The Elliott Museum on Hutchinson Island has been around for 55 years, and it used to be a funky collection of old cars, antique kitchenware, baseball cards and other truly miscellaneous items. It was dusty, overcrowded and definitely eccentric.
A spacious, open and decidedly undusty new museum opened in 2013. It lacks the oddball charm of the old place, but it is an interesting and entertaining stop where the eclectic collection has a little something for everyone.
Located on Hutchinson Island, it’s a nice addition to a weekend of beaches and outdoor activity.
The big draw here are the antique cars and particularly the way they are displayed.
A three-story glass-enclosed storage system houses 54 of the museum’s 90 antique cars. Visitors use a computer touch screen to choose one of the cars for better viewing and it is “ordered” electronically by a museum staff member. A robotic system retrieves the car and delivers it to a viewing site, where it rotates like an old-fashioned record on turntable.
The gee-whiz device is a first in an American museum, and it will impress even the visitor who doesn’t care about old cars. (Here’s a video of it.)
The computerized racking system cost about a million dollars, according to Jennifer Esler, museum president and CEO.“But when you talk about building space and the cost of expanding the footprint of the building, it is actually pretty cost effective.”
The computerized racking also dazzles visitors.
“Sometimes people sit there and watch it for hours,” she added.
Several fabulous vehicles are located in the large two-story atrium space for up-close viewing, including a vintage school bus that kids love to climb aboard and romp inside.
The school bus is indicative of the Elliott’s new focus. It is emphasizing its connection to the Treasure Coast, where that school bus originated.
Similarly, where else would you see a museum exhibit of a Votomic booth from the 2000 presidential election, an example of South Florida’s “butterfly ballot” with the “hanging chads” that resulted in George W. Bush becoming president instead of Al Gore.
In that room was another locally derived exhibit that intrigues female visitors: A 100-year-old wedding dress that had been worn over the years by five brides of the same local family. The wedding photos of each bride are also on display, and each photo captures the styles of its era.
You’ll find interesting outboard motors (there’s an Evinrude family connection to the Treasure Coast) and a display of clothes and images of 1940s movie star Frances Langford (she was married to Ralph Evinrude.) The café is actually an exhibit about Langford and named after the local resort nearby she founded, The Outrigger. (See below about visiting the restaurant that now occupies the site of the original Outrigger.)
The museum offers lots of family programming. On the Saturday we visited, there was an interesting talk by an author in the atrium in the morning followed by a hands-on craft activity in a classroom. And the craft wasn’t just for kids – members of my adult party had fun each painting a wooden fish to join the colorful display in the museum windows.
The up side of the new museum? You can spend longer if you’re intrigued, but it’s the kind of museum that you can tour, be amused and be done in about 90 minutes. It’s not overwhelming or academic; it’s easy to tour and it has a broad appeal for all members of the family.
825 NE Ocean Blvd.
Stuart, FL 34996
Hours: Monday- Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 4 p.m.
- It’s a good deal to buy a joint ticket with Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge, which is a mile away and also operated by the historical society. (See below for more about it.) Combo tickets are $18 for adults; separately, they are $8 for House of Refuge and $14 for the Elliott Museum.
- Reviews of the Elliott Museum on Trip Advisor
What’s near the Elliott Museum:
- Just a mile away: Even if you don’t buy a ticket to tour it, it’s worth stopping to see the Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge because the 1876 cottage is surrounded by an award-winning garden of native plants and flowers and has spectacular views of both the ocean and the Indian River Lagoon. It is located on a picturesque section of beach called the St. Lucie Rocks, an outcropping of Anastasia limestone similar to what you see at Blowing Rocks on Jupiter Island. For lovers of history, this spot is a window into the world of Florida as a wilderness where hurricanes blasted ships onto the reefs without warning and survivors wandered Robinson Crusoe-like on empty beaches.
- A mile south of the House of Refuge is one of Hutchinson Island’s most popular and unusual beaches, Bathtub Beach. The beach is located on a shallow lagoon-like by body of water formed by a reef created by a type of worm. It’s like a small atoll, which attracts schools of fish and other sea creatures. The snorkeling here is great and the shallow lagoon, with sandbars and no waves, is like a playground to scads of children. Because it is so popular, it can be difficult to get a parking space. Parking is free.
- Across the causeway in Jensen Beach, lovers of Old Florida will want to have lunch at the Dolphin Bar & Shrimp House, 1401 NE Indian River Drive, Jensen Beach, (772) 781-5136.Founded by 1940s singer and movie star Frances Langford (1913-2005), it was originally the Outrigger Resort, capitalizing on the Polynesian tiki-bar craze of the 1950s.
- Across the street is a many-featured nature and environmental center, the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center, with a lagoon filled with easy-to-see fish, ray and sea star touch-tanks, aquarium tanks and trails. The place is big hit with kids. Admission is $12 adults; $6 for kids 3 to 12.
Today the restaurant and bar remain fixed in that ‘50s style, with black-and-white photos of Francis Langford and her celebrity buddies decorating the lobby. There is expansive outdoor seating overlooking the Indian River Lagoon, where kids can feed fish off the pier and birds are plentiful. The seafood-oriented menu is reasonable for lunch and pricey for dinner (entrees $24 to $39.)
- I visited Hutchinson Island for a sea-turtle walk at the Florida Power & Light nuclear plant. These free walks fill up fast, but there are other turtle walks nearby. This stretch of non-urban beach is a prime habitat for sea turtles every spring and summer.
More things to do nearby and resources:
- House of Refuge
- Navy Seal Museum: A long history of heroics
- Sea-turtle walks at the Florida Power & Light nuclear plant
- Archie’s on Hutchinson Island: No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem
- Surf Fishing: Family fun at the beach, a tutorial and checklist
- Florida’s 10 best beaches
- Hutchinson Island-area hotels and motels
- St. Lucie County Beaches and Parks (northern 2/3s of the island)
- Martin County Beaches and Parks