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 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.

Rotating Exhibits


An exhibition by the Tropical Botanic Artists collective

On display now through June 30, 2019

The interdependence of plants, animals, and insects in Biscayne Bay’s terrestrial and aquatic environments is a subject that warrants close scrutiny. To highlight the complex natural relationships that occur in the area’s four distinct ecosystems, members of the Miami-based Tropical Botanic Artists collective used a variety of media and artistic approaches to create the exhibition ENCOUNTERS: FRIEND OR FOE?  The original works of art with informative labels illustrate life-sustaining interactions among Biscayne Bay’s abundant plants, animals, and insects.

Biscayne Bay’s ecosystems support hundreds of species, many found nowhere else in the United States. The artists illustrated encounters ranging from mollusks grazing on mangroves, to marine animals interacting with underwater plants, to nesting birds catching native fish to feed their chicks, to butterflies and other insects pollinating or laying eggs on the indigenous vegetation.

“Encounters: Friend or Foe?” was first shown at Biscayne National Park in early 2017 to mark two milestones: the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016 and the 50th anniversary of Biscayne National Park in 2018. “Members of Tropical Botanic Artists were honored to participate in these celebrations by highlighting many aspects—some relatively hidden—of the fascinating terrestrial and aquatic life that flourishes in this natural paradise,” said Kristi Bettendorf and Beverly Borland, co-chairs of Tropical Botanic Artists.

The exhibition has traveled to several Florida venues, sponsored in part by the Florida Keys Council of the Arts, the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, Florida Council on Arts and Culture, and private donations.


Artists with works in the exhibition are Margie Bauer, Beverly Borland, Silvia Bota, Marie Chaney, Susan Cumins, Jeanie Duck, Julio J. Figueroa, Pauline Goldsmith, Leo Hernandez, Carol Ann Lane, Elsa Nadal, Carol Onstad, Laurie Richardson, Donna Torres, and Jedda Wong. All are longtime residents of South Florida. The Tropical Botanic Artists collective was established in Miami in 2006 to highlight the beauty of tropical plants through art. Its members come from all walks of life and each brings a unique viewpoint to his or her work. They share a love of the natural world and that fascination is reflected in their art.


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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