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Houston Maritime Museum: Chronicles Sea Travel and More!

Former Exterior of the Houston Maritime Museum

Former Exterior of the Houston Maritime Museum

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.”

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.

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.

One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time. Variants include "You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.

— Christopher Columbus

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!

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.

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…”

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.


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


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