Exploring The Marco Island Historical Museum

One of Collier County’s most informative attractions is the Marco Island Historical Museum located on Marco Island near Naples, Florida. The approach to the museum is laid out as a Calusa Indian village complete with thatched chickee hut, lagoon, fishing weir and shell mound. Although compact, this award-winning museum is filled with interesting exhibits, photographs, and stories. It’s well worth a visit as it contains a host of information about the history of the area. The Marco Island Historical Museum offers a wealth of information about local history shown through old photographs, exhibits, and a movie. Must Do Visitor Guides, MustDo.com

History of the Marco Island Museum

This local chapter of the Collier County Historical Society was founded in 1994 and later evolved into the Marco Island Historical Society. Their mission is to preserve the history and heritage of the Marco Island community. The Historical Museum Complex opened in 2007 after an incredible $4 million was raised. It expanded to become the award-winning museum that exists today with the opening of the Calusa Gallery in 2014, the Modern Marco Gallery in 2015 and the Pioneer Exhibit in early 2017.

Local history about Marco Island dates back to the original settlers–the Calusa Indians. A great deal has been learned about these early island residents through archaeological exploration of their shell middens (basically their kitchen trash!). The museum uses many different ways to explain Marco Island history including a short movie about the island’s history, life-size models, old photographs, murals, anecdotes and historic artifacts.

The Marco Island Historical Museum offers a wealth of information about local history shown through old photographs, exhibits, and a movie. Must Do Visitor Guides, MustDo.com. Photo credit Debi Pittman Wilkey

Photo credit Debi Pittman Wilkey

Key Marco Cat Artifact

One of the most unique things to Marco Island is the Key Marco Cat. A replica bronze statue of the original six-inch high Calusa Indian artifact is featured at the entrance to the museum. The original statue was discovered by archaeologist Frank Hamilton Cushing in 1896 when he excavated the island. The statue of the part-human, part-cat figure is now one of the oldest preserved artifacts in North America and is on display in the Smithsonian in Washington DC.

Replica of the Key Marco Cat sits on display outside the entrance to the Marco Island Historical Museum on Marco Island, Florida.

Photo credit Debi Pittman Wilkey

Key Marco Cat statue on loan to the Marco Island Historical Museum from the Smithsonian Institute. Marco Island, Florida.

Photo courtesy Smithsonian Institution

In an April 2018, the Marco Island Chamber of Commerce announced that several of the most significant Key Marco artifacts would be returning to the Museum for the first time since their discovery by anthropologist Frank Hamilton Cushing more than 100 years ago.  The exhibit in collaboration with Collier County Museums, the Smithsonian Institution, and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology will be at Marco Island Historical Museum from December 2018 to April 2021.

The loaned artifacts will be featured within one of the Museum’s permanent exhibits–Paradise Found: 6,000 Years of People on Marco Island. Other important pieces in the exhibition include a ceremonial mask, alligator figurehead, painted human figure and sea turtle figurehead.

Marco Island Museum Exhibits

Inside the Marco Island Historical Museum, there is always something new to enjoy in the seasonal artist gallery. After admiring local artworks, follow the trail of history from life-size dioramas of Calusa Indians in an authentic setting to stories about the development of Marco Island as a top a vacation destination, particularly since the 1960s. The Calusa Indians lived on Marco Island from around 1500 AD.

The Marco Island Historical Museum offers a wealth of information about local history shown through old photographs, exhibits, and a movie. Must Do Visitor Guides, MustDo.com. Photo credit Debi Pittman Wilkey

Photo credit Debi Pittman Wilkey

The museum traces the development of the area from the 1800s including early pioneers, farming, and the Collier family to the Mackle brothers. It provides a fascinating wealth of information that would be interesting for local residents as well as visitors to the area. Exhibits cover everything from changing fashions to the tough existence early settlers had in countering the mosquitos and sticky heat. There are some interesting displays about past hurricanes that have hit Marco Island even as recently as Hurricane Irma in 2017.

Knowledgeable staff and docents are on hand to answer questions and are always happy to chat with visitors about this unique island and its history.

Marco Island Historical Museum Visitor Info

The museum also has a tasteful gift shop selling jewelry, books, and more unusual gifts. Proceeds all go to support the work and upkeep of the museum. The Gift Shop is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (closed Sundays and Mondays) and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the summer.

Souvenir and gift shop at the Marco Island Historical Museum in Marco Island, Florida. Photo by Debi Pittman Wilkey.

Photo credit Debi Pittman Wilkey

The museum is very family friendly and is a great place to visit and escape the summer heat (or showers!). Located on Heathwood Drive, the Marco Island Historical Museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission to this small but fascinating museum is free of charge, but donations are welcome and the Museum is handicapped accessible. Why not pay this Collier County museum a visit during your Naples or Marco Island vacation and see what you think?

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Nita Ettinger is the co-publisher for Siesta Publications and the Editor in Chief for Must Do Visitor Guides. Must Do Visitor Guides provides Southwest Florida visitor information through printed publications and the website MustDo.com. Must Do Visitor Guides are published bi-annually and are available at no cost in Sarasota, Lee, and Collier County chambers of commerce, visitor information centers, select Southwest Florida hotels, and wherever free publications are found.

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