Permanent Exhibits

Pirates, Wreckers and Salvagers

From the alleged exploits of Black Caesar, perhaps the Keys most famous pirate, to Captain Ben Baker, the King of the Florida Wreckers who was not only a successful wrecker, but a Key Largo pineapple farmer, Pirates, Wreckers and Salvagers delves into the facts and fiction of those men who plied their trade along the dangerous Florida Reef. The exhibit also explores the efforts of men like Art McKee who braved the underwater realm to salvage the treasures lost to the sea.

The Pirates, Wrecker and Salvagers exhibit was funded in part by a grant from the Monroe County Tourist Development Council.



Spanish Treasure Fleets

focuses on the 1733 Treasure Fleet ravished by a September hurricane off the coast of the Upper Keys. Learn about the routes used by Spanish sailors as well as stories of the ships that sank in the shallows from Key Largo to Key Vaca. Artifacts on display for this exhibit were salvaged from local wrecks, including Spanish coins dated 1732.

The Spanish Treasure Fleets exhibit was funded in part by a grant from the Monroe County Tourist Development Council.




First People

From the origins of aboriginal peoples who first settled along the shores of Lake Mayiami to the Calusa and Tequesta who traveled up and down the island chain, First People explores the indigenous people of the Florida Keys. The exhibit uses a mixture of artifacts and firsthand early European accounts to tell the story of a people who called these islands home more than 1,000 years ago.

The First People exhibit was funded in part by a grant from the Monroe County Tourist Development Council.



Indian Key

Though once the second largest community in the Florida Keys outside of Key West, walking past the few ruins left on Indian Key paints a poor picture of what was once a thriving village. Now, visitors can see a permanent model of the island showing how it might have looked circa 1840.

This exhibit provides our community and visitors a better appreciation for the complexity of life on Indian Key. In addition to the model, artifacts discovered on the island as well as first-hand descriptions and summarized accounts of life on Indian Key, both prior to the Seminole attack of 1840 and after, are presented. Artifacts are on loan from the Florida Division of Historical Resources.

The Indian Key exhibit was generously sponsored by Ken and Dee Meeks

Coral Reef Exploration

The result of an exciting partnership between Mote Marine Laboratory and Florida Keys History and Discovery Foundation, Coral Reef Exploration features three aquariums, educational storyboards, interactive kiosks, video monitors and a game geared to children. The exhibit focuses on providing both a beautiful and educational view of our unique coral reef ecosystem and the challenges it faces.

The largest of the aquariums, at 1,250 gallons, showcases species making their home around the Florida Keys coral reefs, including angel fish, butterfly fish, tangs and wrasse. Guests to the Discovery Center can get up close and personal with invasive lionfish in a 280-gallon aquarium, and check out live coral, crustaceans and reef fish living in a second 280-gallon aquarium.

The Coral Reef Exploration exhibit was funded in part by a grant from the Monroe County Tourist Development Council and through in-kind contributions from Mote, including annual maintenance and upkeep.  The Coral Reef Aquarium was sponsored in memory of Harold & Bettie Bartlett who loved the waters of the Florida Keys.  The Live Coral Aquarium was sponsored by The Charles G. Wright Endowment for Humanity.  The Lionfish Aquarium was sponsored by the Russell, Knudsen & Samuels Families in honor of Juanita Russell Knudsen.  Other significant funding was provided in the name of Devon Cable and Zach Cable and by the Lindback Family, Ocean Reef Conservation Association, Barbara Haudenshield, Amy Knowles, Suzanne Miller.

Stories of the Upper Keys

The most comprehensive and elaborate exhibit developed to date, Stories of the Upper Keys encapsulates several significant aspects of our local history. In addition to subjects like Henry Flagler’s Over-Sea Railway, the Overseas Highway, and the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, the exhibit explores the people who carved niches for themselves and their families from a considerably more inhospitable string of islands than the sub-tropical paradise we live in today.

The exhibit includes storyboards, more than 50 historic images, touchscreen monitors filled with more images and more stories as well as a video component with directional sound focused downward by audio domes in order to reduce the impact on surrounding exhibits. The first video available is an interview with President Herbert Hoover after a fishing excursion from North Key Largo’s exclusive Angler’s Club.

Also featured in the exhibit are a smattering of artifacts on loan from the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum in Palm Beach and Upper Keys historian,  Jerry Wilkinson.

The Stories of the Upper Keys exhibit was made possible through grants and donations from Monroe County Tourist Development Council, the Charles G. Wright Endowment for Humanity, the Florida Keys Electric Cooperative and the Flagler’s Folly Society, a member organization of young professionals aimed at meeting the mission of the Florida Keys History and Discovery Foundation.

Legends of the Line

The first of our permanent exhibits, Legends of the Line features an interactive touchscreen monitor where viewers can explore a host of legendary fishing guides and fishermen who frequented the Upper Keys from 1915 through the 1960s and beyond… men like Zane Grey, Ted Williams, President Herbert Hoover, as well as legendary fishing guides like Captain Bill Smith (the first ever to catch a bonefish on a fly rod), Bonefish Bonnie Smith, Jimmie Albright, Rodney Albury (whose first client was FDR), George Hommell, Jr. and Billy Pate as well as a host of others. In addition to the fishing guides, the exhibit also explores how fishing developed into a new industry in the Florida Keys, tourism–as well as the role the Overseas Railway and Overseas Highway played. Corresponding collection items on display include mounted gamefish and two fishing poles used by President George H.W. Bush and his grandson while fishing with one of the legends included in the exhibit, George Hommell, Jr, among other relics.

The Legends of the Line exhibit was generously sponsored by Caribee Boat Sales & Marina.

16th Century Bronze Cannon

The 16th century bronze cannon was salvaged from a wreck thought to have been part of the 1563 treasure fleet lost to a hurricane near the American Shoal Lighthouse in the Lower Keys. The period correct carriage was handcrafted by Campbell Cannon and Carriage works based on 16th century Spanish designs. The cannon, donated by the Rapperport Family, is on long-term loan from HistoryMiami Museum.

The 16th Century Bronze Cannon exhibit was made possible by the following donors: Mrs. George M. Barley, Jr., The Everglades Trust, Chris and Dave Clark, Joe and Lindy Roth Foundation, Knudsen Family-K.C., Carrie and Julia, Knudsen Family-Ken, Juanita, Richelle and K.C., Bob and Patty Lodge, Bill and Sharron O’Brien, In Memory of Floyd C. and Melissa J. Russell, Russell Family-Rich, Mary, Zackery, Tayler and Joy, Samuels Family-Johnny, Richelle, Livy, Gavin and Eve.

El Infante Anchor

The 18th century anchor is nine-feet-tall and six-feet-wide at the spades. It was salvaged by Art McKee, the father of modern treasure diving, in the 1940s from the wreck of the El Infante. The Infante was part of the 1733 New Spain fleet that succumbed to a hurricane. The ship wrecked off the southern tip of Key Largo. The anchor is on long-term loan from the Mel Fisher Museum in Key West. More artifacts from the Infante and other ships of the 1733 New Spain Fleet are part of the permanent exhibits.

A capital campaign is ongoing to fund this exhibit, click here to lend your support.  The El Infante Anchor exhibit is made possible by the following donors: Vic and Lynne Weiger in memory of Bob Mitchell.

Rotating Exhibits

It Had To Be You

A look back to the late 1930s in an area of Key Largo once known as Planter

On display now through late October 2019

The exhibit is based on the late K Wilkinson’s book “It Had To Be You,” first published in 1996. It documents some of her fondest memories of those simple years living by the water’s edge with her husband Jack. They moved in the late 1930s, squatting along the Atlantic coast at Mile Marker 92.5 (in the general area of the present-day Harry Harris Park). Jack and K called a make-shift tent their home and lived largely off what the ocean could provide, which included furniture that would occasionally wash up.

“What was so inspiring about all the memories recorded in the book,” said Brad Bertelli, Discovery Center curator who curated the exhibit, “was the simple delight found in everyday life shared by not just the Wilkinsons, but the family and friends, like the Allens and McKinneys, who came to visit, feasted on conch and turtle, and indulged in drink.”

The stories within the exhibit have been excerpted from her book. The Joe and Lindy Roth Foundation donated the original manuscript to the Florida Keys History and Discovery Foundation, which operates the Discovery Center, in the hopes the Foundation could reprint the book. The book has been republished and is now available for purchase in the Discovery Center’s retail area. As was the wish of K and her family, a donation from the sale of each book goes to the American Cancer Society.

A reprinting of the book in 2012 was spearheaded by the Historical Preservation Society of the Upper Keys (HPSUK), an organization for which K Wilkinson once served as president. A special thanks goes to Loralea Carrera, HPSUK vice president, who provided Bertelli with a selection of photographs to include in the most recent reprinting.

Listen the Curator Brad Bertelli discuss this exhibit on WLRN Sundial.

On Fly in the Salt

On Fly in the Salt on display at the National Sporting Museum and Library in Middleburg, VA

American Saltwater Fly Fishing from the Surf to the Flats

On display October 23, 2019 through February 29, 2020

Enjoy a curated journey through time, filled with the people, places, and innovations that have made saltwater fly fishing one of the fastest growing sectors of the sport of angling. Explore how fishing tackle evolved to cope with larger, more powerful fish, starting with fascinating home improvements on early equipment and leading eventually to the incredibly efficient gear of today, which allows anglers to successfully target fish in ways that were inconceivable not long ago.

New technology and new techniques are only one part of the story. The exhibit also investigates the human history of saltwater fly fishing, using a remarkable photographic record from the earliest days of the sport along with exclusive and entertaining video footage to introduce visitors to the pioneers of the field.

“On Fly in the Salt” was developed by the American Museum of Fly Fishing.  View Website

Keys History & Discovery Center Exhibits Available to Loan

History of Farming Pineapples, Hurricanes and Flagler’s Over-sea Railway

The sweet-tasting pineapple has a history that goes back to 1493 when Christopher Columbus first brought the exotic fruit to the New World. Fast-forward 400 years to the Florida Keys where the pineapple was the primary cash crop, growing commercially in the Upper Keys.
Over the course of nearly six decades, pineapple growing proved to be a lucrative business. Though profitable, pineapple farming would ultimately be compromised by a series of hurricanes that struck the island chain between 1906 and 1910. Henry Flagler’s Over-Sea Railway would also prove a factor. To learn more about the history of pineapple farming, the families who grew them and how to grow your own pineapple plant, schedule this unique and educational exhibit in your museum, library or community center. Please contact Curator Brad Bertelli at curator@keysdiscovery.com for exhibit specifications and more information.

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