Houston Maritime Museum: Chronicles Sea Travel and More!

Updated on March 18, 2020
Peggy W profile image

I live in Houston, and I have worked as a nurse. My interests include art, traveling, reading, gardening, cooking, and our wonderful pets.

Exterior of the Houston Maritime Museum
Exterior of the Houston Maritime Museum | Source

Houston Maritime Museum

The Houston Maritime Museum is a hidden gem of a museum. It was the dream of its founder Jim Manzolillo. He had a long career with shipbuilding. Mr. Manzolillo also made countless sea journeys collecting ship models, relics, and artifacts from all around the globe. The doors to this museum opened in the year 2000.

Located in an old two-story residential house, they have big expansion plans in the works. Eventually, when fundraising is complete, their new location will be alongside the Houston Ship Channel.

It becomes evident that there is much to learn, looking at the contents in each room of the museum. What is shown in photos here will be a small sampling of what there is to discover. Plan a minimum of several hours to come away with an overview of what lies inside this museum.

Pictured below is an ancient amphora. The information posted on the case enclosing the amphora reads as follows:

“Amphora, 1600BC – 600AD Greek/Roman
These ceramic containers were used on old ships to store and transport grapes, olive oil, wine, and other items. Their unique base fit into specially designed holes within the ship’s cross beams to keep the amphora stationary. Items donated by George and Dee Love.”

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Ancient Greek or Roman AmphoraThe exterior of Houston Maritime MuseumPicture of Jim Manzolillo as a young man shown at Houston Maritime Museum.Displays inside Houston Maritime Museum
Ancient Greek or Roman Amphora
Ancient Greek or Roman Amphora | Source
The exterior of Houston Maritime Museum
The exterior of Houston Maritime Museum | Source
Picture of Jim Manzolillo as a young man shown at Houston Maritime Museum.
Picture of Jim Manzolillo as a young man shown at Houston Maritime Museum. | Source
Displays inside Houston Maritime Museum
Displays inside Houston Maritime Museum | Source

Ship Models

In addition to items collected by Jim Manzolillo, many others have contributed to what is inside this maritime museum. There are many replicas of ships made by expert ship modelers. Some of the intricate designs took years to complete.

The printed information regarding the Bounty reads as follows:

“HMS Bounty

Collier / Merchant Ship / Armed Vessel

Originally named the Bethia, the Bounty was purchased by the Royal Navy for scientific exploration under the command of Captain William Bligh. The ship and her crew became famous for the mutiny staged aboard in April 1789. Built by Master Modeler Ronald Roberti”

Most people have heard about Mutiny on the Bounty due to studying history. Also, because many movies have been made concerning it. Famous actors such as Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Marlin Brando, and Mel Gibson have played the part of Fletcher Christian, who led the revolt.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Model of the HMS BountyDisplays inside Houston Maritime Museum
Model of the HMS Bounty
Model of the HMS Bounty | Source
Displays inside Houston Maritime Museum
Displays inside Houston Maritime Museum | Source

Christopher Columbus and His Ships

When Christopher Columbus set off on his journey to explore the New World, he set sail with the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. These model replicas displayed in the museum are the most exact from what could be determined about ships dating that far back in time.

The Mayflower II took passengers from London to Plymouth Colony with 35 passengers in 1629. She made four other successful journeys to America until she sailed in 1641. The ship became lost at sea, with 140 passengers on board.

Much is written about the first Mayflower, which initially took the Pilgrims to the New World in 1620 and how they fared.

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The Nina, Pinta & Santa Maria modelsThe Mayflower II at Houston Maritime Museum
The Nina, Pinta & Santa Maria models
The Nina, Pinta & Santa Maria models | Source
The Mayflower II at Houston Maritime Museum
The Mayflower II at Houston Maritime Museum | Source

Sovereign of the Seas and More

Not only did England rule the seas at one time in history, but she liked to show her wealth derived from her seagoing ventures. Real gold and lapus lazuli adorned this particular ship called Sovereign of the Seas.

Most people I am sure are familiar with the work that Jacques Cousteau and his crew have done about exploring the nether reaches of our seas. The Calypso was the ship he used when doing much of this.

It is so exciting to learn about these lovely old sailing ships. Each one has a story. But there is, even more, to learn within the walls of this museum!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Look at the detailing of Sovereign of the Seas (English) 1630 at Houston Maritime MuseumBeautiful models of real shipsModels of real shipsModels of real shipsModels of real shipsReflection of my husband looking at the model of CalypsoThe Calypso ship model
Look at the detailing of Sovereign of the Seas (English) 1630 at Houston Maritime Museum
Look at the detailing of Sovereign of the Seas (English) 1630 at Houston Maritime Museum | Source
Beautiful models of real ships
Beautiful models of real ships | Source
Models of real ships
Models of real ships | Source
Models of real ships
Models of real ships | Source
Models of real ships
Models of real ships | Source
Reflection of my husband looking at the model of Calypso
Reflection of my husband looking at the model of Calypso | Source
The Calypso ship model
The Calypso ship model | Source

Bayous and Port of Houston

Most of the walls of one room inside this museum tell the story of Houston bayous plus development history of the Houston Ship Channel. A timeline from the earliest days of settlement to the effects of war and up to the year 2016 is on view.

In this same room was a live view of ships in the Houston Ship Channel. That was amazing to see it updated every few minutes.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Live view of ships in the Houston Ship Channel in the museumRoom showcasing the history of shipping importance in Houston
Live view of ships in the Houston Ship Channel in the museum
Live view of ships in the Houston Ship Channel in the museum | Source
Room showcasing the history of shipping importance in Houston
Room showcasing the history of shipping importance in Houston | Source

Battleships and History

Except for ships like the Calypso and ones like the Spray in which Joshua Slocum became the first person to solo circumnavigate the world, many of the model ships on display are warships of one type or another.

The graph displayed below shows the terrible losses of Allied ships (in blue) totaling 3,065 as compared to those from Germany (in red) with a count of 781. The timeline starts in September of 1939 and ends in May of 1945.

Written on the base on both sides of the USS Houston are the following two quotes from Franklin D. Roosevelt:

“Our enemies have given us the chance to prove that there will be another USS Houston, and yet another USS Houston if that becomes necessary, and still another USS Houston as long as American ideals are in Jeopardy.”

“I knew that ship and loved her. Her officers and men were my friends.”

There have been a total of four USS Houston battleships with the first one launched in 1917.

Written next to a photo under the title of FDR Catches a Shark is the following:

“In 1938 Franklin D. Roosevelt made his third trip aboard the USS Houston. The President sailed from San Francisco, following a fleet review, to Pensacola. An avid fisherman, Roosevelt caught sailfish and even a shark off the Galapagos Islands during this vacation cruise. Courtesy of the National Archives…”

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A linear portrayal of ship losses between the Allies & Germany at Houston Maritime Museum.USS Houston modelLetters mailed from the USS HoustonPhoto of FDR Catches a Shark at Houston Maritime MuseumPast Battleship models at Houston Maritime MuseumMany models of ships on display at Houston Maritime Museum
A linear portrayal of ship losses between the Allies & Germany at Houston Maritime Museum.
A linear portrayal of ship losses between the Allies & Germany at Houston Maritime Museum. | Source
USS Houston model
USS Houston model | Source
Letters mailed from the USS Houston
Letters mailed from the USS Houston | Source
Photo of FDR Catches a Shark at Houston Maritime Museum
Photo of FDR Catches a Shark at Houston Maritime Museum | Source
Past Battleship models at Houston Maritime Museum
Past Battleship models at Houston Maritime Museum | Source
Many models of ships on display at Houston Maritime Museum
Many models of ships on display at Houston Maritime Museum | Source

Offshore Oil Exploration

Every room has a theme, and in one place of this museum, offshore oil exploration is on view.

Many of these models cost thousands of dollars to create. Once the actual oil rigs were completed, these models were donated to the museum by various energy companies. It offers a glimpse into that part of the energy business.

That large oval gray item on the right pictured below is a replica of only one link of a long chain, which ultimately holds an anchor. The real connection is made of steel and would be very heavy. It is incredible to learn things like this for those of us who are landlubbers.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Offshore Oil Rig Models at Houston Maritime MuseumRoom related to offshore oil explorationLarge grey item is the size of one link of what would hold an anchor.Offshore oil rig models and shipsOffshore Oil Rig Models
Offshore Oil Rig Models at Houston Maritime Museum
Offshore Oil Rig Models at Houston Maritime Museum | Source
Room related to offshore oil exploration
Room related to offshore oil exploration | Source
Large grey item is the size of one link of what would hold an anchor.
Large grey item is the size of one link of what would hold an anchor. | Source
Offshore oil rig models and ships
Offshore oil rig models and ships | Source
Offshore Oil Rig Models
Offshore Oil Rig Models | Source

Collections

The collections of items inside the Houston Maritime Museum are amazing! It would take many visits to absorb everything that there is to see fully, read about, or hear from a docent tour. Judging from our first visit, do take them up on an offer of a docent tour!

Eric Young was our docent guide through the museum. He added so much to the enjoyment of what we learned. In visiting with him, we learned that he and his wife got to sail around the world aboard a freighter ship. Their trip lasted 4 1/2 months. Two extra weeks were spent in Vietnam while their freighter needed some repairs. He must have many amazing stories to tell! His knowledge as we were escorted room to room seemed encyclopedic.

Collection of Ships in a Bottle
Collection of Ships in a Bottle | Source

Location

Since first writing this, the Houston Maritime Museum has moved. It is currently in its interim location near the Houston Ship Channel in a renovated elementary school at 2311 Canal Street, Houston, Texas 77003. The video below shows it as it appears now.

Eventually, the museum will sit on the banks of Buffalo Bayou and have even more space to house its magnificent collection. Click on the source link below to read about hours of operation, docent tours, and more.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Peggy Woods

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    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      2 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi FlourishAnyway,

      I would never have known about those other Mayflower trips, were it not for learning about them on that docent-lead tour. Most of us just think of the first one. It is an interesting part of your family history that some of your ancestors were aboard the Mayflower!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      2 months ago from USA

      This seems like a fascinating place to spend the day, especially with a docent along. I didn’t know there were failed Mayflower trips and people list at sea. I had relatives who were on the Mayflower.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      2 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Robert,

      Houston is holding up pretty well, but things are pretty well locked down except for essential services. I hope that your part of the country is improving.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      2 months ago

      That's good. How is Houston holding up in general?

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      2 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Robert,

      I am sorry to hear that you have been ill, but glad to know that you are recovering. I hope that your family is safe and well. We are fine, thus far. Thanks for asking.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      2 months ago

      I caught the Cox-19 so I have been out of it for a while. I'm slowly getting back to doing things. I hope you and yours are safe.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      3 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Robert,

      We may have to wait awhile before museums are once again open to the public. For now we can satisfy ourselves with walking outdoors and exploring parks if they are not crowded with people. Stay safe!

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      3 months ago

      Good luck with it.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      3 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Robert,

      Yes, it would be fun to see the expanded version of this once museums are once again open to the public. Take care!

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      3 months ago

      It will make for a great followup article,

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      3 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Robert,

      Yes, it means that they accumulated enough funding to upgrade and expand. The Houston Maritime Museum will have even more to offer visitors in the future.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      3 months ago

      It is a good sign when a museum upgrades.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      3 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Robert,

      Yes, this museum does indeed cover a lot of nautical history. As it expands to a bigger place it will be able to showcase even more.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      3 months ago

      This museum seems to cover a lot of nautical history. Thanks for posting.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      3 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Liz,

      It will be fun to see the Houston Maritime Museum in an even larger building. This museum was already amazing, and it will be even more so, if that is possible.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      3 months ago from UK

      From the information you have given, it sounds like a move to bigger premises was very much deserved by this museum. You have given a great insight into the collection.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      3 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Linda,

      Yes, watching that screen with the ships moving in the Houston Ship Channel was fascinating. The entire museum is fascinating and offers so much to people who wish to learn about history, as well as the future of shipping. The docent tour is well worth a person's time to take.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This sounds like another enjoyable place to see in Houston. I love the picture on the exterior of the original building. Seeing a current indication of where ships are located would be very interesting.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      3 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Ruby,

      Since you like to watch underwater adventures, I feel certain that you would enjoy visiting this museum should you ever come back to the Houston area.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      3 months ago from Southern Illinois

      A lot of interesting history in this article. I know sometime I saw a movie about Fletcher Christian. I would love to see the many models of ships past. I watch the underwater adventures and I really like them, they are usually on Saturday morning. My you do live in an interesting city. Thanks again.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      3 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Manatita,

      Walking outdoors is safe as long as there are not people that are close to you. Wishing you safety also!

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      3 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Richard,

      I am pleased that you enjoyed this post. Your father serving on the USS Texas during WWII would make seeing it very special for you. You might want to check to make sure both places are even open before you make the trip. Needed repairs were slated to be done on the USS Texas, and with the coronavirus, many sites are being closed almost daily now.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      3 months ago from london

      Indeed!! Farmer's market tend to have really good and healthy stuff. Just a little pricy but awesome!

      As to the Park, I'm going for a walk any moment. Too much at home now. Stay safe!

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      3 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Bill,

      It would be fun to show you these types of places in Houston. From what I know of you, our parks and farmer's markets would genuinely interest you, as you love the outdoors.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      3 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Manatita,

      You appear to have a true appreciation of history and, in particular, of maritime history. Thanks for your comment.

    • Richard Hampton profile image

      Richard 

      3 months ago from Texas

      What an interesting article, Peggy. My father served aboard the USS Texas in WWll and I’ve been planning to visit that site again. I may make the swing over to the Houston Maritime Museum after reading this.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      And yet another place I would love to visit. :)

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      3 months ago from london

      I like anchors, as they remind me of a very beautiful christian song, called 'We have an Anchor ...'

      You most certainly have a taste for beauty and culture. You and Mary must be soul mates. Actually, we do have something similar in London's East. probably at Canary Wharf or Woolwich or both. The Cutty Sark is in Canary Wharf. Many tourist go there and I have been myself.

      Yes, I have read of the Mayflower, Jacques Cousteau and true, England was quite powerful and respected on the seas. She had a spirit of adventure and conquering.

      Columbus had the spirit of exploring and probably name and fame. He worked for different Courts and did have some influence on world history. Aesthetic Hub!

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      3 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Pamela,

      Yes, we certainly do have our fair share of attractions in and around the Houston area. Thanks for your visit and comment.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      3 months ago from Sunny Florida

      What a great wealth of maritime history! This is a very nice museum with so much hsitory to view. I would love to tour this museum. It seems Houston has an endless number of great places to visit, Peggy.

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