Manatee County Historic Courthouse is a wealth of quirky knowledge

A pewter gumball machine filled with brightly colored marbles stood quietly in the Manatee County Historic Courthouse patiently waiting for someone to ask the one question that was on everyone’s mind.

Photo of Gumball Machines in the Historic Court House

Why marbles? What happened to all of the gumballs?

With each passing week, Angel Colonneso, who worked as a deputy clerk for former Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court & Comptroller R.B. “Chips” Shore at the time, became more and more intrigued by the machine.

She would continually hear the gumball machine crank throughout the day, as another marble made its way out into the courthouse. But, why?

Finally, Angel’s curiosity got the best of her. She had to know. So one day she walked into the civil division of the Circuit Court and asked the all-important question: “What is that for?”

The answer caught Angel by surprise. It turns out that’s how judicial assignments were handed out in the civil division of the Circuit Court. Each judge was assigned a color and a crank of the gumball machine determined which division a case was assigned.

“It had to be random,” says Angel, who now serves as Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court & Comptroller.

Photo of a sign explaining the Gumball Machines

The gumball machine assignments remained in effect until the 90s. Today, the gumball machines can be found in the museum located on the third floor of the Historic Courthouse.

Using gumball machines to hand out judicial assignments is only one of a handful of fun and quirky things that have happened since the Historic Courthouse was built in 1913.

When the courthouse was renovated, horsehair was found inside the walls of the historic courtroom. Apparently the horsehair had been used for insulation when the courtroom was built.

At the same time, a hidden balcony was discovered toward the front of the courtroom. It is believed that bailiffs used that balcony, which no one knew existed, to survey the crowd during big trials.

A tiny spiral staircase behind the judge’s bench and a broom closet housing an old antique elevator shaft to transport inmates, also have been discovered in recent decades.

“It’s just little things like that that you find around the courthouse,” says Angel. “It’s kind of neat. There’s a timeline in the museum on the wall that talks about different facts.”

Outside on the top of the gazebo in the garden is a small reproduction of the domed structure that sat on top of the courthouse many years ago. The original dome, which was removed from the courthouse years ago after it was deemed a fire hazard, was used to hang at least one defendant who had been sentenced to death by hanging.

The historic courthouse garden gazebo

In 2014, a plaque was created for a time capsule that was to be placed on the grounds of the historic courthouse. One-and-one-half years later, following the unexpected passing of Shore, the capsule was buried with mementos from Shore’s memorial signifying him. Recognizing that the dates were way beyond those of the plaque, Angel wrote a letter explaining the time. She also had one request for whomever found the capsule.

Marker at the location of the courthouse timecapsule

“I told them to be sure to tell my descendants I said hello,” says Angel.