A room full of people gathered around a Columbian mammoth exhibit, but the mammoth was not what they went to see. They were there to witness a milestone celebration.
The Florida Museum of Natural History was officially recognized as the University of Florida’s most recent historic marker on Tuesday. The event also served as a kick-off for the museum’s centennial celebration, which will officially begin in 2017.
The museum opened in 1891 at the Florida Agricultural College in Lake City as the Florida State Museum. It was then moved to Gainesville in 1906 when the university was formed.
In 1917, the museum was dedicated and recognized as the state museum of natural history. Now 100 years later, the museum and the university celebrate all it has become.
Florida Museum Director Douglas Jones spoke at the dedication and recognized the importance of this landmark.
“I’m very invested personally in the museum being successful, so it’s particularly gratifying to see the museum continue to exceed and excel. I am very fortunate to be the director at this particular time in the museum’s history,” Jones said.
Over the years, the museum’s collections have grown to over 40 million specimens and artifacts and is the largest collecting institution in the southeastern United States. Last year, the museum had more than 208,000 visitors and more than 15,000 were UF students, according to Jones.
UF President Kent Fuchs spoke at the dedication ceremony, as well, about the impact that the museum has on the UF campus and on the Gainesville community.
“I think of the generations of children who have sworn themselves to careers as paleontologists after observing the giant sloth and other creatures of the past in our Florida Fossils exhibit. Few visitors will ever forget rediscovering butterflies and possibly also their sense of wonder in the Butterfly Rainforest,” Fuchs said.
The museum historical marker is the 15th marker at UF, according to Joe Kays from the University History Advisory Council.
“These markers describe major research achievements at the university, explain innovations as a land grant and flagship university, recount aspects of campus culture and highlight individual and groups who made important contributions,” Kays said.
Fuchs and Jones unveiled and dedicated the historical marker outside the museum.
“It’s wonderful to be a part of this celebration where we are looking at the past and celebrating all the accomplishments of the past 100 years. But we’re also thinking about the future. This museum is a critical part of our future in terms of the teaching mission, research and scholarship,” Fuchs said.
The centennial celebration will continue in 2017 with a number of events to celebrate the museum’s 100th anniversary. On April 22, the museum will host the Florida Museum 100th Anniversary Gala and in the summer the Discovery Zone, a permanent exhibit, will open.
Jones, who has spent most of his career at the museum of natural history, looks to the future of the museum.
“I look forward to the next 100 years and doing even greater things in the years ahead,” he said.