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.
In 1949, Baby Snoots, a West Indian manatee, who would later be known as Snooty™, arrived at the Museum. The Museum emerged as a leading cultural organization in the community, providing educational programs and field trips to tens of thousands of students through the years.
In 1966, the 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. Snooty™, who continued to thrill visitors was moved into a larger pool and new permanent exhibits about Florida’s earliest inhabitants, Florida’s natural sciences, a medical gallery and life-sized dioramas filled the two-story museum.
In 1980, a Spanish Plaza featuring replicas of a 16th century home and chapel was built around a centerpiece fountain depicting Hernando De Soto on horseback.
The Parker Manatee Aquarium, which completed the Plaza, opened in 1993, with above and below water viewing capabilities, a medical pool, an exhibition area and a 60,000-gallon tank for Snooty™ and additional manatees.
A complete renovation of the Museum’s exhibits and education facilities began in 1998. In August 2001, an early-morning electrical fire destroyed the Bishop Planetarium severely damaged a newly completed state-of-the-art education wing and all of the museum’s administrative areas. In September 2002, the museum opened the first floor with new exhibits and changing exhibits gallery. A new education wing was re-opened in March 2004 and the new state-of-the-science planetarium and theater opened in June 2005.
Second floor renovations include a new medical gallery, patron’s gallery, visible storage galleries, river heritage hall, and an environmental wing of exhibits depicting Florida pine uplands, riverine, estuarine and gulf waters habitats.
The South Florida Museum continues its founding legacy of excellence in education, care of collections, engaging exhibits and programming for visitors and students of all ages.