Florida's Earliest Courthouse
Manatee County’s first Courthouse was built in 1860,
making this the oldest structure in our museum. It is
also the oldest remaining wood structure, originally
built as a courthouse, in the entire state of Florida.
This first Courthouse was constructed on land donated
by Josiah and Mary Gates, the first permanent white
settlers in the Village of Manatee. The land, originally
located 2-1/2 blocks north of the museum (on 15th
Street East), was designated “Courthouse Square.”
The building of this courthouse caused a local
controversy. When the land was offered for a
courthouse and jail, a committee was formed to
select someone to build it.
In 1858, the committee agreed to pay Ezekiel Glazier,
who was also on the committee himself, $5 for plans and $700 for the construction of both buildings. Unsurprisingly, this caused quite a stir and there were calls of foul play. Despite this, the courthouse was completed in 1860. The jail, however, was never built.
This building remained the courthouse until 1866. As more settlers moved into the county, there started to be calls for a more centrally located county seat. Those who were not located near the mouth of the Manatee River wanted to be able to stay closer to home and still conduct their civic duties or official business. To accommodate the ever-growing calls for a change of seat, a more central site was established at Pine Level, now in DeSoto County.
After the county seat moved and a new courthouse was built, this one was retired. Through the years, the Courthouse was used as a church, a parsonage for members of the clergy, a social hall, and a private residence. In 1975, the Manatee United Methodist Church donated the building to the Manatee Village. It was moved here, restored, and opened to the public in 1976.
The Courthouse interior has been lined with new wood, milled to specification. The desk in the judge’s chambers was handmade by Josiah Gates and donated by his great-granddaughter. Other benches and tables are handcrafted replicas.
Note the antique glass jury selection box, wooden ballot box, and the copy of the map of old army forts and trails in the jury room. The U.S. flag from 1860, the year the Courthouse was built, has 33 stars, signifying the Union’s 33 states. The “Bonnie Blue,” an early Southern flag, has a five-pointed star to symbolize the five governments that have ruled Florida.
Florida's earliest courthouse, built in 1860