History Matters: A tour of Manatee County's eight courthouses since 1855

Special to the HeraldMarch 11, 2014 

One of the eight courthouses employed since 1860, which is five years after it was established in 1855. PHOTO PROVIDED

EDITOR'S NOTE: Today we introduce, "History Matters," a new weekly column for the Bradenton Herald by the Manatee County Historical Library. Enjoy!

By CATHY SLUSSER

Special to the Herald

Since its establishment in 1855, Manatee County has had three different county seats and eight different courthouses.

The first courthouse, now at the Manatee Village Historical Park, was built in 1860 for $700. For six years, officials governed the 5,000-square-mile county from this small wooden structure. During that time, court was held in only two sessions per year in the spring and fall. A judge traveled to Manatee from Tampa, and all trials were held in a one-week period.

In 1865, after the Civil War, a schism existed in Manatee County between the established settlers in Manatee and the newer arrivals, many of whom were Union supporters during the war who settled farther east in the interior. The county seat was moved to Pine Level near present-day Arcadia in 1866.

In 1887, DeSoto County was split from Manatee County. For a year, the courthouse was housed in Patten's Store in Manatee on the corner of present-day Fourth Avenue and 17th Street East. During that time, the communities of Palmetto, Bradenton, Manatee and Sarasota fought for the privilege of becoming the county seat. In 1888, an election was held to settle the matter, and much to everyone's surprise, the tiny town of Bradenton (then spelled Braidentown) won.

That same year, the Board of County Commissioners

purchased 2 acres on the southeast corner of Manatee Avenue and Main Street (12th Street West). However, the new courthouse was not built until 1894, and for six years, the location of the courthouse changed frequently from hotels to businesses to schools.

A two-story wood frame courthouse was completed in spring 1894. This building was painted gray and had a tall bell tower or steeple on the side. It was on the northeast corner of the courthouse lawn. A bandstand was erected on the corner of Main Street and Manatee Avenue, and the clerk of court occupied a small one-story building on the west side of the property. A wire fence surrounded the complex to keep cattle and other animals away from the courthouse.

New brick courthouse

In 1912, county commissioners began planning a new courthouse to be built on the south portion of the property. It only took 21 months to construct the courthouse from the day the commissioners decided to build a new building until the contractor received final payment. It took six weeks to select an architect, the firm of McGucken and Hyer of Tampa, but only 30 days to design the plans.

Delays occurred in choosing a contractor because a group of local citizens filed an injunction to halt the process. They were unhappy with the plans, calling them inadequate. Three months later, Falls City Construction Co. of Louisville, Ky., was hired. It took them 16 months to build the courthouse.

The old wooden courthouse was moved to be used as a school for black students.

The new building was made of yellow brick. The county jail was housed on the fourth floor, and a dome rested on the roof. In 1925, the dome was removed because it was a fire hazard, and in 1966, an addition was made to the south side of the building.

Heritage Days

The 1860 courthouse and its history will be part of the Heritage Days festivities from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Manatee Village Historical Park, 1404 Manatee Ave. E. There will be arts and crafts, entertainment and special programs and an emphasis on the role of veterans in our community, thanks to a partnership with the Patterson Foundation and the Legacy of Valor campaign. Admission is free. Contact Manatee Village Historical Park, 941-741-4076 for details.

The lawn of the Historic Courthouse, built in 1912 in downtown Bradenton, is being restored to feature native plantings and a park-like setting. The bandstand originally on the property has been recreated, thanks to a grant from Mosaic. A grand opening is being scheduled for April.

Cathy Slusser, director of the Manatee County Historical Records Library, is introducing the Herald's new weekly column, "History Matters." Every Tuesday, a staff member of the library will write about Manatee County history for our readers. As a historian, Slusser loves to tell stories about Manatee County's past -- and most of them are true. To contact Slusser, email cathy.slusser@manateeclerk.com or call 941-741-4070.

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