Like most parents, Taura Denis wants a safe neighborhood for her children.
That’s what compelled the 36-year-old mother of seven to organize the Samoset Neighborhood Association last May.
“I think that giving back to your community where you were born and raised ... is the best thing that you can do as a resident from the town that you’re from,” the Manatee County native said.
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With a lack of sidewalks, narrow streets, no streetlights and poor drainage in Samoset, Denis got to work, mobilizing the community in an attempt to revitalize one of the county’s oldest neighborhoods. The neighborhood, which has a population of nearly 4,700, is generally bound by 13th Avenue East to the north, 27th Street East to the east, 15th Street East to the west and to the south by 44th Avenue East and 36th Avenue East.
In her research, Denis found out that Manatee County has had a plan dating back to 2007, detailing many of the same concerns residents still have a decade later.
“I have a family and I want my neighborhood to be safe that my kids in as well as my neighbors,” she said, sitting in the Oasis Community Center in Samoset. “If you live here, you should have a vested interest in your community. You have to be engaged in your community if you want your community to be successful.”
Manatee’s new half-cent infrastructure sales tax, which goes into effect Sunday, is expected to generate $30 million a year for the next 15 years. Residents are hoping some of that revenue will finally go toward Samoset.
Once a city
When Seaboard Air Line extended its railroad service into Manatee County in 1902, Samoset was born. It began as a railroad town, prospering briefly during the early 1900s land boom until the Great Depression.
“Samoset served local farmers, cattle ranchers, citrus growers and fishermen whose products supplied markets as far away as New Orleans and Key West,” according to Samoset Community Improvement Strategy, which was adopted by the county commission in November 2007. “The reason for the choice of the place name is not known but it is said to be named after Samoset, the Algonkian Native American who, with Squanto, assisted the Pilgrims to survive at Plymouth.”
The town’s proximity to the railroad line was enticing for developers to create subdivisions in the area. In 1926, Samoset was incorporated as a city.
“At its heyday in the 1920s, Samoset boasted well-kept, shell roads and new, wood-frame houses,” the county document states.
But by the end of the decade, Samoset had been forced into bankruptcy by the hurricane of 1928, the Florida land bust and the Great Depression.
“According to land tax records, much of Manatee County was lost to the state for nonpayment of taxes up into the 1930s,” according to the plan. “The citizens of Samoset voted out the new government and 100 landowners were left with a $1,000 debt they had to pay through a tax levy during the 1930s.”
And the area never really recovered.
“For decades, roads remained unpaved, and there were no sidewalks,” according to the plan. “Homes, well-built in the 1920s, deteriorated and businesses closed.”
Still waiting a decade later
The county developed the 2007 improvement plan along with the residents of Samoset. It identified specific improvement strategies to address issues such as drainage, lack of sidewalks and streets that are too narrow.
”Once a railroad gateway to Manatee’s surrounding agricultural economy and the early coast land boom, Samoset today is struggling to gain needed community improvements that are on par with other neighborhoods of the county,” the plan states.
Now, a decade later, Samoset residents are hoping that some of the issues such as drainage, lack of sidewalks and streetlights will be addressed.
I think that giving back to your community where you were born and raised ... is the best thing that you can do as a resident from the town that you’re from.
Taura Denis, Samoset Neighborhood Association
“It’s just a great place,” said 54-year-old Carol Fenzl, who has lived in Samoset since 1998. “I think it’s getting pushed aside. It seems as if Samoset has been neglected once Lakewood Ranch started being built up in 2007 or 2008. There were supposed to be some improvements made that got dropped by the wayside.”
The community is trying to get enough residents to sign a petition to create a lighting district for Samoset so streetlights can be put in.
“They would need 67 percent of the residents to say they will pay for the lights over the cost of time,” said Ogden Clark with the county’s neighborhood services department.
While the 2007 plan called for improvements, the recession hit almost immediately after its approval and the county became strapped for money and resources.
“Let’s see what we can use of the plan, what needs are still there,” Clark said of the existing plan.
Hopes for the new year
The Samoset Neighborhood Association is trying to regain the county’s focus for revitalization.
“I think that if they didn’t know there was an interest in Samoset before, maybe then they know now,” Denis said. “I think that they know that we have a voice now.”
Denis and others point with hope to the new half-cent infrastructure sales tax. In the ballot language, it specifically lists sidewalks and streetlights as projects funded by the revenue it generates.
“Now they have extra resources; hopefully, something can get done,” Denis said.
Next week, an English class will start at the Oasis Community Center for the Spanish-speaking Samoset residents, who had been asking for the classes at the monthly meetings.
Several years ago, Alan Gedeon taught English in Samoset at the community center. So when the opportunity presented itself, the community development specialist with Manatee County volunteered to teach the classes again.
“We hadn’t been there for a while,” Gedeon said. “It’s been several years. It will sort of be nice coming back. ... We will do it for 12 weeks. We will just see what happens. If there’s continued interested, we will continue on.”
Community comes together
On a recent December evening, 10 adults and 10 children gathered on the grounds of the Oasis Community Center. Five Master Gardeners from the county’s Extension office worked with them on the Plant-a-Pail community garden project.
The Denis family planted baby carrots, radishes, tomatoes, collard greens and lettuce during the event. Other families learned how to plant other vegetables, which they were able to take home with them.
“The kids definitely had fun getting in the dirt and hearing about plants,” Denis said. “I think it will be more successful if we can actually find a location for the garden in the future.”
Through her efforts in Samoset, Denis hopes to bring the community together.
“The only challenging part is trying to get the community engaged,” she said. “We are a small group so just getting the word out.”
In the last six months or so, more residents have been attending the monthly neighborhood meetings.
“That’s a sign to me and our department that there’s traction there in that community,” Clark said. “They are being vocal. They are starting to be heard. More and more people are starting to get more knowledgeable about their community and how they can play a role in improving it.”
That’s a big step in the right direction, he stressed.
“They are starting to mobilize and starting to get people to buy in,” he said. “We are really trying to create a sense of place and give them a way to have pride in the community.”
Similar to Rubonia, another older Manatee County neighborhood with poor infrastructure, Samoset is a community that was organized in the past.
“This is kind of a new rebirth of that community organization and what that neighborhood is doing,” Clark said. “I think bringing people together has really allowed them to voice those concerns. The community conversation will hopefully lead them to identify ways that they can play an active role in improving their community.”
Samoset by the numbers
- 4,695, population estimate by the American Community Survey in 2015
- 36.5, median age
- 297, number of companies
- 56 percent, high school graduate or higher
- 1,351, total housing units
- $35,000, median household income
- 738, foreign-born population
- 24.2 percent, individuals below poverty level
- 335, number of veterans
Source: United States Census Bureau