Palmetto Historical Park has a very loyal group of historical commission members, volunteers, and staff members. We are all proud of the contribution our park makes to the community, and are prone to tell anyone who will listen about what’s going on here.
If you’ve ever been in line behind me in Publix, you’ve most likely been invited to one of our events. We welcome locals and tourist alike, hoping not to hear the dreaded, “I’ve lived here for years, and I’ve never even heard of this place!”
Back in 1955, the Palmetto Chamber of Commerce had a different problem. Instead of people not knowing about them, too many people knew about Palmetto, and what they knew was likely to make tourists take a detour! During the mid-1950s, the American Automobile Association (AAA) informed their members that Palmetto had a speed trap on U.S. 41. Back then, U.S. 41 ran down 8th Avenue. The alternate ran down 10thAvenue. Palmetto police officers did pay special attention to that area, but not because they were setting up a speed trap. The city’s elementary school was located between 8thand 10th avenues, and the officers were trying to protect local children from speeding cars.
Just like today, tourism was an important part of the economy, so in an effort to show a more positive side of their city the Palmetto Chamber of Commerce, Palmetto City Council, and the Palmetto Police Department sponsored a “hospitality speed arrest” program from approximately 1955 through 1958.
A local newspaper account of one arrest states:
Giving every indication that he thought Palmetto was running some sort of money-making speed trap, Leon H. West of Helena, Mont., was hauled before Jerome Pratt, sitting as “judge” Tuesday, to become the 12th “hospitality trap” victim. Mr. and Mrs. West were stopped by Police Sgt. J.B. Sutton and charged with “zig-zagging across traffic lanes” on 8th Avenue. Mr. West said he had no idea why the officer pulled him over, but that he “supposed” he might as well plead guilty.
“It is my unpleasant task,” Mr. Pratt, began, “to find you guilty as charged. Your sentence will be…” then he hesitated and began to enumerate the sentence handed to the Wests. They got lunch at the Trails restaurant, dinner at the Marine Room on the Palmetto Pier, lodging for a night at the Palmetto Court, candy from the Seahorse, flowers from Jack Travis Market, tour of the area by John Lavender, pictures of the event by Bill and Bob, an honorary membership in the Chamber of Commerce, a six month subscription to The Palmetto News and a car wash from Woody’s Shell Service.
This just happened to be the Wests' first visit to Florida. The Palmetto News reported that they stopped by their office to express thanks to the entire area for the enjoyable “arrest” and the courteous manner in which everyone treated them. So, hopefully, this little detour on their planned holiday didn’t cause them to avoid Florida altogether during future vacations!
The sentences varied, depending on what local businesses were participating that month. The enthusiasm of the “victims” also seemed to vary, but most of the more than 30 couples who were arrested seemed to enjoy “the unique method used by Palmetto to capitalize on what was once an unsavory “speed trap” reputation.”
The Palmetto Chamber of Commerce saw an opportunity to change people's perception of Palmetto and generate good publicity. Their creative plan and the generosity of Palmetto businesses made a difference in the community. You have the opportunity to #BeTheOne and generously help Palmetto Historical Park make a difference today through the Giving Challenge. The Giving Partner Challenge is a 24-hour fundraiser during which you can make a secure donation online and funds will be matched (2:1 for new donors, 1:1 for returning donors.) It ends today, Sept. 21 at noon, so there’s still time to help! To donate, go to givingpartnerchallenge.org and search Palmetto Historical Park (https://givingpartnerchallenge.org/npo/the-palmetto-historical-commission-inc-dba-palmetto-historical-park). The 2016 Giving Challenge is presented by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County with giving strengthened by The Patterson Foundation, as well as support from Manatee Community Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, William G. and Marie Selby Foundation, and the Herald-Tribune Media Group.
Amanda Polson, Palmetto Historical Park Supervisor, grew up in Palmetto and feels historic because her high school annual is part of the museum’s permanent collection. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 941-723-4991.