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Manatee County

Suniland Magazine


This is a story with the eternal triangle for its plot, but the plot, unlike the trite makeshift of many a modern novelist, concerns a triangle of terra firma as substantial, as yielding, as graciously abundant as can be found anywhere in America.

The Land of the Manatee is the locale of the story: the three lovely sisters: Bradenton, Manatee, and Palmetto, the characters three cities that might just as well have been named for the three graces: Aglaia (Brilliance), Euphrosyne (Joy), and Thalia (Bloom), for these graceful and beautiful goddesses were regarded as the inspirers of the qualities which give charm to nature, wisdom, love and social intercourse and these qualities are paramount in the sister cities, friendly, smiling, productive.

Standing on the banks of the beautiful and bountiful Manatee River with their arm, intertwined about each other, the three sisters are so closely allied that they form virtually one city. On the north side is Palmetto connected with Bradenton and Manatee by a free municipal bridge, a gesture of graciousness in itself; on the south side stretch Bradenton and Manatee, their paved streets and sidewalks forming a continuous liaison between the two, and the little towns that are scattered far into the interior along the Manatee are gathered generously into the arms of the sisters and are thus afforded all the advantages that they have.

The Manatee River finds its source twenty-five miles in the interior and from a mere silver ribbon widens gradually until it measures a mile across at the site of the three cities and becomes practically an arm of Tampa Bay. All along the length it adorns the county, decked as it is to its very edge with tropical growth. Alligators bask on its banks; myriads of fish dart about its waters; hundreds of brilliant plumaged birds hover over it, making it a joy to the sportsman and lover of nature alike.

This boastful Land of the Manatee lies forty miles south of Tampa. On the north, its shores are lapped by the genial waters of Tampa Bay, on the west and south, by the sparkling, riotous surf of the Gulf of Mexico, giving it a coast line of nearly two hundred miles. Tempered in Winter, cooled in Summer by these waters, Manatee County not only has a delightful and healthful climate, but a climate that allied with its many varieties of soils, makes it a citrus fruit and truck growing country deluxe and enables it to put its products on the market ahead of other sections and demand the highest prices for them.

Palmetto or Thalia (Bloom), as one chooses to call her, shipped the first grapefruit of this season out of Florida to eastern markets. It was the product of the Manatee Fruit Company of Palmetto, and it is the second time in succession that this grove has proved to be the early bird.

In the vicinity of Palmetto, also, are the famous Atwood grapefruit groves planted twenty-seven years ago. They are still bearing and are the oldest commercial grapefruit groves in the world.

Palmetto is the first of the sisters reached in traveling the Bayshore Road from Tampa. At the turn of the road to the river front, there is, one might suppose, Hawthorne's House of Seven Gables, so weird, so still, so shielded by a tangle of rich tropical growth that sunshine can scarcely penetrate it. Triangular cacti bury their knife-like blades deep into the heart of the palms, and climb sinuous and snakelike up to their very crowns. Riotous, scarlet hibiscus weigh on smaller plants, banana trees, oleanders, push and crowd each other and over it all; at times, there is a stillness when the rustle of a leaf alone tells of the silently creeping life unseen, awesome, exquisite, ancient. Face in the other direction and there one greets the modern city with her miles of brick paved streets, and Cement sidewalks, her libraries and schools, her churches and new homes, seething with 3,500 progressive citizens, presided over by an up-to-date Chamber of Commerce.

Palmetto has one of the high schools of the County, a Carnegie Library, three churches, a delightful Country Club and an eighteen-hole golf course, and her citizens are now undertaking a cooperative hotel to contain more than a hundred rooms with modern equipment. She has two thriving banks, many up-to-date stores, and a branch of the Atlantic Ice and Coal Corporation is situated within her limits and during the season for shipping thousands of refrigerator cars are iced here. Her transportation facilities include splendid docking and boat service and two railroads.

Palmetto's building permits for 1924 totaled $211,000 and up to June lst, 1925, reached $81,000 excluding the amount subscribed for the cooperative hotel. Large apartment houses and many new homes are under construction and her municipal program for this year amounts to $1,250,000, while the TriCity Trust Company has just finished an office building at a cost of $50,000.

Aglaia (Brilliance) falls by courtesy to Bradenton, the capital city of Manatee County, and it is fitting that it does, in view of what that city has accomplished. Bradentonians know how to lean to their oars and pull together and in the last five years they have sped forward so rapidly that they have increased their population from 3,868 to 8,000 at the taking of the last census.

New homes have had to be provided for the newcomers and Mr. Grant C. Underhill, President of the Chamber of Commerce, an exceptionally lively organization, has been instrumental in the building of so many homes that he has won the title of the chief home builder of Bradenton. He is responsible for more than a hundred apartments and residences in the city and he is now busily at work in Elkhart, a suburb of Bradenton, which he named for his former home, Elkhart, Ind., and in another subdivision south of the city. South of the city also another company is putting up two hundred and sixty houses to take care of the influx of prospective residents.

Mr. J. K. Singletary is another publicspirited citizen who gets things done with the spirit of the pioneer. He was responsible for the building up of one entire street, while Mr. Charles Hull Ewing, former resident of Chicago, and connected with the American Enterprise Company, has to his credit the building of the Post Office, many business places and some of Bradenton's splendid hotels.

Through a nucleus of her most enterprising citizens, Bradenton, in fact, is allowing a strong constructive program. Some of these men joined together and formed the Community Hotel Corporation of Bradenton which is erecting the Southland, a modern fireproof hotel of 171 rooms that will be complete about the first of the year.

Other new hotels, apartments and homes are being built in every direction. Two new bank buildings and the new Peninsular Telephone Building are recent worthy additions to the handsome structures of the city.

The total building permits in Bradenton for the year of 1925, through July, amounted to $2,415,673, exclusive of the half million raised for the erection of the Southland. The ratio of distribution was: 67% for homes, 12% for apartments; 21% for commercial buildings. According to license census, mercantile establishments are increasing at a rate of 62% a year.

The city administration under Mayor Whitney Curry, is keeping pace with her progressive citizens. Mr. Curry is a descendant of one of the oldest families of Bradenton. Love for Florida is bred in the bone, but a progressive spirit is strong in his blood, and even the old homestead has been torn down, sacrificed to give way to the new lovely subdivision where Mr. Curry makes his home.

In all, Bradenton will have a constructive program for 1925 involving $7,000,000. Operations on municipal works at a cost of $2,000,000 are in full swing now. These include a new artificial gas plant, water works, storm and sanitary sewer system and street improvements.

There are other things that Bradenton wants and it is a foregone conclusion that she will get them because she knows how to get what she goes after: 2 traffic manager in cooperation with Manatee and Palmetto; house to house mail delivery; an extension of her city limits through Palma Sola and out toward old Cortez; a city dock recreation pier and yacht basin that will be the talk, not of the town, but of the whole country; and still greater school facilities for which $265,000 additional educational funds have already been voted.

Visualize Bradenton with what she already possesses and what she has in the making and you have a city of fulfillment and promise both. There are handsome churches of almost all denominations, an accredited high school which northern visitors endorse wholeheartedly, a Carnegie library, an eighteen hole golf course and a Country Club which is open to membership from all over the United States.

And suppplementing this, a public recreation park in the center of the city in which are located Croque and tennis courts, horseshoe lanes and a club house where tourists from all over the country can get acquainted and enjoy together the hospitality for which Bradenton, the Friendly City, is noted. And these sports may be varied by unexcelled fishing, bathing, boating.

With so much that is new protruding itself into the precincts of the Bradenton that was quaint and old, one should not get the impression of a garish newness, for the city is set like a gem on a natural elevation with the beautiful Manatee lapping at her feet, sparkling by night with her modernized white way, glistening by day with her clean wide streets and splendid buildings. Her Court House Square is friendly and nice, her County building imposing, but softened and dignified by the shade of stately trees. Her shops are so clean, so up-to-the-minute that they entice one really more than many establishments of larger cities.

Bradenton homes along the River are entrancing. There is scarcely any telling where one garden begins and the other ends, and the houses themselves are lovely from every view, as they sit back among the tropical shrubbery and peer out at one like fine ladies with their skirts spread out, and flowered paths like gay ribbons wavering down the lawn to the River's edge.

And Bradenton is proud of her water front and knows its value. She recently acquired a second boat line to operate between herself and Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Palmetto, including riparian rights and docking facilities at all four cities. This supplemented materially the transportation facilities already offered by one steamship line and rail transportation over the Seaboard Air Line, the Atlantic Coast Line, the East and West Coast railroads. Besides this the picturesque Tamiami Trail, which eventually will connect Tampa with Fort Meyers, gives one highway to Tampa and all points north, the Bayshore Drive another, while fine hard surfaced roads thread every part of the county and connect through these two principal highways with the state system of roads.

A familiar figure in water front activities and one that is exactly where it belongs is that of Captain J. B. Wheatlon, for "Captain Jack" as he is called, is a natural empire builder. Wherever he has gone bridges have followed, light house have risen up out of vast wastes of water. Old-time deep sea captain and hero, Captain Whealton came to Florida in 913, under contract to build the pier and national quarantine station at Fort DeSoto on the Gulf of Mexico about twelve miles from Bradenton. He came for his health and he found it and so he stayed on, and in winning him Florida gained a man of achievements. To his credit he has the construction of the Chincoteague Tull Bridge and Road in Virginia, a piece of engineering work that had been considered impossible of accomplishment; the building of the Thimble Shoal Light House, another difficult feat. And "Captain" Jack is a hero and anyone by merely asking him the time of day can see the gold watch given him by the Life Saving Benevolent Association of New York for the rest of the crew of the Schooner Allie R. Chester, wrecked off Diamond Shoal near Cape Hatteras. The local Life Saving Crew had given up the rescue when the Captain put out in his little schooner James E. Kelsey and brought every man of the crew in. The owners of the vessel and the Masters' Association of Philadelphia also commended his heroism by the gift of a gold medal inscribed with the story of his bravery. His young sons, chips of the old block, are working with the Captain in Bradenton, doing their bit by providing shells and sand for road building.

A traffic census taken by the State Road Department in the early part of last Winter showed the municipal bridge connecting Bradenton and Manatee with Palmetto to be the busiest bridge in all Florida. Cars crossing over it and spreading caravan-like along the highways approximated 600,000, while the bridge leading into Miami undershot that mark and gained only second place. This bridge record incidentally, and at the same time, marked the Land of the Manatee as the most popular section of the State for the automobile tourist. And because the municipal proved itself of such value, the State Department is replacing the wooden structure with a concrete span at a cost of $3,000,000.

No bridge is needed to pass from Bradenton to Manatee. There are no barriers, natural or artificial; the streets and sidewalks are continuous, the spirit and evidence of progress and attainment are the same. Manatee, Euphrosyne (joy), is the happy homeland and her population numbering the same as that of Palmetto, 3,300, is made up of an admixture of oldtown folk and new-come residents from the North. Her homes are modern and as lovely as those of her sister cities and much of her river front has a sea wall. She has an admirable water system with complete storm and sanitary sewers, electric lights, telephones and other modern utilities. Here, too, is located one of the most noted medical springs of the State which the city maintains free for the use of residents and visitors.

The city also provides two recreation parks, one adjacent to the Seaboard Air Line Railway with pavilion, roque court, croquet, tennis ground, and another in the residential section.

The City of Manatee boasts of the largest lumber mill in Florida and two others besides, with novelty works and crate factories as a side line. She has packing houses, as has Palmetto, and a well established preserving factory.

In 1924, Manatee's building permits reached a total of $174,950, while at present new homes are being built in every direction. The civic improvements under way now amount to over $1,000,000.

And Manatee, also, has a free municipal bridge, which connects with Ellenton on the Palmetto side. Starting from Bradenton or Manatee and making the loop covering the two bridges and taking one deep into the heart of the truck farms around Ellenton, Palmetto, Parrish, is a drive that will win the heart of any tourist and tempt him to stop and build his home-fire not eventually, but on the instant.

Parrish is the center of the grapefruit, orange and vegetable growing section; Ellenton boasts of some of the best farm lands in Manatee County with natural flowing wells to furnish the irrigation.

In this country at this time of the year, the tourist may drive through miles and miles of groves among trees laden with the white-gold of the grapefruit and the deeper yellow gold of the orange. A little later he can view truck farms of twenty acres in one patch of lettuce, ten of tomatoes, ripening under the heartening sun of Florida while northern farmlands are buried deep under snow. The town of Ellenton is bustling during the shipping season with nine vegetable packing houses running at capacity. There are two large fullerŐs earth factories that operate there constantly also. And romance and history, as well as modern enterprise, has thrown its mantle over Ellenton. In the very center of the town stands the Gamble Mansion, which served at the close of the Civil War as a place of refuge for Judah P. Benjamin, Secretary of State of the Confederacy, and was instrumental in his making his escape to England where lie became a foremost barrister and counsel to the Queen.

The old house has changed hands many times since it was built by John, Jr., and Robert Gamble, planters from Louisiana, who made it the social center of the then sparsely settled Land of the Manatee. It is of the dignified style of old Southern architecture and is built of native shell-concrete and native timbers, and the fact that the building has withstood the ravages of eighty years speaks well for the native product.

Citizens of Manatee County through the efforts of the Judah P. Benjamin Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, have arranged to buy the Mansion, with the three acres that remain surrounding it, and present it to the State of Florida to be preserved as a memorial and a shrine.

From Bradenton and Manatee also the tourist can drive out to Braden Castle, another relic of the historic past, for the crumbling walls of the old castle formed the walls of the sturdy local fort of a century ago to which the white settlers fled for protection against the Seminole Indians, those driven warriors who were attempting a last stand before retreating into the swamps of the Everglades, where a remnant of them still abide.

The old castle stands on a bluff overlooking Braden River and on this garden spot has sprung up a tourist camp of small bungalows, shacks and tiny Spanish houses. The houses are owned by a tourist corporation and the stockholders, as a rule, spend the Winter there themselves, but rent the houses during the Summer. They are always in great demand and lucky is the itinerant tourist who secures one.

In this section, too, is Oneco, celebrated for the long established Royal Palm Nurserie internationally known as authorities on tropical and subtropical ornamental agriculture; Waterbury, which has one of the largest grapefruit nurseries in the state; and Myakka, a thriving young town surrounded by many groves and small farms and by thousands of acres of timber of virgin growth. Her rivers and woods abound in fish and game.

Starting again from Bradenton and driving nine miles west one finds himself on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Located on the point of the Cortez Peninsula at where the bridge from the mainland passes to the Island of Anna Maria, is a quaint fishing village of Cortez. Here a wonderful opportunity for fishing for pleasure and profit, for the Bay teems with all kinds of fish and fishing is engaged in commercially in this district more than at any point on this part of the coast.

Crossing the bridge, another free bridge to the credit of Manatee County, and the tourist has reached Anna Maria Island, a gem of an island with the Bay offering splendid fishing on one side of the Gulf with gorgeous bathing on the other. There is Cortez Beach at the terminus of the bridge, with its fine bath house, new homes and a big hotel in prospect; West View keeping pace; Idlehurst a little farther along; and Anna Maria, at the tip of the key, with her hotel, bath house and many beautiful homes.

With the building of the causeway between Longboat Key and Anna Maria Island connecting Bradenton with Sarasota, an enormous impetus will be given this whole section; it will be like putting Mercury and Pegasus in harness together. Subsequently, it will mean a beautiful shore-line drive of twenty-five miles, a drive within reach of most of the residents of Manatee County since the beaches are only thirty minutes distant from three-fourths of the homes in this section.

The vision and energy of Mr. E. P. Green, of the State Road Department, is largely responsible for the attainment of this causeway and many of the splendid roads and highways that make almost every part of Florida easily accessible. He is a road enthusiast and one of the leaders of the Tamiami Trail movement.

Mr. Green came to Florida from a little town in George nearly a score of years ago, a struggling young lawyer with his ill wife and children. He moved about from place to place until he discovered Bradenton where he remained to make his home, and firmly believing in the land of his adoption, invested in land. Fortunately for himself and Bradenton, it was not long before the city and then the State discovered him.

He has been numbered among the counselmen of Bradenton; a short time ago he served as mayor, now he is in the State Road Department, and it is whispered by "the boys" about town that it is not unlikely that he will sit in the Governor's chair: meanwhile, Mr. Green and his sons are devoting themselves to the development of beautiful Palma Sola, bodering on Palma Sola and Tampa Bays and the Manatee River and reaching almost to the Gulf of Mexico. It is not only one of the most attractive developments of the West Coast, but a thrifty section, being the center of bearing groves and Winter vegetables. It has a hand Country Club and an eighteen hole golf course, the better designed and built under the direction of Donald J. Ross, the celebrated golf architect. On the Palma Sola road a little more than a mile from Bradenton is Harbor Hills, another lovely development, reached by a drive through orange groves and hedges of hibiscus.

There are thousands of acres of land waiting to be farmed. Of the 485,000 acres comprising the area of the county, 75,000 have been drained and are ready for cultivation while only three per cent of these are under cultivation. This gives the newcomer the same position almost as a charter member. Irrigation is necessary but there is an artesian flow of water reaching to a depth of from 400 to 600 that furnishes the water for domestic and commercial use by natural pressure alone.

And the Land of the Manatee is not a land of millionaires. That is, ready-made millions have not been brought into it. It is a land of potential millions, a land that millions can be taken out of. Her great need is for men of sufficient substance to make investments and of sufficient energy to make those investments pay. Her fertile acres are calling, her factory sites are beckoning. There are thousands of acres for large profits. Nature has been over generous in this part Florida; if some upheaval of the earth should pile mountain barriers about the entire county one could live off the country and still be in a land of plenty. That is true definition of a friendly country, and Manatee is friendly.

Mott, R.B., "The Tale of Three Cities: A Story of the Land of Manatee."
Suniland, Nov. 1925, Vol.3, No.2., Pgs. 47-51; 161-165


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