Did you know Manatee County was once almost as large as the state of Connecticut?
That its thriving cattle industry was a lifeline for the Confederacy?
Or that Terra Ceia was once Florida’s gladiolus capital?
They are just some of the fascinating facts and footnotes in “The History of Agriculture in Manatee County,” a Palmetto Historical Commission production being shown today and July 28 at the Palmetto Historical Park.
Originally made in 1989, the video/slide film spans the growth of the county from the time of the Native Americans before DeSoto’s arrival in 1539 to the modern era when people named Rossi, Harllee and Whisenant became the stewards of Manatee’s agricultural heritage.
Although only 25 minutes long, it provides a visually compelling story about the place we call home.
“People think ‘history’ and automatically think books and school and boring. History doesn’t have to be boring,” said museum Coordinator Diane Ingram. “It’s an opportunity to learn about our history in a fun way.”
Whether you’re new or a longtime resident, she said.
“For somebody who’s not familiar with the area, it’s an important tool,” Ingram said. “Other than tourism, agriculture is still our biggest industry. Even when you live here it’s hard to realize because you don’t see it in everyday life unless you go way out east or see the tomato packing plants here.”
The film’s focus on the county, founded on 5,000-square miles in 1855, touches on how its pioneers painstakingly overcame a difficult environment — not to mention Seminole raids.
It also shows how the county’s reputation grew as steamships made regular stops to load up on produce and livestock along the Manatee River at newly fashioned piers from Palma Sola to Ellenton.
It shows misfortune, too.
Like the “Great Freeze” of 1895 that ruined nearly every grower, which hit home with one of the viewers.
“My grandfather came here as a teenager with his brother during the great freeze,” said Michael Ingram, Diane’s husband. “It brings me closer to my family ties.”
Another viewer learned about Manatee’s white celery.
“What struck me was how they blocked the sunlight from greening up the celery stalks,” Lesley Clark said. “I had no idea.”
While the film acknowledges the impact of residential and commercial development, it captures the county’s agricultural legacy.
“It shows how we got where we are today,” said Travis Seawright, a field agent for 30 years with the University of Florida Agricultural Extension Service. “Very impressive.”
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055.