Historic Spanish Point was deeded to Gulf Coast Heritage Association, Inc. by the family of Mrs. Potter (Bertha) Palmer in 1980. As part of its mission, the Association identified key visions to which it is committed, foremost of which is the preservation and interpretation of Historic Spanish Point, a 30-acre environmental, archaeological, and historical site that opened to the public as a museum in 1982.
When acquired, the buildings were in serious need of restoration and historic gardens were overgrown. The 1980 Master Plan, produced by a team of restoration architects, historians, archaeologists, and museum professionals, outlined a plan to rehabilitate the 30-acre parcel for a museum. Since then more than $4 million has been raised for restorations, reconstructions, and interpretations of buildings, gardens, and archaeological features. Today, Historic Spanish Point is operated by a professional staff along with some 135 volunteers. The museum is open to the public seven days a week and serves 30,000 visitors annually.
In 1990, GCHA produced a second Master Plan, which outlined goals and objectives that guided the museum for the next decade. Accomplishments include the major archaeological exhibition, A Window to the Past, and the renovation of the Osprey School, a 1927 Spanish Colonial Revival style building adjacent to Historic Spanish Point on U.S. 41. Today, this National Register building is utilized as the Visitors Center and features an orientation theater, lecture hall, meeting room, administrative offices, and the museum store. The project was awarded the Silver Gavel Award from the Sarasota Herald Tribune in 1996.
Strategic planning shifted from ten to five years in 2000. Significant accomplishments for 2000-2005 included the development of a new mission statement and museum accreditation, awarded in the summer of 2002 by the American Association of Museums, now known as the American Alliance of Museums. Only the top 5% of museums in the country have achieved this prestigious professional designation. Gulf Coast Heritage Association also undertook the major renovation of the White Cottage, the original core of which was built in 1885, to house exhibit galleries and a research center.
The current Strategic Plan (2005-2010) identifies specific action steps for the evaluation, repair, and equipment acquisition required to properly maintain the historic buildings and grounds. This project addresses key equipment needs of museum staff so that they can care for the historic gardens, buildings, and exhibits of Historic Spanish Point. In 2010, the museum participated in a year-long celebration of the centennial of the arrival of Mrs. Potter Palmer to Sarasota County.
In 2012 Historic Spanish Point celebrated its 30th year of successful operation with an array of special programs.