Located in Anna Maria’s old ice house, which was built in 1920, inside you will find Island artifacts from the early 1900s. Also on the property is the historic Belle Haven Cottage and the Anna Maria City Jail (pictured).
The Belle Haven Cottage was originally built as a fish packing plant, and since then had been used as a bait shop and rental cottage before its piers, riddled with worms, deposited it into Tampa Bay in 1926. Purchased by Lyman Christy and his wife for $125, it was then barged around the point to 109 Palmetto Avenue where it served as their home for 50 years and a rental cottage thereafter. After being donated to the Anna Maria Island Historical Society (circa 2000), the cottage was moved to the historic park complex in 2001. The cottage was restored in 2006 and now sits on the banks of Lake LaVista canal just steps from the City Pier and its original home on Tampa Bay.
Most troublemakers who found themselves in the Anna Maria City Jail were nearly eaten alive by mosquitoes since the 1927-built jail lacked any windows (but had bars!). Needless to say, a night in the jail proved to be the best preventative for trouble on the Island. After the first couple of dozen offenders were put behind bars, most of the violations stopped. The jail was used until the 1940s when a fire burned the wooden structures including the roof. Thanks to the foresight of Harry Varley, founder of the original Islander newspaper, the jail was left standing. Eventually slogans were painted on the walls and it became a “must stop and see” for over 60 years. It was even featured in Ripley’s “Believe It or Not!”
The Island landmark is still a favorite spot for Islanders and tourists alike. In February 2014, the museum joined the North American Reciprocal Museums Association. NARM is an affiliation of arts and cultural institutions across North America, including the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Individuals who join a participating NARM institution can receive free admission/discounts at over 650 institutions. Additional regional institutions in NARM include the Florida Holocaust Museum, The Ringling, The Dali Museum and the Florida Maritime Museum in Cortez.