Imagine this spot a century ago. You’re in the Village of Manatee. Before air conditioning and the busy roads, Florida was a frontier. The pioneers in this small but growing settlement on the Manatee River have carved a center of commerce in this corner of Manatee County.
The huge county was created in 1855 and consisted of 5,000 square miles. It was eventually divided into the counties of Manatee, Sarasota, Hardee, Highlands, DeSoto, Charlotte, Glades and part of Lee. Residents in these new counties would later patronize cities within their own boundaries. But, at the turn of the century, if you wanted the best selection of groceries, dry goods, and gadgets in Manatee County, you made what could be a several-days journey to the Wiggins general Store.
King Wiggins, an entrepreneur in business and agriculture, built his store on this spot in 1903. It is five blocks from the Manatee River, the village’s lifeline. With the arrival of the railroad, the river became less important and the center of business moved south to Manatee Avenue. Wiggins used his proximity to the railroad to transport bricks to build his store.
Wiggins Store became one of the area’s first brick buildings. Energy-efficient construction techniques were used: air pockets between each layer of brick and porches on three sides of the two-story structure. Wiggins designed the building for several uses. A general store and a large storage area occupied the ground floor. The second floor provided overnight rooms for customers who traveled from remote parts of the area to buy his goods.
The Wiggins Store became a gathering spot for the community of Manatee. Customers lingered to catch up on village news, listen to Wiggins’s phonograph, or play a game of checkers.
Over the years, the Wiggins building changed hands and purposes. It served as a barber shop, hotel, apartments and migrant housing, then it was condemned and boarded up in 1983. After a long fundraising campaign and restoration, it was reopened to the public in 1990.
Step into the Wiggins Store today and you enter a turn-of-the century general store with merchandise of the times on the counter and shelves. Explore the store to find the Whistle Stop Gift Shop. Open for select special events, you can discover unique trinkets like vintage items, ornaments, crafts, and books on local and Florida history. On the second floor, discover exhibits on Manatee County history. The second floor also houses
King Wiggins, c. 1900-1910, courtesy of Manatee County Public Library Digital Collection
Interior, Wiggins General Store, c. 1903-1910,courtesy of Manatee County Public Library Digital Collection
Exterior, old Wiggins General Store, 1973, courtesy of Manatee County Public Library Digital Collection
Wiggins General Store 2022