This year I can hardly wait for Christmas. I'm so lucky to have a baby granddaughter to spoil! I think children make holidays more fun for most people. One beloved Palmetto resident must have felt the same way, because he became the personification of Christmas to local children. His name was Thomas F. Taylor.
Thomas Taylor moved to Manatee County from England in 1907, spending most of those years in Palmetto. Taylor wore many hats here. He was a local Realtor. He was a musician and sold musical instruments. He was also co-owner of a movie theater. He owned a candy store and a dry cleaning business. It was the dry-cleaning business that gave him his nickname: Taylor the Tailor.
According to local historian Alice Myers, Mr. Taylor was one of Palmetto's most generous citizens. In a 1992 newspaper article, Peter S. Harllee Sr. is quoted as saying, "He was the most benevolent person I ever knew." His kind acts were many, and often anonymous. He bought and sold homes and would sometimes use those homes to help young families with low-cost housing. When he realized many people in the hospital didn't receive flowers, he arranged for local florists to provide flowers to those patients. He gave Tenth Street Baptist Church the property to build their church.
The whole community benefited from his generosity, but his real focus was on helping children.
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Thomas never had children of his own, but he loved all children. In 1914, he vowed to the Palmetto News that no child would ever have to pay more than a nickel to see a movie in his theater. If Tom were around today, can you imagine his surprise at the current cost of a movie ticket? He also hosted the popular Junior Woman's Club dances and a Christmas dance for the older students in town.
He was most known, though, as the host for Palmetto Elementary School's Christmas Party. Each Christmas, Taylor would sponsor this event, which always included refreshments and entertainment for the students. He would also provide enough money to buy each child in the school a stocking of fruit and candy, along with a book and a toy.
Even after his death in 1954 at the age of 70, Taylor the Tailor cared for children. In his Last Will and Testament dated June 9, 1954, he left the bulk of his estate to the Children's Home Society of Florida. He set aside only $500 to cover his funeral expenses.
Obviously, the children of Palmetto loved Taylor the Tailor. That $500 covered the cost of a funeral, but it didn't cover the cost of a tombstone. The students of Palmetto schools, under the leadership of Chief of Police Al Redmon, raised money to purchase a tombstone for their friend. It simply reads:
Thomas F. Taylor. Born 1883. Died July 2, 1954. Below is written "by students of Palmetto Schools and Friends." The headstone was recently refurbished and is still in the "new" Palmetto Cemetery on 10th Street and 14th Avenue.
To me, the "personification of Christmas" is someone who gives out of love, without the expectation of receiving gifts in return. That certainly seems to describe Thomas F. Taylor. Every year, the Palmetto Historical Park and Manatee County Agricultural Museum strive to keep Taylor the Tailor's tradition of providing a free holiday celebration for local kids.
Palmetto's Christmas in the Park, held from 5-9 p.m. this Friday and Saturday, is our Christmas gift to local children and the young at heart. Enjoy games, crafts, face painting, recipes, beautifully decorated buildings, snow and, of course, Santa. You can even pick up some great Christmas gifts at our silent auction with proceeds benefiting the park. I think Taylor the Tailor would approve!
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.