End of an era for Carlton Triangle Ranch

The Carlton ranch house in Myakka, between 1917 and 1918. The ranch turned ownership to conservationist Elizabeth Moore Wednesday, who will turn the land into a conservation easement.
The Carlton ranch house in Myakka, between 1917 and 1918. The ranch turned ownership to conservationist Elizabeth Moore Wednesday, who will turn the land into a conservation easement. Manatee County Public Library System

Nearly 100 years after Anne Keene and Alzie Y. Carlton moved to his parents’ farm, what she called “the Wilderness of Miakka,” the parcel of land on which families and cattle were raised will officially be preserved until the end of time.

Conservationist Elizabeth Moore and landowners Tony and Lela Carlton dotted their I’s and crossed their T’s in order to finalize closing papers at Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast’s office in Osprey on Wednesday, passing the baton after a three-year effort to Moore who will turn the land into a conservation easement.

On the cusp of Myakka State Park, the 1,143 acres of land owned by the Carltons has a stretch of over three-miles of the Myakka River running through it. Over 120 species of birds and animals find refuge at the ranch. The easement will provide essential protection to the Tatum Sawgrass marsh, which aids in flood control and water quality.

The Conservation Foundation, Southwest Florida Water Management District and Moore came together with about $5 million to acquire the land from the Carltons.

“I am passionate about being the new steward of this incredibly special place,” Moore said in a press release about the closing. “This is a collaborative victory for nature, our waterways and our community.”

Conservation Foundation president Christine Johnson said she was thankful for Moore’s undertaking of the project.

“Today we celebrate the power of collaboration for a common goal,” she said.

The end of an era for the Carlton Triangle Ranch will be a new beginning in Forever Florida.

History in the making

Anne Keene, born in the now-ghost town of Pine Level, Fla., grew up in the time before the city of Bradenton even existed, of horse-and-buggies and no refrigeration. In an archived interview from June 18, 1977, she talked about growing up in rural, Old Florida, when people were either Yankees or Crackers.

She was the only girl in school with fire-red hair and would get teased constantly. At church is where she would meet her future husband, Alzie Y. Carlton. While carrying her home from church one day when she was 16, he proposed by Wild Cat Pond.

They married in 1916 and moved 20 miles to Myakka four years later to Alzie’s parents’ farmland, what’s now Carlton Triangle Ranch.

The Carltons, the Murphys and the Hancocks were the first farming families to come to Myakka.

“We picked oranges, run cattle and as we could bought land,” she said in the interview.

They started with 40 acres and about 20 head of cattle given by her parents. By the 1970s, that number grew to 1,800.

Before he died, Anne said her husband had even more.

It took about six men to wrestle and tame wild Florida scrub cows. The “triangle” in the ranch’s name comes from the brand they would use on their cattle.

“Everyone he could find, he would buy,” Anne said in the interview. “When different people would want to go out of business or somebody would die, well, he would buy.”

They had four children: Inez, Maxine, Fleta and Tony. Anne recalled when the children were little, they watched from the window a hurricane blow down giant pine trees and tear the roof from their porch.

The Carltons let neighbors raise sugarcane on their land to make syrup. Fleta and Tony inherited the sugarcane mill from Alzie’s father.

Anne said she never ran the cattle with her husband, but youngest daughter Fleta took over ranch operations in her 30s and continued until the day she died. She was small in stature but mighty in spirit; if she wasn’t on the ranch, she was studying at college or serving in the Navy.

“You know, women were supposed to get married and have kids,” she told the Bradenton Herald in 2004. “I hate cooking, and I don’t much like housework, and I believe that all goes with raising a family. But, you see more and more women on the ranches today.”

Tony lived on the 1,200-acre ranch three miles from hers.

In the 1990s, the then-inactive Wingate Creek phosphate mine threatened to pollute the Myakka River, and new housing developments began to pop up like weeds.

“Here, where we used to be in utter pristine country, I can see four houses,” Tony told the Bradenton Herald in 1994. “They are nice people, but I hate to see this country turn into subdivisions.”

The Carltons today mostly keep to themselves, like country living calls for. But now, the Carltons won’t have to worry about his family’s land being anything but land.

Hannah Morse: 941-745-7055, @mannahhorse