In the last half of the 19th century, the leaders and businessmen of the early Manatee area settlements were approached by several developers and visionaries posing lucrative and grandiose plans for this area. This part of Southwest Florida, like Tampa and Port Charlotte, was highly favored because of its marine location and/or superb harbor facilities.
The First Opportunity
Snead Island, the northern entrance to the Manatee River (the extreme west tip of which is now Emerson Point Preserve), comprises about 740 acres. Native Americans were its earliest inhabitants. The first officially recorded settler was Edward Sneed, who acquired land through the Armed Occupation Act of 1842. Sneed gave the island its name. (The island, though, took on the name "Snead" due to a spelling error.)
A few homesteaders followed, but by 1881 when journalist and professional traveler Samuel C. Upham arrived to survey the area, he wrote that the only people he encountered were an elderly man, his wife and two ornery dogs.
The following year, two enterprising businessmen, Warburton Warner and John S. Beach, envisioned a terminal on a tiny piece of land at the mouth of the Manatee River recently purchased by real estate giant Hamilton Disston through the Florida Internal Improvement Fund. They traveled to Jacksonville, the home office of the Disston Land Co., and bought 43 acres.
C.H. Foster, John L. Holden, I.H. Trabue, John Flannery and William H. Vanderipe, and the firm Hooker, Parker and Co., also purchased land on the island, perhaps sensing that a big deal was imminent. Warner and Beach hoped to resell their land to transportation magnate Henry B.
Plant, owner of the South Florida Railroad, who was rumored to be looking at the island to establish a magnificent hotel and develop it as a tourist resort.
Plant also desired it as the southern terminus for his railroad. Plant, along with his railroad and steamship superintendents, visited Warner at his home in Palma Sola in the winter of 1882-83. Plant wanted all of the island or nothing, and at a better price than what Warner and Beach were asking. He also wanted to complete the deal quickly. Warner and Beach could not persuade their real estate partners to sell their land, and in fact wanted to retain a small portion of it for themselves.
Because of all the barriers that arose, it is said that Plant left the meeting disgusted and returned to Tampa. There he was offered land on his terms. He went on to complete his railroad terminus to service guests who would stay at his famous $3 million project -- the Tampa Bay Hotel, built a few years later.
The Second Opportunity
Don Vincente Martinez Ybor was an industrialist and cigar manufacturer born in Spain who later moved to Cuba.
He developed a thriving cigar business in Cuba but when the struggle for independence broke out he moved his business to Key West. He spent the next decade in Key West expanding his operations. But politics, labor disputes and other problems forced him to consider moving again.
During the years when he was scouting for a location, he looked seriously at the Manatee area.
(The population of Tampa at that time was reported to be the same as the combined villages along the Manatee River.)
Manatee County had some small cigar manufacturers such as the Braidentown Cigar Factory, Manatee River Cigar Factory and Wm Kretshmar & Bros., all before 1882.
Josiah Gates escorted him over the countryside in his horse and buggy, and Don Ybor made several respectable offers on some of the better sites, but the landowners would not sell property to him.
In the fall of 1885, Ybor went on to Tampa, where the Tampa Board of Trade offered him cash and a land plan to relocate his manufacturing plant. He established there the largest cigar factory in the world at that time.
A note of interest is that by this shift in focus of the cigar industry closer to Tampa Bay, some residents of Bradenton and Sarasota eagerly began allocating land for cigar industry development.
In March 1890, the Manatee River Journal reported that citizens of the village of Manatee agreed to donate 40 acres of land to any company that planned to build a cigar factory.
The rest is history. In the meantime, Bradenton went on to enjoy a quiet provincial existence for almost another century.
Christine Brown, special events and marketing coordinator for the Manatee Village Historical Park, loves the opportunity to research the fascinating history of Manatee County's development. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 941-741-4076.