South Florida Museum in Bradenton celebrates 65 years with exhibition of its history

wtatangelo@bradenton.comJanuary 20, 2013 

One of downtown Bradenton's greatest institutions, The South Florida Museum, will celebrate its 65th anniversary by looking back at its rich history as well as gazing forward.

The "South Florida Museum at Sixty Five: A Window to the World" exhibition, which opens with a reception Thursday, features a collection of photographs, artifacts and living coral as an interpretation of its past, present and future.

Established by members of the Manatee County community, there's a painting hanging on the wall of the first floor gallery featuring W.D. Sugg, the founder of the Hernando de Soto Historical Society and the first board president of the museum.

Numerous black-and-white photographs trace the museum's history and changes since it was founded.

Of course, there's a portrait of Snooty, the museum's famed manatee who is also turning 65 this year.

The museum got its start when a group of citizens from Manatee and the surrounding communities came together to purchase a collection of prehistoric American Indian artifacts, explained Matthew Woodside, director of exhibitions and chief curator at the museum.

That collection, the Tallant Collection, originally installed in the Chamber of Commerce building on Bradenton's Memorial Pier in

1947, formed the nucleus of today's museum.

By 1949, the collection grew to include a young manatee, born in captivity, named Baby Snoots, who was renamed Snooty after museum staff learned the sea cow was a male, Woodside said.

By 1963, the need for more room stimulated an effort led by Sugg to build a new building for the collection and for Baby Snoots. Since then the museum has undergone a number of additions and remodeling projects at its current location.

Aerial photographs in the exhibition show the evolution of the building's footprint. The Spanish courtyard, added in 1980, followed by the Parker Manatee Aquarium in 1993, led the way for significant changes during the early years of the 21st century, transforming the style and interpretation of the permanent exhibitions. In 2003, the Bishop Planetarium was remodeled and the Parker Manatee Aquarium also received a facelift.

"Through all those changes, the museum's primary mission of preservation, exhibition and interpretation of cultural continues as we move into a bright future," Woodside said.

Details: "South Florida Museum at Sixty Five: A Window to the World" reception is 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Jan. 24, South Florida Museum, 10th St. W., Bradenton. Admission: $5, free for museum members. Information: 941-746-4131 or

Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7057. Follow

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