The largest natural and cultural history museum on Florida's gulf coast also includes the Bishop Planetarium and the Parker Manatee Aquarium.
Founded in 1946 by community leaders, the South Florida Museum opened in 1947 on Bradenton’s Memorial Pier with the Montague Tallant collection of Florida’s First Peoples pre- and immediate post-contact archaeological material as well as collections relating to the scientific and cultural history of southwest Florida and Manatee County. Today, as the largest natural and cultural history museum on Florida's Gulf Coast, the South Florida Museum offers engaging exhibits as well as educational programs that interpret the scientific and cultural knowledge of Florida, the world and our universe. In addition to permanent exhibits, the Museum features a constantly changing lineup of temporary exhibitions -- offering something new to discover with each visit.
In 1966, SFL Museum moved to its present site and added the Bishop Planetarium. The addition of the Planetarium afforded museum visitors an expanded opportunity to learn about history in the making with programming which coincided with early space exploration. Now the all-digital Bishop Planetarium Theater is in its 51st year, and is the Gulf Coast's premier astronomy education facility, outfitted with a state-of-the-art Planetarium and projection system with spectacular multimedia capabilities.
In 1949, Baby Snoots, a West Indian manatee, who would later be known as Snooty™, arrived at the museum. The Parker Manatee Aquarium was home to Snooty™, who was the oldest known manatee in the world and Manatee County's official mascot. Snooty died at the museum on July 23, 2017 at age 69. South Florida Museum is also a member of the Manatee Rehabilitation and Release Partnership and has rehabilitated 30 sick or injured manatees so they could return to the wild.
South Florida Museum offers engaging exhibits as well as educational programs which interpret the scientific and cultural knowledge of Florida.
The first floor highlights include fossil evidence of Florida’s earliest mammals and marine species and the Montague Tallant collection of artifacts. The archaeological materials on display represent and interpret paleoindian, archaic and pre-contact cultures. You will find the Great Hall, Land of Change, Fabulous Florida Seas, Archaic Peoples and the Tallant Gallery brimming with information and objects that reflect the prehistory of Gulf Coast Florida. The museum interprets the region from the Pleistocene to the present.
Mission: To engage and inspire learners of all ages; we protect, interpret and communicate scientific and cultural knowledge of Florida, the world, and our universe.
The dramatic architecture of the central courtyard revisits the elegance of another time: picturesque columns and arches, ornate wrought-iron gates, chandeliers and lamp posts, and a beautiful fountain. In 1980 the expanded Spanish Plaza opened, emphasizing the area's Spanish heritage with a full-scale replica of Hernando de Soto's home in Barcarrota, Spain, a 16th-century chapel, and a fountain with a bronze sculpture of De Soto on horseback. This area is an ideal venue for weddings and parties, and is available to rent.
The archaeological artifacts collected throughout Florida by Montague Tallant, a Bradenton furniture store owner, established the foundation for the South Florida Museum. His frequent pottery hunting activities led to the accumulation of a sizable collection of aboriginal pottery, stone and shell tools, and European material from the early Spanish exploration and settlement of Florida. In the 1930s, Matthew Stirling, the director of the Smithsonian's archeological digs in Florida, became Tallant's friend and mentor. Stirling exhibited and interpreted locally collected Smithsonian artifacts at Bradenton Memorial Pier in 1934, and Tallant followed suit with his own collection in 1935 under the auspices of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.
Tallant's exhibits were popular with both the community and tourists. With the success of the 1939 DeSoto Celebration (marking the 400th anniversary of DeSoto's landing in Florida) and an increase in tourism as the country recovered from the Great Depression, Tallant began to think seriously about exhibiting his collections to a wider audience in a museum setting. In 1941 he opened a museum in the second floor space of his furniture store and called it the Manatee County Museum. The cost of maintaining the collection and the space, combined with Tallant's interest in future projects, lead him to entertain purchase offers in the late 1940s. He wanted the collection to remain in the local region, so he ultimately sold it to the Bradenton Junior Chamber of Commerce and in 1948, the collection became part of the newly formed South Florida Museum.
Much of the collection remains in this museum today, and is the foundation for the Museum's cultural and anthropological exhibitions.
page information credit: South Florida Museum, Visit Florida, Wikipedia, Must Do, Bradenton Herald,
photos from the sources listed above, as well as publicly posted online sites with thanks to the contributors