SUN PHOTOS/CINDY LANE
Formerly the 1912 Cortez Schoolhouse, the Florida Maritime Museum
at Cortez is undergoing exterior renovations while exhibits are being
installed in the newly-restored interior.
By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer
CORTEZ – Newly-uncovered original red bricks peek through stucco and scaffolding, and a new, winding shell path leads the way from a new parking lot to the former 1912 Cortez schoolhouse.
With its grand opening anticipated later this year, the Florida Maritime Museum at Cortez Road and 119th Street West is already filling up with exhibits, including replicas of ships, a Navy uniform, a handmade mullet net and a Native American canoe that could seat a large family.
The 1912 schoolhouse replaced a one-room school built in 1895, now a private home just down the street at 12016 45th Ave. W. It served as a school, hurricane shelter and community center until it closed in 1961, then was rented as a residence until 1974, when artist Robert Sailors purchased the property.
Now belonging to Manatee County, the schoolhouse is resuming its original educational function, this time focused on the state’s maritime history.
With the arrival last December of the historic 1895-era Burton/Bratton store, the museum site is slowly becoming the complex that county officials have so far only envisioned.
In 1896, the Burton store housed the community’s first post office. L.J.C. Bratton bought the store and added a few hotel rooms, calling it the Albion Inn, after his son. Subsequent owner Albert "Joe" Guthrie expanded it in the early 1900s to a 24-room hotel.
The only waterfront building in Cortez to survive the hurricane of 1921, it operated until the U.S. Coast Guard bought it in 1974 and turned it into a station. When the Coast Guard demolished most of the building in 1991 to make way for the existing Coast Guard station, the store portion was saved with $12,000 in contributions raised by the Cortez Village Historical Society and the Organized Fishermen of Florida.
The Cortez Family Life Museum will be housed in the former store, along with museum offices.
A historic cistern, now located across the street from the Cortez Post Office, will be relocated behind the store, according to museum site coordinator Roger Allen. Other additions to the complex will include another historic building, the Pillsbury Boat Works, and a new picnic pavilion.
Next to the complex on Sarasota Bay, the FISH (Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage) Preserve is also undergoing site work, with bridges and walking and kayak paths under construction.