For more than half a century the Historical Society of Martin County has served as a guardian of local history and a cultural hub by operating the House of Refuge and the Elliott Museum.
The relationship between the Historical Society, the House of Refuge, and the Elliott Museum dates to 1955, when the Stuart chapter of the Soroptimist Club International founded the Society to preserve the county’s oldest remaining structure, the Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge, and to operate it as an historic house museum on behalf of Martin County.
The next milestone in the Society’s history occurred in 1961, when Harmon Elliott invited the Society to establish its offices in and operate the Elliott Museum, which he had just founded on Hutchinson Island as a memorial to his father, Sterling Elliott. With its earlier vision to construct a museum and interpretive center adjacent to the House of Refuge frustrated by lack of funding and environmental regulations, the Society accepted the offer.
Harmon Elliott, a Martin County winter resident, drew on his family fortune made in the office machines business to construct the Elliott Museum. He initially envisioned a museum dedicated to the evolution of vehicular transportation. However, Elliott subsequently gave his blessing and support to help Janet Hutchinson, the Society’s long-time executive director, guide the Elliott into becoming a museum of art, antiques, and automobiles. Director Hutchinson drew on her many contacts in the New York City art world and Salmagundi Club to amass a contemporary art collection at the Elliott Museum. Harmon Elliott later deeded the Museum to the Society and provided a trust fund to underwrite its operation.
Approaching the 21st century it was apparent that the original structure could no longer meet the Museum’s needs. More space was needed to host popular Member events and educational programming, and the old structure lacked humidity and other controls required for responsible stewardship of the Elliott’s Collection.
When an analysis of the structure proved that bringing it up to modern standards was impossible, the decision was made to build a new museum. The old Elliott was demolished in 2010and groundbreaking for construction of the new building took place in 2011.
Today the Elliott Museum and the House of Refuge still operate under the auspices of the Historical Society of Martin County. The work of the Society will be advanced within the new Elliott Museum, which will allow greatly expanded public accessibility to its archives and library. In addition, historical and archeological materials of local interest will eventually be exhibited in the Community History Lab and the Connections Exhibition, and a “shuttle” service will transport visitors from the Elliott Museum to the House of Refuge. The Society can now expand lectures and workshops on Martin County history, and it will continue to host the “Old Home Week” event for founding families. Most important, the Collection with which the Society is entrusted will receive proper storage and care in the new Elliott Museum.
With the opening of the new Elliot Museum, the name “Historical Society of Martin County” will be “rebranded” as the Elliott Museum. Still directed by the Society’s founding dedication to preserving and interpreting this region’s rich past, the new Elliott is now renewed and re-energized as it moves into the future.
For more information please contact Lisa Djahed,
Marketing Coordinator, 772-225-1961.