Bradenton Herald property has unique history

May 20, 2011 

An editorial in the July 8, 1984, Bradenton Herald announcing the newspaper’s move to its new building, described the location as “tucked under the venerable, rare trees of the old Kimball C. Atwood property.”

Those who were around before the construction of the Herald’s present facilities would remember the Atwood property on the northwest corner of First Street and Manatee Avenue West for its variety of exotic trees.

The blazing Golden Raintrees and royal purple jacarandas and other varieties of curious plants stood out among the grove of majestic live oaks and native vegetation to create a tropical jungle landscape.

Sitting in the center of this wonderful menagerie of flora once stood the large, bungalow-style home the Atwood family called Southland.

In Virginia Robie’s 1921 book, “Sketches of Manatee, she dedicates a whole chapter to Southland and the surrounding landscape.

“So completely is it (the bungalow) a part of the landscape composition that details are at first unnoted,” Robie wrote. “If the time of year be December the color scheme seems one of warm greens and browns combined with a note of vivid red.”

On the recommendation of his business partner, Atwood, who was born in 1853 in Buckfield, Maine, first came to Manatee County in 1890 from New York where he owned a successful fire insurance company.

He was so impressed with the warm climate and the potential of the citrus industry, Atwood purchased 265 acres on the northern banks of the Manatee River, about one mile east of Palmetto.

The Atwood Grapefruit Company was established in 1897 where the old Sieman’s plant now sits, and was considered one of the largest grapefruit groves in Florida at the time.

“The finished grove had 96 rows of grapefruit trees with each row a mile long -- 96 miles of grapefruit” was how Joe Warner described it in his book, “The Singing River.”

It was at this grove in the early 1900s where a mutant fruit -- the flesh was pink instead of the normal yellow -- was picked, and although Atwood was not too enthused about the discovery, his grove superintendent, B. Foster, took a branch cutting to Reasoner’s Nursery in Oneco, where it was grafted to an orange stock and propagated into the popular pink grapefruit, according to Warner.

Robie’s book indicates Atwood purchased the property on the southern side of the Manatee River around 1896.

“Orange trees only were growing on the property and they were fifteen years old,” she wrote. “Now there are palms of many kinds, including royal, date, sago, Chinese-fan, and cocos plumosa; mango; rubber trees of several varieties; huge camphors and both hardy and giant bamboos.”

According to archived city of Bradenton records at the Manatee County Historical Records Library, the bungalow, which was built in 1915, and the 9.3 acres were valued at $27,565 in 1940.

The property ran approximately from present-day Third Street West on the west to Second Street East, and from Manatee Avenue on the south to where the river banks once were, about where the new Third Avenue West now sits.

Since the 1940s, the state has dredged the Manatee River and placed the spoils along the southern banks creating what is now called the Sandpile, pushing the Atwood property farther from the river’s edge. But the Atwood family had sold the property in 1931, and it stood unused for years, with the bungalow eventually burning to the ground.

In 1975, the Mobil Oil Corp. wanted to build a car wash and fuel station on a portion of the land, but the city denied the special request because they found the use incompatible with the type of development envisioned for the area.

But in the early 1980s, the city approved the Bradenton Herald’s plans to build a $17 million building and move its operation from the downtown location it occupied for decades.

Wayne Poston, who was the executive director of the Herald at the time, said the property came to his attention when he was serving as president of the YMCA and they were looking for land to build an new center.

“It was much too large for that project,” said Poston, who is now mayor of Bradenton, “but when the Herald was looking to move, I remembered the Atwood property.”

He said the Herald did a survey of all of the trees on the property before it started construction and after the building was completed, and only two were removed, both of which were diseased.

“It was a beautiful site,” Poston said. “It had all of those specimen trees and plants.”

In her 1921 book, Robie’s description was poetic, “To see ‘Southland’ by moonlight is to become a poet in mood if not in expression. Then the trees seem cut in ebony and ivory, and the long verandas stretch away like the cloisters of a Spanish mission. The full moon ... is soon lost in the bamboo, appears later back of the mango tree, and is again lost in the live oak.”

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