The Calusas are one of very few Native
American tribes who did not rely on staple
crops and animal husbandry to survive.
Instead, they were master ship builders and
engineered estuaries to capture and raise fish,
using shells as their main tools. Multiple shell
mounds still adorn local preserves to this day.
A look into their ship building ways can be
enjoyed at the Florida Maritime Museum just
off Bradenton’s Cortez Road heading towards
the beach. It is a peek into the importance
of the area’s waterways. “The Gulf of Mexico
has been a source of food, commerce and
transportation for centuries,” Dolan said.
The city was named after settlers Hector and
Joseph Braden. The latter ultimately built the
now dilapidated Braden Castle in 1854. His
brother, Hector, died crossing the Manatee
River during a hurricane before Joseph began
construction on the castle.
Legend has it that Hector and his horse
became stuck in the muddy river bottom
while the water was sucked out to sea during
the eye of the storm. The pair drowned when
water returned to the river, and it is said that
both the horse and Hector, who was allegedly
still gripping the reins, were discovered
deceased with their eyes wide open. It is
legends like that which make the Manatee
River the subject of much of the area’s history.
“The Manatee River has been the subject of
legends, a safe haven, a highway and a beacon
for those who wished to settle here looking for
a better life,” Dolan said.
“The Manatee River’s banks were dredged
in the 1920s to accommodate larger ships,
which led to the rapid growth of the City of
Bradenton,” Dolan added. “To me, the most
often overlooked piece of our local history is
that of the role the Manatee River has played.”
Bradenton’s Manatee Mineral Spring was
once the location of the Maroon Community,
Angola. It served as a safe haven for freedomseeking
African Americans from 1770 to 1821
and ultimately was destroyed during a massive
slave raid. This still accessible spring provided
life-sustaining water to Florida’s first settlers
and Native Americans, Spanish explorers and
soldiers who fought in the Third Seminole and
In 2018, it was finally dedicated as a site on the
Underground Railroad to Freedom, 11 years after
a Black Bead tree on the property was added to
the National Register of Big Trees.
Originally spelled “Braidenton” due to an
officially documented error by the then acting
secretary, the city was founded in 1842 upon
applying for its own post office. The innocuous
“I” was eventually dropped in 1905 after the
trolley car system was built. Before closing the
line due to lack of riders, the train once crossed
Bradenton’s first bridge, newly rebuilt yet still
located today cresting over Ware’s Creek.
WILL ALWAYS BE
A SMALL TOWN
UNTIL WE TAKE
THE “W” OUT!”
Almost 20 years later in 1924, the spelling
changed yet again. The “W” was dropped
when local businessman E.C. Barnes said to the
Manatee River Kiwanis Club, “Bradentown will
always be a small town until we take the “w”
out!” His idea became reality, and the spelling
has not changed since.
BMAG | 23