Joseph and Hector Braden, brothers who owned plantations in North Florida, moved to the Manatee River area in 1842. They had lost their Tallahassee plantations during the Money Panic of 1837, and learned of the opportunity for land claims and the abundant natural resources in the Manatee area.
The brothers moved into a log cabin just 5 miles from the mouth of the river with the intent of starting a new plantation in Manatee. But in 1846, Hector Braden drowned. Rumor has it that he attempted to cross the Manatee River during a hurricane that blew most of the water out of the river. It is thought that he started his ride during the eye of the storm, but his horse became stuck in the river. According to legend, Hector was found the next day still seated upon his horse, tightly gripping the reins with his eyes wide open.
This tragic event, however, did not discourage Joseph Braden from building the sugar plantation that the brothers had dreamed about. The Braden sugarmill was built near where the Braden River and Manatee River meet.
Still, success was not immediate because a sandbar in the river prevented larger boats from reaching the sugar mill. To take advantage of the deeper channel and ship his goods out, Braden built a pine log pier at the end of present-day Old Main Street, and the processed sugar was shipped from there.
To protect his investment from attacking Sem
inoles, Braden built a stockade, fitted with loopholes for riflemen. He also built a two-story log building near the stockade that held a trading post on the first floor, living quarters on the second floor, and a place for men to keep watch on the roof.
Several other buildings were constructed within the stockade, and it quickly became known as "Ft. Braden" or "Braden Stockade." This stockade was located where the playground for First Baptist Church of Bradenton is today.
In 1851, Braden built his plantation home, a tabby structure named "Braden Castle," near the sugarmill. The ruins are still visible today, and the site was used often for community picnics in the early 1900s. It later became the permanent home for the Tin Can tourists.
Joseph Braden lost his Manatee properties in 1857 to debt and moved back to Tallahassee, but his legacy lived on.
In the 1870s, the area once occupied by "Ft. Braden" saw an influx of new residents, prompting land investor and local business owner Major Turner to petition for the community to have its own name and post office. The first town meeting was all but a failure when it did not produce enough residents to qualify for a post office.
After recruiting residents from Fogartyville, Willemsenburg, and Palma Sola, a second town meeting was called. This time enough people were present to petition for a post office, but what would the name be? Major Turner suggested "Bradentown" to honor Joseph Braden. But a misspelling by acting secretary Helen Warner resulted in the petition naming the area "Braidentown."
Misspelled city name
On May 9, 1878, Washington granted the request and Braidentown was made an official post office, with Major Turner appointed as the first postmaster.
Oddly enough, the misspelled name remained in place for 27 years. It wasn't until 1904, when the Braidentown population grew to 2,000, the Florida West Shore Railroad came through, a ferry was regularly transporting residents across the Manatee River daily, and electric streetlights were first used that pressure mounted to fix the mistake.
Finally, on Feb. 1, 1905, the "i" was officially dropped and the name amended to "Bradentown."
From 1905 through 1924, the town prospered, tourism flourished, and Bradentown was moving on up! A new city hall and courthouse were constructed in 1913, the automobile took over the streets, and with it came sewers, streets with sidewalks, and tourists.
'The Friendly City'
By 1916, tourism was bringing Bradentown $200,000 into the city. The growth slowed during prohibition, but it never stopped. Top local businessman E.C. Barnes pushed for a more cosmopolitan name in a speech he gave to the Manatee River Kiwanis Club, declaring, "Bradentown will always be a small town until we take the "w" out!"
His idea won out and on Dec. 1, 1924, the state Legislature granted the petition to change the name to Bradenton, along with welcoming the new motto "The Friendly City." The name and motto still fit, 90 years later.
Melissa Porter, education and volunteer coordinator for the Manatee Village Historical Park, enjoys sharing the past with students through hands-on activities and personal anecdotes from Manatee County's history. Contact her at 941-741-4076.