At the Palm Harbor Museum: Outgoing manager’s enthusiasm, creativity inspired staff

Carol Cortright

As Carol Cortright makes an exit from her role as operations manager for the Palm Harbor Museum, several volunteers who have worked closely with her expressed their regret that she is leaving, while at the same time wishing her well in her new endeavors.

“Carol came to the museum with lots of great ideas, which quickly developed into increased visitors and some great programming,” said Jean Barnes, immediate past president of the Palm Harbor Historical Society, which operates the museum. “Her enthusiasm and creativity was an inspiration to all who worked with her. Wherever she goes, she will be appreciated for her many talents, and we wish her the best of luck!”

Research volunteer and docent Molly Moore McCormick also had high praise for Cortright. “She is an enthusiastic, multi-dimensional person with so much experience and far-reaching ideas,” she said, describing Cortright as so well-liked that “many of her volunteers from other places joined her at the Museum when needed.

“She is always working on more than one project at a time, difficult to do while in a pandemic and without people. She had many challenges coming into this role, (lack of money, volunteers, support), but creatively applied what she had available to make it work,” she said. “Personally, she recognized what I had a passion for, and let me explore the research of the pioneer families and the ideas for the Ida's Kitchen exhibits.”

The volunteers’ admiration for Cortright appears to be reciprocated. “Really, the most fun days were spent working with the volunteers, being ‘history detectives’ as we researched and pieced together information for upcoming exhibits,” Cortright said as she considered her time at the Palm Harbor facility.

“I enjoyed getting to know the individuals who give their time to the museum,” she continued. “Every single person has a different and interesting background, so they bring their unique perspectives and skills to the museum setting. You have to admire the dedication of all the Palm Harbor Museum volunteers — they have kept the doors open since the beginning.”

Shortly after she was hired as operations manager in January 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the museum’s routine. But Cortright found ways to keep it going. “She quickly segued into new internal projects which resulted in new exhibits, collection software advances, and organization of our historical items,” recalled Barnes.

“She is a very creative person and had many great ideas for the museum,” added Penny Riddle, museum office assistant and keeper of membership records. “The COVID shutdown limited museum visitors, but she kept the museum humming by having scheduled tours and using the downtime to organize and identify what information and artifacts exist at the Hartley House available to use for new exhibits.”

Before her time at the Palm Harbor Museum, Cortright had worked at libraries and museums, planning events and programs, marketing, developing fundraisers and designing exhibits. She has been a freelance writer and copy editor, and owned a vintage boutique. She also served on the board of the Pinellas County Historical Society and worked on projects at Heritage Village. She helped re-open the Dunedin History Museum after its renovation and expansion.

With her previous experience in museum operations, Cortright said she “helped the Palm Harbor Museum assess its strengths and take stock of its potential in order for the Historical Society Board to chart a path for the future.”

McCormick agreed. “I have been volunteering at the museum for over three years, and when I heard that Carol had been hired as operations manager, I was so optimistic as we truly needed someone in this role,” she said. “I was more than excited when I met Carol, as I saw she had a vision for the museum going into the future.”

Palm Harbor Historical Society board secretary and museum archivist Nancy Mitchem added, “Her museum knowledge and creativity in bringing local history to our community through exhibits and programs has been invaluable. It has been a pleasure getting to know Carol. She will be missed.”

In addition to noting Cortright’s vision for the museum going forward, volunteers pointed out her many contributions. “Just a few of the many things accomplished during her tenure were the successful 'Wine Around Palm Harbor' event last November, new exhibits that were unveiled in January (with more in the planning stages) and the design, implementation and distribution of the Summer Vacation Kits for kids (in place of an on-site summer camp that was not going to be feasible due to COVID),” said Riddle. “There are so many details necessary to take care of around Palm Harbor Museum that she attended to, and what I listed above are just a few of the things that immediately come to mind.”

And what is in the future for Cortright?

She said she was not seeking a new position, but “the Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation approached me about helping them reopen their gift shop and transfer their clunky, old point-of-sale system over to the more user-friendly Square,” she shared recently. “They knew I had great success with Square at another very volunteer-dependent venue, and I believe it’s important to give volunteers the best tools to do the job, since ultimately, they are front-line ambassadors for the organization,” she said. “I’ve always loved the Florida Botanical Gardens, so it’s exciting to work in this new environment as their interim shop manager.”

Meet Me at the Museum

Tom Rose, Ph.D., is scheduled to answer the question “Where is Palm Harbor and how did it grow?” at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 22, on Zoom as a MMATM presentation.

This will be a close-up examination of maps of Florida and Pinellas County from the 19th century to the present, and an overview of the historical changes of the region up through today, including the development of Palm Harbor.

Visiting the museum

The Palm Harbor Museum is now open for self-guided tours on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is free but donations are gratefully accepted. Masks are encouraged inside the buildings for the safety and comfort of our volunteers and guests. Hand sanitizer is available.

Volunteers needed

The Palm Harbor Museum is looking for friendly hosts and hostesses to greet visitors, provide brief tours sharing information about our historic buildings and the Palm Harbor region, perform light housekeeping tasks and assist with other projects as needed. Training is provided. Requirements include being able to commit to a weekly 2- to 4-hour shift, during the hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Event volunteers are needed to serve on planning committees, recruit table sponsors, request silent auction donations and food contributions, as well as set-up and clean-up crews for museum fundraisers and special events. (The museum’s popular Wine Around Palm Harbor returns November 6 and that event committee will start meeting soon, if you’d like to join the group!)

If you have time to volunteer, please contact the museum at palmharbormuseum@outlook.com to request more information.

Book Nook

The Book Nook offers local history gems, including “It’s No Bull” by Arthur “Buz” Olds, which tells the story of Al Boyd’s Boot Ranch. Late museum co-founder Winona Jones’ book, “Around Palm Harbor,” highlights Palm Harbor’s history through old photographs. Also for sale are original “new old stock” citrus labels that were used by the Palm Harbor Growers Association when the local citrus industry enjoyed its heyday. These items and others may be viewed and purchased in the Book Nook, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Credit card purchases require an additional $2 service fee. Books can be mailed for a $5 shipping fee.

Oral histories

Palm Harbor Museum’s Oral History Program continues, and the museum’s collection now includes more than 65 recorded interviews. The oral histories are available for viewing by searching YouTube under Palm Harbor Museum, or Palm Harbor Museum Oral Histories. Email the museum to inquire about recording an Oral History: palmharbormuseum@outlook.com

The Palm Harbor Historical Museum is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation, interpretation and presentation of the rich historical heritage of the Palm Harbor Area including Crystal Beach, Curlew, East Lake, Ozona and Wall Springs. The Museum is located at 2043 Curlew Road (at Belcher Road). Visit the Museum website at www.palmharbormuseum.com or email us at palmharbormuseum@outlook.com. Museum membership may be purchased online via the Museum’s website.