Third in a five-part series.
EAST MANATEE - Sandra Metcalf remembers giant pine trees two feet in diameter that dotted the Jiggs Landing fish camp along the Braden River.
Her days growing up there were filled with hard work, as she helped her family operate the popular fish camp. But there was also plenty of time for outdoor pleasures like fishing, swimming and boating at Jiggs Landing, set along a verdant stretch of the river.
The camp, located near what is now the intersection of Braden River Road and Linger Lodge Road, was named for its owner, her late uncle Alphonso “Jiggs” Metcalf.
“Uncle Jiggs was a very jovial man with lots of common sense and capabilities,” recalls Metcalf, who is part of her family’s third generation to grow up in Manatee County. “If he’d had an opportunity to go to college, he would have been a whiz.
“He was an expert fisherman, knew anything and everything about fishing,” she says. “He could repair boats, motors, could tie for fly-fish, but was equally adept at rod-and-reel fishing. He often served as a guide. . . . He knew that whole river.”
In 1944, Jiggs and his wife, Agnes Spicer Metcalf, bought seven acres along the river. They built a fish camp that boasted a boat ramp, cabins, groceries, bait and tackle, boats and motors to rent — and, of course, the beauty of the Braden River and its teeming wildlife.
“People came more in the winter — tourists,” says Metcalf, who at 64 is a retired management analyst and writer-editor living in The Villages, south of Ocala. “They were from everywhere — Ontario, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Indiana. My aunt had painted all cabins rose and sky blue, pale green, cream-colored...
“It was gorgeous.”
There were five or six little cabins to rent, with one nicknamed “The Barracks.” Metcalf suspects its building materials, which were difficult to come by during the war years, were recycled items from military barracks torn down at what is now Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
While the Metcalfs sold the property in 1967, it continued as a fish camp for decades under changing ownership.
In 2002, East Manatee Editor Jim Jones wrote a column about Jiggs Landing, calling it picturesque and rustic.
“Stepping inside the cool darkness of the bait shop, eyes adjust from the glare of the intense Florida sun,” he wrote. “In one corner is a live bait well containing shiners and minnows. Artificial lures in plastic bags hang on pegboard walls, and new rods and reels are suspended from the ceiling. On the counter are four one-gallon jars, one each for pickled pigs feet, pickled sausage, pickled eggs and Kosher dills. Cold beer in the cooler, trophy fish mounted on the wall, and bottles of two-cycle motor oil on a shelf complete the picture.”
Jones questioned, however, how much longer Jiggs Landing could survive as a fish camp with Tara and Beacon Cove already developed nearby and other new communities in the planning stages.
In 2005, Manatee County purchased Jiggs Landing with the help of a grant through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The county planned to turn the property into a county park and boat launch area. It razed all of the standing buildings on the site, with the exception of one cabin.
This May, county officials unveiled detailed plans for the property, including restrooms, showers, picnic pavilions, rental cabins, a playground area, parking, boat ramp, docks and slips. The plans, which will be mostly paid for with state grants, have focused new attention on the camp’s Old Florida history and its significance to the area. The lone surviving cabin will be restored and will house displays about the area’s history, county officials have said.
What visitors to the site will see today are mature trees ringing the property, and a solitary fishing cabin set off to one side. Frequently, flocks of vultures can be seen nearby.
The park is important to those who have worked to preserve one of Braden River’s historic treasures, says Denise Kleiner. Two years ago, she founded the Old Braden River Historical Society in an effort to preserve historic sites along the river.
“So many places from the past still survive,” Kleiner says. “With the help of county officials and our local non-profit organization, we’ll capture the essence of this river community and bring it into the 2000s with a brand new park.”
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 708-7908.