Photograph by Gwendollyn Barshay, Osceola Chapter, DAR
Manatee County is situated on the southern shores of Tampa Bay on the west coast of Florida. Its nearly 150 miles of waterfront property include more than 14 miles of Gulf beaches on barrier islands. The County and its major river both are named for the gentle sea cow, the Manatee.
The first inhabitants of Manatee
County were the Timucan Indians. For more than 500 years the Timucan tribe
had undisputed control of their territory until the first Europeans arrived on
the scene. Ponce de Leon arrived on the west coast of Florida in
1521. Thwarted in his attempts at colonization by the local Indians he
left Manatee County. Eighteen years later--in 1539--Spain sent another emissary
to attempt to establish a trading center. Hernando DeSoto and his
conquistadors landed in the Manatee area at Shaw's Point. DeSoto enslaved
the tribes of the area and demanded to be guided to the "city of gold"
which the conquistadors believed was in the area. After numerous
unsuccessful expeditions to find the golden city, DeSoto sent his ships back to
Cuba and set off for the Mississippi River. Each year a week-long celebration
called The Florida Heritage Festival is held in Manatee County to
commemorate DeSoto's landing. The next settlers to the area came in the mid
1800s, with the arrival of Joseph Braden, a sugar planter for whom the city of
Bradenton (Manatee County's largest city and also the county seat) was
named. Spain sold the territory of Florida to the United States in 1821
and in 1854 Florida became a state.
Over many years--with the influx of new residents--Manatee County's population grew to its current size in 2000 of about 258,000 people. The County is approximately 740 square miles in size. The County's year-round tourists are attracted to its beaches, golf courses, tennis courts, athletic programs, cultural opportunities and moderate climate. Those same factors make Manatee County an attractive retirement destination. It has been estimated that some 60,000 residents, sometimes called "snowbirds", spend winters in Manatee County and summer months at their northern homes.
Major crops grown in Manatee County include citrus, tomatoes, cabbage, watermelon, cucumbers, and green peppers. The County is known throughout the world as the home of Tropicana Orange Juice. Beef and dairy production are also significant contributors to the County's economy. Fishing provides both recreation and livelihood.