Parrish Arts Council imagines village as tourist destination

jajones1@bradenton.comApril 13, 2014 

PARRISH -- They're dreaming big in the historic village of Parrish.

Envisioned is a walkable community, where residents and visitors could stroll to ice cream shops and restaurants, check out rural Florida architecture from the early 1900s, or buy a ticket to see Thomas the Tank Engine or other special event at the Florida Railroad Museum.

Also included in those plans is Fort Hamer, where more than 100 years ago, Parrish farmers hauled their crops in wagons and loaded them onto boats to be shipped to market.

Members of the Parrish Arts Council have been meeting around dining room tables, refining their vision for recapturing some of the essence of a vibrant village that flourished between 1870 and the first half of the 20th Century.

Almost lost to memory is

a time when the school house was the center of community hopes and dreams, and where there were multiple groceries, general stores and packing houses.

"We want to rewire the village of Parrish as a destination," said council president Norma Kennedy. "We would like to recreate Parrish before they tore it down. It can be something special."

Many of the historic buildings along U.S. 301 were torn down in the mid-1950s to allow the road to be widened.

Parrish took another hit when the Seaboard Coast Line discontinued rail service to the community.

In spite of that, Parrish is still sprinkled with homes dating back to the early 1900s.

Sidney and Vivian Buice live in a home on 121st Avenue East that was constructed in 1906 and includes tongue and groove construction, a tin roof, and a front porch fine for rocking. Aside from the air conditioning, a satellite dish on the side, and electricity, it's changed little in more than 100 years.

"It's comfortable," Vivian Bruice said of the living remnant of a by-gone era.

While modern neighborhoods have sprouted up around Parrish, some complete with golf courses, country clubs, and fitness centers, the historic village itself has not prospered.

Parrish north of County Road 675 still lacks sanitary sewer, a huge hindrance for eateries or mom-and-pop shops looking to do business in the area.

The irony is not lost on villagers, who are still using septic tanks.

The way forward, says council member Ben Jordan, is to continue lobbying the county for sewer service, while trying to make Parrish a tourist destination.

As a first step, the Parrish Arts Council is proposing starting a regular concert series to draw more people to the area.

Planned for 2-4 p.m. May 3 at Fort Hamer Park is a free concert, "Music on the River."

The JD Lewis Band is scheduled to perform acoustic originals, Americana and country folk music.

"The concept is that you add regular concerts that draw people in. Let's do this first concert and see what kind of crowd we can draw, and then plan for a big series in the fall," Jordan said.

Council member John Phillips is building a scale model of Parrish, the way it might have looked in the 1940s. The model is expected to be ready to be unveiled at the Music on the River concert.

Council members are hopeful that more residents will come forward to help with the community improvement project.

Concerts this fall won't necessarily be called Music on the River, because they may be held at other Parrish locations. One constant will be that folks will be encouraged to bring their lawn chairs to the concerts.

"If we give it a push down the road, it will start," Jordan says of the concert series. "It's for the good of the community."

Norma Kennedy agrees that the vision is ambitious.

"But we won't succeed if we don't try," she said.

Council member Iris McClain notes that saving Parrish's school house was once considered an impossibility, too.

With Jordan as a driving force, the county eventually agreed to ante up $2.2 million for the school renovation project, McClain said.

The school house reopened in 2009 as a community center. Today, it buzzes with activity as the Parrish YMCA.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.

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