Bradenton area: protecting Florida’s history, art & manatees
Established in the 1840s, Bradenton is a city where you can still get a taste of Old Florida. It’s also somewhere that celebrates the communities that have lived in the area throughout the ages, from the manatees who have existed there for millions of years, to an enclave of folk artists who now call the city home.
You can get a taste of the pioneer days of the 19th century at the free-to-enter Manatee Village Historical Park. It features the state’s oldest courthouse, dating back to 1860, as well as a single-room schoolhouse, the 1880s Methodist Episcopal Church and an old settler’s house, where some of the state’s earliest visitors lived.
Bradenton is protected to the west by one of the prettiest islands in Florida; Anna Maria Island. A unique spot where any building over 3 storeys is prohibited and you’ll struggle to find any chain hotels or restaurants. The distinct lack of commercialisation means there is an overwhelmingly authentic, cosy and quaint feel to this barrier island where you can truly switch off on the stunning white sandy beaches.
To experience the quirky side of Bradenton, head to the Village of the Arts. This is a community of Floridian artists who have rejuvenated a cluster of traditional 1920s and 1930s cottages, turning the area into a colourful pocket of creativity.
There are regular art walks that call in at artists’ homes and studios, allowing you to see all manner of wonderful creations. There’s an emphasis on traditional folk art, but the eclectic mix also includes fine, modern and even healing art.
Of course, its location next to the Gulf Coast means that nature and wildlife also play a huge part in the life of the city. Bradenton is in Manatee County, next to Manatee River, and so it’s only fitting that one of its highlights it the Parker Manatee Rehabilitation Aquarium, which is part of the South Florida Museum.
The species, also known as the sea cow, has been around for about 60 million years. However, there was a huge decline in their numbers until the 1990s, when a conservation campaign was set up. Today, the aquarium is helping to protect the species by rehabilitating injured or orphaned manatees before letting them back out into the wild. It’s a rare opportunity to get up close and learn about these creatures, which are so integral to the state’s identity.