Two venerable institutions that celebrate the past are facing a brighter future together.
Today begins a new era for both the Florida Historical Society and the Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science as the oldest cultural organization in the state takes ownership of an outstanding local museum.
The facility is now also the home of the Florida Historical Society Archaeological Institute.
“I’ve been connected with the Florida Historical Society for almost twenty years now, and this is the most exciting event I’ve seen happen,” says FHS President Leonard Lempel. “This museum is a tremendous new edition to the Florida Historical Society. I’m just real excited about all the opportunities it presents.”
The Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science was established in 1969. The nearly 15,000 square foot facility sits on a 20-acre nature preserve with walking trails through three Florida ecosystems. The museum is adjacent to Eastern Florida State College and the University of Central Florida Cocoa campus.
The change in ownership from Brevard Museum, Inc. to the Florida Historical Society was amicable and even welcomed. With a passionate and emotionally invested Museum Guild already in place, the addition of Florida Historical Society personnel and resources will allow the museum to become even better than it already is.
“There certainly is a passion,” says Lee Bailey, president of the outgoing Brevard Museum Board of Trustees. “Unfortunately it takes more than just passion. It has to have really good, solid understanding and knowing how to run a museum. I think with this in place, we’re going to see it thrive.”
The centerpiece of the Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science is an exhibition on the amazing Windover Archaeological Dig. In 1982, an ancient pond cemetery was discovered near Titusville. Hundreds of ritualistically buried bodies were remarkably well preserved, wrapped in the oldest woven fabric found in North America. Ninety-one skulls even contained intact brain matter.
The Windover people were between 7,000 and 8,000 years old, making them 2,000 years older than the Great Pyramids and 3,200 years older than King Tutankhamen.
The museum also features exhibits on other native peoples, the Spanish Colonial period, pioneer culture, and has numerous archaeological artifacts.
Many improvements were made to the Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science under the leadership of outgoing executive director Nancy Rader. She refreshed exhibits, improved the museum branding, and increased attendance. Her proudest achievement was adding a mastodon skeleton that joined the bones of a giant ground sloth and a saber tooth cat on display.
Rader is very supportive of the changes happening at the museum. “I feel like the Brevard Museum is a real treasure and I really want the community to jump on board and support it,” Rader says.
The museum’s mission to educate the public about local history compliments the Florida Historical Society’s statewide focus. From the prehistoric era to pioneer settlement to the launching of America’s space program, Brevard County serves as a microcosm of Florida history.
Established in 1856, the Florida Historical Society maintains an extensive archive at the Library of Florida History in Cocoa, publishes books and periodicals, produces radio and television programs, operates the Florida Historical Society Archaeological Institute, and manages the Historic Rossetter House Museum in Eau Gallie. An Annual Meeting and Symposium is held in a different Florida city each May, and the organization participates in festivals, events, and educational outreach throughout the state.
Bruce Piatek is the new Director of the Florida Historical Society Archaeological Institute and the Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science. Piatek has an extensive background as both a professional archaeologist and a museum administrator. He was City Archaeologist in St. Augustine where he also ran a successful museum. For 20 years, Piatek was executive director of the Florida Agricultural Museum, building it into the most popular tourist destination in Flagler County.
“I think the Brevard Museum is great. It’s got tremendous potential,” says Piatek. “There’s been 45 years of hard work by the folks who put the museum together, got it operating, and have continued to operate it. I think it’s exciting what the Florida Historical Society has planned for coming into the museum and making it a more vibrant and viable operation.”
Dr. Ben Brotemarkle is executive director of the Florida Historical Society and host of the radio program “Florida Frontiers,” broadcast locally on 90.7 WMFE Thursday evenings at 6:30 and Sunday afternoons at 4:00, and on 89.5 WFIT Sunday mornings at 7:00. The show can be heard online at myfloridahistory.org.