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Manatee Heritage Month kicks off with a taste of old Florida

Published on: March 1, 2018

Jesse and Robin Moreland were volunteer guides last year for the Reflections of Manatee Manatee Settlement Tour. This year’s tour will be from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the historical settlement site and three Curry homes, 1312 Second Ave. E.


Manatee County residents will celebrate their rich history during March with Manatee Heritage Month.

The month-long celebration of historical events and exhibitions was started 39 years ago when two women decided the county should highlight its heritage.

“Bubbles Greer and Mary Gilford, who is a descendant of Josiah Gates, decided it would be nice to offer something besides beaches and baseball for our tourists,” said Cathy Slusser, chief historian for the Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court Historical Resources Department.

Josiah Gates was one of the first non-indigenous persons to settle in the area.

Greer and Gilford pulled together five history-oriented groups and planned two consecutive weekends of celebrations with several events held during the week in-between.

The original organizations were the Gamble Plantation State Historical Site; the Manatee County Historical Commission, which manages the Manatee Village Historical Park; the Manatee Historical Records Library; the Manatee County Historical Society; and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

“It expanded over time, and there are now more than two dozen organizations involved,” said Slusser, who is the lead person in the organizing of Manatee Heritage Month for Angelina “Angel” Colonneso, Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller.

There are more than 45 scheduled happenings, with several repeating during the month.

From reenactments and demonstrations at a reconstructed encampment of Spanish explorers at DeSoto National Memorial Park, to guided walking tours of downtown Bradenton, to weekend festivals, the month is packed with events for the family to enjoy.

A display highlighting families involved in the tomato-growing industry is on exhibit at the Manatee County Agricultural Museum, 1015 6th St. W., Palmetto.

“We can learn so much from the past, both our successes and failures, and then be more prepared for the future,” Slusser said.

The “Beaches, Benches, & Boycotts: The Civil Rights Movement in Tampa Bay” exhibition at the Carnegie Library at the Palmetto Historical Park, 515 10th Ave. W., Palmetto, will highlight one of those failures and success.

On loan to the library, this display was created and circulated by the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg.

The exhibit was being presented in honor of the Florida Holocaust Museums 25th Anniversary.

“It’s an important exhibit because it talks about the civil rights movement in America, which also was happening in our county,” said Tori Chasey, curator for the Palmetto Historical Park.

“But we had a unique situation in Tampa Bay area,” Chasey said. “It was called the Tampa Method.”

She said a committee of leaders in both communities would come up with solutions to segregation problems in the Tampa area.

The exhibit of posters and banners will be on display until April 13.

In the Manatee County Agricultural Museum, next door to the historical library, another exhibit highlighting the African-American contribution to the history of Manatee County and Florida is on display.

“Florida’s Black Cowboys: Past and Present,” on loan from the Florida Agricultural Museum in Palm Coast, looks at how African-Americans brought their herding heritage from Africa and how they applied it to the cattle-raising industry in Florida.

“Florida has a rich history of blacks in cattle raising,” said Melissa Dagenais, curator at the agricultural museum. “Their ranching heritage even travels back to Spain when some of the enslaved Africans were taken to Europe.”

The display was installed for Black History Month, and will be up until April 13.

Dagenais also said there was an exhibition on display at the museum about Emmett McCray, a black agriculture teacher at Lincoln Memorial High School, the segregated black high school in Manatee County.

After leaving teaching, McCray helped organize the Mana-Hill Co-op in 1972, and became the packinghouse manager for the co-op.

“The co-op was established for African-American farmers to sell their tomatoes,” she said.

Dagenais also put up a display highlighting many of the Manatee County tomato grower families

Visitors can view all the exhibits at the historical library and agricultural museum all month during regular visiting hours, 10 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, and the first and third Saturdays of the month.

And in celebration of Manatee Heritage Month, on Saturday, March 10, the Palmetto Heritage Festival will be held on the grounds of the Palmetto Historical Park from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and visitors not only can view the displays, but also can participate in a day of fun and exploration.

“This year’s Palmetto Heritage Festival is focused on our new exhibits,” said Diane Ingram, supervisor of the agricultural museum. “In addition, we have a return exhibition of Art of the Florida Highwaymen, which is always a crowd-pleaser.”

There also will be a day full of free crafts, live performances, face painting, and other activities.

A display highlighting families involved in the tomato-growing industry is on exhibit at the Manatee County Agricultural Museum, 1015 6th St. W., Palmetto.

Visitors can take self-guided tours of the historic buildings in the park and watch demonstrations of skills used in the past, such as pen and ink calligraphy and lassoing.

All the activities at the festival are free.

Food can be purchased at the Word of Mouth BBQ booth or at the Palmetto Women’s Club, just down the street at 610 Sixth St. W., which will be serving its traditional chicken and yellow rice luncheon for $12.

One scheduled Manatee Heritage Month event will focus only on food.

The Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department will sponsor Pioneer Chef: Historical Cooking Techniques at Rye Preserve, 905 Rye Wilderness Trail, Parrish, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, March 10.

“It’s a historic and technical demonstration of pioneer cooking and food preservation,” said Aedan Stockdale, program manager for the county department and who also will be the chef doing the demonstrations. “We make butter, learn how settlers preserved their food and cook over a fire.”

“Everyone should come to experience Old Florida as it was in the days of the early settlers,” Stockdale said. “This is the third year we’ve offered this event, and it’s been a blast every time.”

The event is free, but registration is required, which can be done by calling 941-742-5923 or e-mailing

The county parks and natural resources department was sponsoring several other events during the month, including a tour of the Valentine House at Robinson Preserve, a pioneer wagon tour of Duette Preserve and the Native American Experience at Emerson Point Preserve.

For a list of all the events and more information on Manatee Heritage Month, visit the Manatee County Clerk of the Court website at