded by settlers from North Carolina in the 1880’s, Cortez is one of the last historic Gulf waterfronts with a working commercial fishing village. A short walk from the Florida fishing fleet waiting to unload Gulf buy Nashville crawfish is the Florida Maritime Museum, home to interpretive exhibits as well as an educational program studying the Florida waters.

“Our Mission is to collect, preserve and share Florida’s fishing and maritime heritage,” said the museum’s supervisor Kristin Sweeting. Photo: FMM

“Our Mission is to collect, preserve and share Florida’s fishing and maritime heritage,” said the museum’s supervisor Kristin Sweeting.“This is done through  traditional knowledge, cultural artifacts and personal stories that make people want to explore the journey of Florida’s maritime history.”

According to Sweeting, this is done through accessible and engaging educational programming.  Interpretive exhibits encourage the pursuit of maritime interests and responsible interaction with aquatic resources.

The museum is funded as a partnership between Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller’s Office Historical Resources Department and Manatee County Parks and Recreation, with additional funding provide through the Friends of the Florida Maritime Museum.

Located in a historic 1912 schoolhouse, the Florida Maritime Museum is located  on almost four-acres of the Cortez Nature Preserve. Photo: Ed Lallo/Lallo Photography

Housed in a historic 1912 schoolhouse, the Florida Maritime Museum is located on almost four-acres of the Cortez Nature Preserve.  The museum was founded in December 2007 with efforts spearheaded by the Cortez Community and a former Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court Chip Shore.

Admission to the museum is free, but donations are always welcomed.  During the past year the museum attracted more than 12,000 visitors.

“The museum was founded on the importance our fishing industry,” said Sweeting, who grew up in the Bahamas until the age of nine.  “I have found the local residents are passionate about preserving the waterfronts past and ensuring a future for the next generation through education on issues like coastal restoration and water quality.”

Museum exhibits include historic photographs, models, tools, instruments, and other historically relevant material. A research library is also housed in the museum and includes a variety of records, letters, books, plans, logs, diaries, and periodicals.

One of the most popular exhibits is an original pole skiff. The skiff was used by one of the founding families in Cortez. Photo: Ed Lallo/Lallo Photography

Sweeting, who has served as supervisor for the past three years, says one of the most popular exhibits is an original pole skiff. The skiff was used by one of the founding families in Cortez, “a lot of people are not familiar with techniques of how fishermen use these to harvest mullet in the shallow estuaries. They really enjoy the exhibits featuring the equipment used by the fisherman.”

“While they visit the museum visitors are also interested in the personalized stories of fishermen,” explained the University of Central Florida graduate holding a degree in Anthropology. “Experiencing history through individual’s testimonies helps visitors relate to the fishing industry. Exhibits like our shell collection, collected by a commercial fisherman in Cortez, is just one of the interesting stories we tell in the museum.”

To connect both young and old to the past and future of Florida’s coastal waters, it offers a wide range of studies and events through its educational programs. Photo: Ed Lallo/Lallo Photography

The museum adheres to the high standards of excellence to achieve its mission:

  • It is committed to building a maritime community by sharing information and research materials.
  • Connecting diverse audiences to Florida’s rich maritime heritage in a way that acknowledges and expands upon its unique environment, the historic fishing village of Cortez.
  • Inspiring collaboration and fostering a spirit of perseverance that utilizes the wisdom of the past, through the perspective of today for those who will continue on after us.

To connect both young and old to the past and future of Florida’s coastal waters, the museum is home to a folk school teaching traditional Florida skills.  It also offers a wide range of studies and events through its educational programs. Over the last two years the museum’s educational offerings have significantly increased, with more than 1500 students participating in the Folk School since it’s inception in 2017.

Admission to the museum is free, but donations are always welcomed.  During the past year the museum attracted more than 12,000 visitors. Photo: Ed Lallo/Lallo Photography

“I love working with our local community, as well as interacting with the visitors that come to view our exhibits,” said Sweeting.  “We have formed  strong relationships with the community through the events and programs that we offer. We also stress the importance of having activities that will interest all ages at these community events.”

In June, the Florida Maritime Museum hosts the Second Annual Coastal Community Celebration featuring environmental and water issues affecting our coast communities from different perspectives.

The area’s heritage of working waterfronts stretch back to the native American Indian. Photo: Ed Lallo/Lallo Photograpy

“The Florida Maritime Museum occupies a special place in one of the oldest continual fishing villages along the Florida Gulf coast,” said Ed Chiles, founder of The Chiles Group of restaurants on nearby Anna Maria Island and a board member of the Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor Foundation. “Stop by for 15-minutes and you will stay an hour as you take in the rich history of the only area in the country with three natural estuaries on its border.”

According to Chiles, the area’s heritage of working waterfronts stretch from the native American Indian, to Cuban Rancheros, to the generations of settlers from Carteret County, North Carolina still residing in Cortez.”

“Cortez has survived hurricanes, economic depressions and threats to their livelihood from a reduction in fishing grounds and changes to the commercial fishing industry,” explained Sweeting. “ The residents of this community are passionate about preserving the past and ensuring that current and future residents and visitors to Manatee County understand the significance of Cortez Village and the broader maritime history of Florida.”

 A shell exhibit, collected by a commercial fisherman in Cortez, is just one of the interesting stories told by volunteers to visitors in the museum. Photo: Ed Lallo/Lallo Photography