A community celebration like no other: the De Soto Heritage Festival

April 4, 2014 

One of the finest months of the year is finally here. April's annual promise of glorious weather also brings the finest of community celebrations, the De Soto Heritage Festival.

This year marks a first for the nearly monthlong merriment -- a move from downtown Bradenton to Palmetto's Sutton Park for Seafood Fest, today through Sunday.

This year is also distinguished by a major milestone for the Hernando De Soto Historical Society festival: its 75th anniversary.

A colorful Crewe

The society's Crewe, an indelible and colorful community asset more than 200 strong, raises money for a variety of local charities via the nonprofit Conquistador Historical Foundation. Decked out in Conquistador regalia, they also visit schools to educate youth about the history of Manatee County.

Every weekend in April features one or more festival events, a bonanza of revelry. Nothing quite matches the Bottle Boat Regatta for wacky and unique amusement, on April 12 along the south side of the Palma Sola Causeway. Anyone can enter (though the deadline is today).

Just build your own boat that floats on plastic bottles, pull together a team of rowers and try to reach the finish line before sinking or capsizing. The best-dressed crewe wins an award, too, damp or dry.

Few festivals around the nation can match the scope of the Grand Parade. With more than 150 entries, the evening of April 26 will once again attract thousands of spectators. The parade after-party concludes the festival.

Another favorite is the Children's Parade and Party in the Park, on April 18 in Palmetto. Kids are in charge, designing and building the floats, with games and other fun at Lamb and Sutton parks afterward.

A black-tie ball, a musical and fashion show, and an Easter Sunrise Service round out the festival schedule.

A bit of background

The society honors Don Hernando de Soto, born around 1500 in Spain. A captain appointed to claim Florida as Spanish territory, he landed his expedition in May 1539 at the mouth of the Manatee River, as represented by the De Soto National Memorial in northwest Bradenton.

The Conquistador Historical Foundation, established for charitable, literary and educational purposes, serves to promote Spanish and American historical and cultural alliances.

The organization's service to the community includes support for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Manatee, the Foundation for Dreams, and the Community Haven for Adults and Children with Disabilities, and other groups.

The Hernando De Soto Historical Society adds much to the fabric of this community -- year-round. April, though, is the time for the Crewe to shine.

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