When you think of places with deep and exciting histories, St. Petersburg, Florida may not be the first city in the world that spring to mind. Yet this is not due to a lack of local history, but rather a lack of public education on the topic.
For example, a four hundred man expedition led by Pánfilo de Narváez landed somewhere near Boca Ciega Bay in April of 1528. By 1532 they had traveled from South Pinellas County through Pensacola, Texas, and by 1536, northern Mexico and finally to civilization at Mexico City. Only four of the original four hundred made it that far. While Pánfilo de Narváez did not leave any relics of his own behind, his expedition was recorded later by one of his captains, Cabeza de Vaca, who traced his travels from Cuba to Florida and across the Gulf of Mexico to Mexico City. His account has brought together local historians from each of these communities, connecting their local focus to a much bigger picture. This is one of the exciting historical events that visitors can learn about at the St.Petersburg Museum of History.
There are but a few resources for the public when it comes to local history in St. Petersburg. Museums, such as the St Petersburg Museum of History, make it their goal to facilitate the free flow of information from experts and academics to the general public in an easily digestible manner. Indeed, SPMoH designs most of its exhibits around the city of St. Pete itself, focusing on such topics as the early railroad and hotel businesses that built the town or the long and storied legacy of baseball in St. Pete. The latter boasts a permanent exhibit of 4,800 signed baseballs in close to original condition.
Behind the scenes, the museum plays host to over 60,000 unique artifacts, nearly all of them donated by St. Pete residents. These range from simple clothing items like shoes, blouses, and hats from over one hundred years ago, to 16th century conquistador helmets and ViewMasters from the 1960’s complete with advertisements for Blue Springs National Park and other nature and theme parks around the state. The relics of a memory of St. Pete is preserved indefinitely in these artifacts. These objects, ordinary and mundane in their time, are now kept in reverence to a time worth remembering.
The St. Pete Museum of History itself is derived from the St. Petersburg Memorial Historical Society formed in 1921. After only a year of its existence, the City government allowed the Society to use the aquarium building directly adjacent to the spot of the first ever commercial air flight near the St. Petersburg Pier where it remains today. Ever since its founding in 1921, the museum has been the go-to for collectors and ordinary citizens alike to donate their personal artifacts for the staff to curate. Ninety-nine years and counting, the St. Pete Museum of History is the oldest in Pinellas County and has maintained its status as protector of Old St. Petersburg.