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Agriculture legend Frank Connor honored with new park

A portrait of Frank Connor hangs at the Manatee County Agricultural Museum. The late Connor was an agriculture railroad agent in Palmetto during the late 1930s and beyond and is credited with advancing the area’s agricultural influence in the Tampa Bay region.
A portrait of Frank Connor hangs at the Manatee County Agricultural Museum. The late Connor was an agriculture railroad agent in Palmetto during the late 1930s and beyond and is credited with advancing the area’s agricultural influence in the Tampa Bay region. Provided photo

As efforts continue to prepare about 1.5 acres of pristine Manatee River waterfront for a new park, it has a new name that harkens the land’s role in Palmetto’s agricultural and railroad history.

Known for decades as the Edenfield property, the acreage at 505 Fifth Ave. W. will now be called Connor Park, after Manatee County Agriculture Hall of Fame member Frank Connor, inducted posthumously in 2010. Connor, who died in 1953, is credited with expanding Manatee County’s agricultural industry through his employment as an agricultural agent with the old Seaborne Airline Railroad.

SAR launched into service in 1900 and remained in business until 1967 when it merged with longtime rival Atlantic Coast Line Railroad to form the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad, which eventually became part of CSX Railroad in 1986.

Both Connor and the Edenfield family have ties to the long used railroad tracks nearby, but unlike Connor, the Edenfield name has left a sour taste in the mouths of city officials.

“Edenfield had a negative connotation in how the property came to the city,” said Community Redevelopment Agency Director Jeff Burton. “It’s not historic and we don’t want to call it Edenfield. I asked the Palmetto Historic Commission to come up with a historic name that would fit the city. Frank Connor has ties to the ground and the railroad. He was the first agriculture agent for the railroad. He was one of the leaders at the time. This gentleman was a nexus of a lot of business and goods moving back and forth across the river.”

Connor park 2 provided
Frank Connor leads a tour of visiting railroad agricultural agents in Manatee County. Connor is being honored by Palmetto, which is naming a new park after the railroad legend. Manatee County Agricultural Museum Provided photo

The city obtained the property in 1999 after settling a lawsuit with the Edenfield family. The city knew the property was unusable at the time because of its long history as a railroad storage site and didn’t want it. CSX used the site for many years to store creosote-soaked railroad ties.

The city turned the vacant property over to the CRA in 2015, which then partnered with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to have it designated as a brownfield, opening the door to grants for cleanup.

Connor’s history also includes land acquisitions, but his primary goal was to match the right acreage with the right grower to expand the area’s agricultural influence and he then helped farmers acquire the land. Connor spent a great deal of time studying the various soils in Manatee County, determining their best uses or finding ways to make the land more suitable for various crops.

“He had a close relationship with railroaders, farmers and landowners,” said Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant. “And he was an ag agent and a farmer. This ties in very nicely and makes it something very positive rather than the negative connotation,” associated with the Edenfield name.

What will be in the park remains to be seen. Officials are debating whether it will be a passive park or have more amenities, but Burton said those decisions can be made as design work begins. For now, it is designed mostly as a passive park with added water amenities to better filter stormwater that runs into the Manatee River and a boardwalk over those features.

The current design mimics the city’s Martin Luther King Jr. Park, which Commissioner Tamara Cornwell said she doesn’t want to see.

“It’s mimicking what we’ve already done,” she said. “What I love about Palmetto is we take something negative and switch it to a positive. We listen to the surveys and for this park, I don’t know if we are meeting what we haven’t already met. I love the cleanup, but just having beautification is not going to do it for me. I want to see something different.”

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