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Manatee County History

When Hernando DeSoto landed at Shaw's Point, near the mouth of Tampa Bay in 1539, what is now Manatee County was the southern boundary for the Tocobagan tribe. The first visitors were so taken with the peace and beauty of the water that they named it La Bahia de Espiritu Santo which means in English, Bay of the Holy Spirit. The Tocobagans died out and were replaced by the Seminoles and the Spanish marched on through what they called Pascua Florida in search of gold.

In 1821 Florida became an American possession and later, the area to the south of the mouth of Tampa Bay would eventually become Manatee County in 1855. In 1842, Josiah Gates settled the area and two brothers named Hector and Joseph Braden became the major landowners. The county was named after the sea cow that frequents area waters and the Braden's gave their name to a river and the town of Bradenton.

Farmers, cattle ranchers and citrus growers cleared the area and settled in. The Citrus Belt was created, and along with locally caught fish supplied markets as far away as New Orleans and Key West.

Narrow roads connected Manatee County to Tampa, Sarasota and the rest of the state and a ferry ran to St. Petersburg. All commerce came through Tampa with it's deep water port until Port Manatee was built making it now the closest U.S. port to the Panama Canal.

The Sunshine Skyway Bridge now connects Manatee to St. Petersburg and Interstate 75 connects through Tampa to the rest of Florida. Although the slowest growing of the three counties that front Tampa Bay, it also now has some of the best real estate bargains. In 1970 the population of the county was 97,115. It has now grown to 215,130 as of 1991 gaining some of Sarasota's winter visitor population and also year round residents from crowded St. Petersburg looking for that "country atmosphere" living at bargain prices.

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