In 1974, a group of women left a business meeting of their church, the Manatee United Methodist, and stood beneath the steeple of the sanctuary built in 1887.
Tears welled up in their eyes as they thought about what they had just heard. The church building, along with a smaller building owned by the congregation, once Manatee County’s first courthouse, were to be torn down to make room for a new sanctuary and parking lot.
That night, they vowed to do all that they could to save the two historic buildings, and the idea for the Manatee Village Historical Park was born.
The initial group, who rallied to save the two buildings, became known as the H.O.M.E. (Heritage of Manatee’s Environment) Committee.
Realizing that Manatee County once had a Historical Commission, which was no longer operating, they petitioned the Board of County Commissioners to reestablish the Manatee County Historical Commission by ordinance, making the Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court a perpetual member.
They also organized the Manatee County Historical Commission, Inc. with its purpose to preserve Manatee County’s pioneer history for the enrichment of future generations.
As both a government ordained and a non-profit organization, the Manatee County Historical Commission stood ready to take on the task of saving the 1887 Church and the 1860 Courthouse. Both buildings were moved to the museum in December of 1975. The restoration effort became part of Manatee County’s celebration of the United States bicentennial and some funding for the bicentennial effort became seed money for the establishment of the museum. Most of the funding, however, came from private donors raised by Historical Commission members asking their friends, community leaders, and businesses for support.
The museum officially opened to the public on July 4, 1976, and over the years grew to include fourteen structures representative of pioneer life in Manatee County.
The effort continues today through encouraging historical preservation as Manatee County continues to grow and develop, as well as through raising support for the maintenance of the treasured collection of buildings at Manatee Village Historical Park.
Manatee Village Historical Park also serves as headquarters for the Manatee County Historical Commission’s other educational and outreach programs. These programs include Manatee History Day, an affiliate of National History Day; as well as local author book signings, festivals, exhibits openings, scholarly lectures, concerts, and more.
Staff and volunteers also conduct school tours free of charge to help enhance students’ understanding of Florida history and pioneer life.
For over thirty-five years, donations, grants, expertise and volunteers supplied by the Manatee County Historical Commission, Inc. and funding made available through the Clerk of Circuit Court by the Board of County Commission has allowed residents as well as visitors from around the world to experience Manatee County’s rich pioneer heritage in its various buildings and programming.