Many of the families that settled along the Manatee River adopted trades suited to their locale.
The Pillsbury family had many ties to the craft of boat building. Researching the roots of the historic boat shop that now sits at the Florida Maritime Museum has unlocked a number of their local boat-building stories and historic connections.
Asa Nettleton Pillsbury (1878-1969) came to Manatee County from Chicago with his parents in the 1880s. His interest in boat-building came early. As a child, he built model boats and raced them across the
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In 1905, he homesteaded a 10-acre plot on Palma Sola Bay on which he built a home for himself and his wife, Cora. He learned boat-building from Capt. Bartholomew Fogarty (1839-1917), who also settled on the Manatee River (in what is referred to as Fogartyville), and eventually opened his own boat shop on Palma Sola Bay.
Asa focused predominantly on small sailboats made from cypress, juniper and cedar that were well-suited to fishing in the shallow bays of this region. He also provided boats to the government for use by lighthouse keepers. Coincidently, his niece, Mrs. J. Hartley Blackburn, was a teacher at the Cortez schoolhouse for a short while.
Asa Harmon Pillsbury (1900-1985) was the son of Edward Ithamar Pillsbury (1844-1930) and was known for making high-quality skiffs and skipjacks (small sailing vessels). Edward started the Snead Island Boat Works in 1907, and the first building constructed was a small shop named in honor of his son. As the boat works grew to accommodate the demand for larger boats, additional buildings were added to the complex and the original building was modified for use as a machine shop, housing a lathe, small milling machine, and other metal working tools.
The property was sold in the 1930s and the Pillsburys moved the original structure to their home three miles away. It served as a machine shop there, too, and was used to repair the Pillsbury dredging company's equipment.
It is the Asa H. Pillsbury boat shop that was eventually moved to the Florida Maritime Museum. When the family was subdividing the land in 2003, one of the new property lines bisected the building. Rather than see the old shop torn down, the Pillsbury family, with the help of their friend Jim Alderman (who now owns Snead Island Boat Works) searched for a suitable location to relocate it. In the meantime, they moved it to Snead Island Boat Works for repair, stabilization and storage.
In 2007, the historic boat shop was transported, with sheriff escort, from Palmetto. It traveled over the Manatee River (via bridge), down Manatee Avenue to 75th Street, down Cortez Road and to its current location at the Florida Maritime Museum in the Cortez Fishing Village.
As one of three historic buildings on the museum campus, the Pillsbury boat shop was originally used as exhibit space, illustrating its use as a machine shop. To accommodate educational programming, the boat shop has been restored to its even earlier use as a wood-working and boat-building shop. It is the current venue for boat building and maritime skills classes offered by the museum, and becomes a bit of a living exhibit when in use.
As part of its campus redevelopment plan (supported by the Conventions and Visitors Bureau and the Tourist Development Council), the museum hopes to build additional shop space and a covered work area so that we can expand our offerings and showcase additional educational exhibits.
This article reflects only a small sliver of Manatee County's boat-building heritage, and our research shows conflicting information. If you have any additional information about the Pillsbury family or any other boat-building families in Manatee County, we would love to hear from you.
The museum is open from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and admission is free. You can contact us at www.floridamaritimemuseum.org or by calling 941-708-6120.
Amara C. Nash, supervisor of the Florida Maritime Museum, loves museums, art, music, history and culture, and splits her time between her two favorite villages: Cortez Fishing Village and Village of the Arts. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 941-708-6121.