Cortez institution expands focus on state's maritime history

vmannix@bradenton.comOctober 3, 2013 

CORTEZ

Up front, John Beale filed down the edges of wooden paneling along the foyer wall.

Inside, Kevin Miner painted the finishing touches on a large mural of an old fishing village.

Nearby, ladders remained around the main viewing area for more nautical artifacts to be hung.

Saturday's reopening of the Florida Maritime Museum is mere days away, and Amara Nash was filled with anticipation as she walked around, checking off a mental to-do list.

"I'm eager to see what the public thinks," the museum supervisor said. "I have my fingers crossed for approval."

Closed a month for renovations, the museum's displays have been amplified

to combine new exhibits with the old, enhancing the focus on the state's maritime history and Cortez's role in it.

Somehow the staff did it on a $1,500 budget.

"We did a lot of labor ourselves, painting and scraping, pulling things out of storage and rearranging stuff," Nash said.

Several new additions are geared toward the young, including:

• The Samson Post, an interactive exhibit dedicated to lifelong Cortezian Sam Bell. It encompasses the roomwide seaside mural with an interactive area, where youngsters can navigate, raise and lower sails and load crates in a fish house.

• A video game for children to pretend they are Cuban fishermen, plying their trade along Florida's southwest coast in the 18th century.

Another new exhibit for the historically minded features a large depiction of 1920 Florida bearing the legend: The History of Florida's Fishing Villages.

Railroad lines crisscross the peninsula like stitching connecting depots from Pensacola to Key West, with destinations from Mobile to Savannah.

Icons of fishing boats dot Florida's shoreline signifying fishing villages that date back to the 1800s from Boca Grande to Cortez to Cedar Key on the Gulf of Mexico, and along the Atlantic from Fernandina Beach to Sebastian.

"These are all the fishing villages in Florida when they were active, the progression of the settlements and the rail lines," said Beale, a staffer. "You really get a sense of how important it was."

Still is for Cortez, whose proud presence permeates the place like the museum's old cypress aroma.

To wit:

• A photo display of Cortez families -- i.e., Bell, Culbreath, Fulford and Green -- whose roots are intertwined with its 130-year history.

• An aerial photo of the fishing village in 1947.

• A photo essay of the 1921 hurricane.

• A collection of crustaceans, shells and sponges from deceased fisherman Blake Banks.

• A pole skiff boat donated by the late Alcee Taylor, the "unofficial" mayor of Cortez, whose nearby picture is framed by a boat hatch.

"Alcee always wanted it over there," his widow, Plum, said of the museum. "It reflects who we are."

Encouraging words for Nash as Saturday's reopening nears.

"This is their history. This is close to home. They built this place," she said.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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