The Florida Maritime Museum, housed in the authentic 1912 Schoolhouse, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Cortez Historic District, designated in 1995. When the schoolhouse was first constructed, it housed two classrooms, but in 1933, an auditorium with a stage was added forming a T-shaped floor plan.
In 1961, the schoolhouse was briefly leased to an art school, and it was later sold to master weaver Robert Sailors, who used the building as his home and studio. In December of 1999, with grant assistance from the Florida Communities Trust, Manatee County purchased the schoolhouse and an adjoining parcel to create the Cortez Nature Preserve.
Now the building is home to a variety of exhibits, including historic photographs, boat models, tools, instruments, and other historically significant material relevant to Florida’s maritime culture and history. FMM's permanent collections include:
The Blake Banks Collection
Captain Blake Banks owned and operated a successful commercial fishing company in Cortez. Through his work, he discovered a passion for sea life and started to collect interesting specimens as he came across them in the Gulf of Mexico.
A few years after his passing in 2004, Betty Banks chose to make a donation to the Florida Maritime Museum that included approximately a third of his shell collection, many of his daily logs, permits, other paperwork and some antique items.
Researchers and volunteers have been working studiously to piece together the “stories” of carious specimens, and create a chart that serves as a snapshot of where they were collected.
People have been making scale models for thousands of years. However, it’s still open to debate whether the first ones were intended to be religious objects, works of art, or perhaps even children’s toys.
Boat models have also served an important purpose in boat building and design. While FMM does have some half-models related to these efforts, many of the models on display at FMM are miniature versions of real ships that played a significant role in Florida’s Maritime history.
FMM is home to a small library of books on maritime topics that range from tales of old Florida to boat building and design. Guests are welcome to peruse the library during regular business hours. However, some books that are to fragile to be on permanent display and are viewable by appointment only.
In addition to books, FMM houses a collection of boat plans, nautical charts and other archival materials that are available for scholarly research.