Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20 (NIV)
This weekend, our county gets an early Christmas present. We officially open the Florida Gulf Coast Maritime Museum at Cortez. All the effort almost seems like a dream now as we put the finishing touches on the exhibits, order the food and decorate the tables. Yet, we have been working for over five years to raise the funds, get the permits, hire the contractor and furnish the museum which is housed in a 1912 schoolhouse. The building was the second schoolhouse for the fishing village of Cortez. This community was established in the 1880s by residents of North Carolina who came seeking new fishing grounds. They brought with them their boats and their way of life. Their first little wooden schoolhouse still stands just a few blocks away from the “new” brick one that held two classrooms. The building survived the 1921 hurricane that wiped out most of the village. Residents took shelter within its walls as their boats washed ashore into the school yard. In 1933, during the Great Depression, men hired by the Works Progress Administration added a stage and an auditorium. The work kept local families fed during a time when not only was money scarce, but for some unknown reason, the mullet disappeared and refused to run. In the 1960s, county schools were consolidated, and the village’s children were sent to Palma Sola for their education. The building became an art school until Robert Sailors, a well known weaver, bought it and turned it into his home and studio. Sailors respected the historical integrity of the building and did not do any major interior renovations with the exception of adding a bathroom. He hung curtains he wove himself to create “rooms” within the large open spaces of the school. The stage served as his bedroom. In 1999, Manatee County bought the schoolhouse from his estate with funds provided by the Florida Communities Trust. Despite Sailor’s care, time ravaged the building, and it needed a lot of restoration. A grant from the State of Florida Bureau of Historic Preservation matched by funds raised in the community enabled that work. Tomorrow, when the public is allowed entrance, they will see museum exhibits on the history of the village and the maritime heritage of Florida’s west coast in the former classroom. The auditorium serves as a community meeting place as well as an area to display artwork purchased by the village’s not for profit group. We are expecting close to two hundred guests, and it will be close quarters for a while, but all are welcomed. In this case, it really did take a village to raise a museum. I can hardly wait to throw open the doors and invite everyone in. Christmas season is also a time for another kind of Grand Opening. Have you been delaying opening your heart to the Christ Child? He stands at the door and knocks. Let Him in and celebrate what He wants to do in your life.