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Painting of the Manatee County Historical Courthouse

The Historical Resources Department of the Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court’s Office promotes the preservation and protection of Manatee County’s past. Working with a variety of not for profit historical organizations and government agencies, we operate two historical villages, two museums and a historical archives. Whether restoring historic buildings, collecting artifacts, cataloguing archives, collecting folk ways and culture or designing exhibits and programs to educate our county’s residents and visitors, the Historical Resources Department seeks to make the past come alive.

Manatee Connects

A Brief History of Manatee County

In 1842, the United States government adopted the Armed Occupation Act in an effort to move settlers into southern Florida. The law gave settlers 160 acres of land as long as they lived on the land for five years, built a house, cleared five acres and served in the militia if needed. Enticed by this offer, pioneers began arriving in the "the Manatee Lands." The first settlers to arrive in the area, Josiah and Mary Gates, sailed six miles east to a site on the south side of the river near what is today called 15th Street East. Gates chose to homestead this area in 1841 and returned with his family a year later to establish the Village of Manatee.

Despite many problems, by 1855 enough settlers had followed Gates into the area to justify the establishment of a new county. At its creation, Manatee County consisted of 5,000 square miles and extended from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Okeechobee. Over time, six more counties were carved out of the wilderness. The first to split was DeSoto County in 1887 which took the section that would become DeSoto, Highlands, Glades, Hardee and Charlotte. In 1921, the residents of Sarasota petitioned the State Legislature for the creation of their own county.

Today, Manatee County is 741.03 square miles with a population of 315,766. Like the pioneers who settled the community, today's residents earn their living through agriculture, aquaculture, tourism and construction. Manufacturing, health care, service industries and education add to the ability for Manatee County citizens to build careers and families.