Sunday Favorites: A Banner Year for Braidentown

A lone car crosses a bridge near Warner's Bayou in Bradentown. Photo: Manatee County Historical Society
A lone car crosses a bridge near Warner's Bayou in Bradentown. Photo: Manatee County Historical Society
Merab Favorite
It was 1903 and the village of Braidentown was bustling with a rapidly growing population. It was the year the city was officially incorporated, but it was also a significant year for many other reasons. This week, we'll explore all the events that occurred during Braidentown's Banner Year.
The incorporation occurred quietly, in fact, most people were sleeping when it went into effect sometime on Friday in May of 1903. No fireworks exploded, no church bells rang out, and no one shot a round in the air (all normal celebratory occurrences at the time).

The lack of commemorative noise did not mean residents weren’t excited. Once the governor of Florida had signed the letters of incorporation, the city held its first election the following Monday afternoon. The Braidentown Incorporation Charter Committee recommended several candidates to hold government positions, all elected by a sound majority, according to a 2003 speech “The Past and Future of Bradenton,” former Mayor Wayne Polston gave to the Manatee County Historical Society.

One of their first orders of action was to drop the “i” in the spelling of “Braidentown” resulting in a more modern Bradentown. The original name was recommended by a developer who envisioned a bustling town with women wearing braids in their hair. He believed calling the town Braidentown would attract like-minded residents. The name change was not made official by the U.S. Postal Service until two years later.

(Approximately 20 years later another commission would again vote to drop the “w” changing the spelling once again to its current designation).

The new name meant that Braidentown now had its own police officer and set of ordinances that citizens were required to follow. A newspaper sarcastically reported that Marshal W.M. Joyner, dressed in a suit of blue with brass buttons, “searched the dark streets and alleys for offenders of the city’s sacred ordinances.”

Another exciting thing that happened in Bradentown in 1903 was the arrival of the very first automobile. Bought from the north (most likely in Tampa). The Manatee River Journal reported that Mr. D.H. Barrick and his wife, “enjoyed our fine shell roads, over which the automobile glided with perfect ease and swiftness that astonished the natives. Many of our citizens were given their first ride in a horseless carriage, since which time they have become more enthusiastic for good roads.”

In addition to roads, The Manatee Light and Traction Company were in the process of completing the first electric plant and the first trolley car service, both owned and operated by John Graham.

1903 was also an amazing year for commerce in the city of Bradentown. With the newly established railroad, train cars full of tomatoes, oranges, and grapefruit came chugging through town daily.

John Burroughs, the renowned naturalist, conservationist, and writer visited the area. He stayed with Mr. and Mrs. J. B. Aikens at their winter home Raven’s Nest. The newspaper heralded his visit as an important cultural literary contribution to the city.

The last significant event during 1903 was not a beneficial one. Braden Castle, a historical building constructed in 1850, and the site of a skirmish during the Seminole Wars, was consumed by a fire in the early summer. Residents worked to save the structure but were unsuccessful. Once a pillar of protection and prosperity, the house was completely consumed. When the flames died and the embers cooled, all that was left were crumpled tabby walls. The historical ruins are still around today and listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places.

While not everything that happened was positive, 1903 was certainly considered a year of significance in Bradenton’s history.