Welcome to Manatee County
A Community Rich in History
Prior to the 16th century, the area that would eventually become Manatee County was the peaceful dwelling ground for the Tocobagan Indian tribe. Their villages included mounds of earth, shell and stone.
The lives of the indigenous people were forever changed when Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto and his more than 600 men arrived at the mouth of Tampa Bay in 1539. In their pursuit of gold, the Tocobagan people were gradually pushed out. De Soto eventually abandoned the area and headed northeast through what is now Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas before perishing on the banks of the Mississippi River.
Fast-forward 300 years when new settlers arrived due in part to free land offered by the United States government. The catch? Those families had to agree to stay in the region at least five years and build a home. One of those settlers was Josiah Gates, who in 1842 lived at what is now 15th Street East in Bradenton.
Following in Gates' footsteps were two brothers, Hector and Joseph Braden, who settled in the area with their families in 1843. Manatee County's largest municipality, originally called "Bradentown", was named after the duo.
In 1855, Manatee County was booming with farmers, cattle ranchers and citrus growers. That same year, the county was incorporated and named for the local mammal that swam in nearby waters.
By the turn of the 20th century, a railroad was constructed in the county, igniting an even bigger fire for the agricultural boom. Settlers found wealth by shipping produce to places throughout the Southeast via rail. Today, the area still thrives from agricultural operations, which is second only to tourism in economic impact.
One of the must-see stops for visitors to Manatee County is the Parker Manatee Aquarium, part of the South Florida Museum and Bishop Planetarium complex. There, guests are greeted by the world famous Snooty. The county's most popular mammal is the oldest known manatee in the world--and a Guiness World Record honoree. For those who can't visit in person, the aquarium's Snooty Cam is a great way to see this precious native.
Historical and cultural opportunities abound in Manatee County, enjoyed by residents and visitors alike. The Manatee Village Historical Park has numerous buildings and exhibits that depict the community's past and ties to the railroad. And for 75 years, the month-long De Soto Heritage Festival--including Florida's largest nighttime parade--has been commemorating the historical significance of the Spaniard's landing near the mouth of the Manatee River.