In 1974, a group of women left a business meeting of their church, the Manatee United Methodist, and stood beneath the steeple of the sanctuary built in 1887. Tears welled up in their eyes as they thought about what they had just heard. The church building, along with a smaller building owned by the congregation, once Manatee County’s first courthouse, were to be torn down to make room for a new sanctuary and parking lot. That night, they vowed to do all that they could to save the two historic buildings, and the idea for the Manatee Village Historical Park was born.
The initial group, who rallied to save the two buildings, became known as the H.O.M.E. (Heritage of Manatee’s Environment) Committee. Realizing that Manatee County once had a Historical Commission, which was no longer operating, they petitioned the Board of County Commissioners to reestablish the Manatee County Historical Commission by ordinance, making the Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court a perpetual member. The remaining sixteen members would be appointed by the Board of County Commission each year. They also organized the Manatee County Historical Commission, Inc. with its purpose to preserve Manatee County’s pioneer history for the enrichment of future generations. As both a government ordained and a non-profit organization, the Manatee County Historical Commission stood ready to take on the task of saving the 1887 Church and the 1860 Courthouse.
Both buildings were moved to the park in December of 1975. The restoration effort became part of Manatee County’s celebration of the United States bicentennial and some funding for the bicentennial effort became seed money for the establishment of the park. Most of the funding, however, came from private donors raised by Historical Commission members asking their friends, community leaders, and businesses for support. The park officially opened to the public on July 4, 1976, and over the years grew to include fourteen structures representative of pioneer life in Manatee County. The effort continues today through encouraging historical preservation as Manatee County continues to grow and develop, as well as through raising support for the maintenance of the treasured collection of buildings at Manatee Village Historical Park.
Manatee Village Historical Park also serves as headquarters for the Manatee County Historical Commission’s other educational and outreach programs. One example is the Manatee County History Fair, an affiliate of the National History Day competition, which at times has been the largest regional NHD competition in the nation. Other educational programs sponsored by the Historical Commission include an Annual Heritage Days Celebration in March, Cracker Christmas, which celebrates 100 years of holiday tradition in Florida, and our newest endeavor Spirit Voices from Old Manatee, an historical drama based upon the lives of Manatee’s pioneering settlers and set in the 1850 Old Manatee Burying Grounds. At Manatee Village, staff and volunteers also conduct school tours free of charge to help enhance students’ understanding of Florida history and pioneer life.
For over thirty-five years, donations, grants, expertise and volunteers supplied by the Manatee County Historical Commission, Inc. and funding made available through the Clerk of Circuit Court by the Board of County Commission has allowed residents as well as visitors from around the world to experience Manatee County’s rich pioneer heritage in its various buildings and programming.
Interested in helping preserve Manatee County History? Consider serving as a member of the Manatee County Historical Commission. Download our application here.
Our meetings are open to the public and guests are welcome. Meetings are typically held at noon, on the second Friday of each month, in the Wiggins Store building at Manatee Village Historical Park.
The Manatee County Historical Commission also has several standing committees, which focus on specific needs of Manatee Village Historical Park. Anyone can serve on a committee, Historical Commission membership is not required. Download our Committee Application here.
For more information about the Manatee County Historical Commission contact Phaedra Carter at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (941) 749-7165.