Exploring Old Florida – Gulf Coast

Our good friends from Richmond, that now live in Venice, Florida, invited us to visit them in the Village of Cortez, along the Gulf Coast. Cortez is an historic fishing town and is one of the earlier settlements along west Florida. This five square mile town, which rests three feet above sea level, honors the commercial fishermen that made their livelihoods here.

We had lunch at the Star Fish Company which is a very causal but popular eatery on the water. The working fishery sells and prepares the fresh seafood on site. They have added some outdoor picnic tables and a window where you place your food orders. This establishment is a picturesque place to share a meal.

The pelicans kept an eye on us as we enjoyed the catch of the day and as we watched the boats pass along the bay. This could not have been a better spot to have lunch with friends.

After lunch, it was time to do some exploring and we decided to venture into Bradenton, Florida to visit the Manatee Village Historical Park. This area near the Manatee River, which includes the city of Bradenton, is the early center of Manatee County. Originally the county was much larger but as the state grew larger the original counties grew smaller.

With the incredible growth of the State of Florida, it is easy to forget that many parts of the state were not explored until 150 years ago. The first courthouse in Manatee County was built in 1860 and has been relocated to this park. This courthouse served a 5000 square mile area that today encompasses seven different Florida counties.

Many of the historic buildings in the region have been moved to this “historic village” and have been restored there. This includes an important general store and a wonderful church.

If you lived in this large area of Florida in the 1850’s and needed some merchandise, the Wiggins Store was the place to go. It could take some residents in the region several days of travel to visit the store. It also served as a community gathering place. The store today is a cornerstone for the park and is the location for displays and exhibits.

One of those exhibits was about the occupation of “tooth puller.” This was a vocational title and turns out it could be a family affair. The children would hold down a chair-bound patient while teeth were pulled! The museum shares the story of one tooth puller whose children would run and hide to avoid having to participate as human restraints.

In 1887 the building of the “Old Meeting House” was halted when the yellow fever epidemic took the lives of the pastor and many of the congregation. Later completed, the church is a beautiful building with a long history. One of the interesting elements of the building is the “Star of Creation” that was placed over the altar. This old Protestant symbol is also a Jewish one which is called the “Star of David.”

The other buildings at the Historical Park include a boat works, a blacksmith shop, a “cracker house”, a smokehouse, a turpentine still, a schoolhouse, and a potter barn. Most of these buildings are open to visit. We had a great time exploring the Manatee Village Historical Park.

Florida Cracker Trail

Two years ago, when we stayed in Central Florida, we saw signs about the “crackers”. These were “cowboys” who drove cattle from interior ranches to the ports along the coast. The Bradenton area was the end point of this east/west trail that crossed the state. From here shipments were sent to Key West and Cuba. The story goes that they got their names from the crack of the whips as they drove the cattle to market. The men did not care for the term cowboy and preferred cowhunter. So I guess you could call them Florida cowhunter crackers.

We are grateful that our campground arranged for EMS to come and give everyone Covid vaccine shots. Being fully vaccinated has made it much more comfortable to visit with friends and family. We thank friends, Allan and Ann, for taking us to a spot we surely would have missed on our own.

4 thoughts on “Exploring Old Florida – Gulf Coast

  1. Sure enjoyed reading this post. Gary and I are vacationing 3 weeks in florida now (Venice, Marcos island, Miami and Panama City). I love squeezing in culture stops. I am on a mission each time in the areas to visit a new state park, especially if they do kayak rentals! Excited next week to take in a live theatre show with Marco players theater group. Hidden gem. Seats 100. Less with distance seating. Kayaked in rookery bay the other day. Virtual hugs to you!

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    1. That sounds like a lot of fun. There are many places to kayak in the FL places we have visited and they include abundant wildlife too. We haven’t been to Marcos Island and you will have to let us know what you think. Have fun on your trip. Tell Gary “hello” for us!

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      1. This is our 2nd time here (we are at marriotts crystal shore on south collier). A hidden gem is Marcos players for live theater; we kayaked using paddle Marcos they delivered to cambaxas park boat launch and paddled the neighborhoods; this time we did Rising Tide expedition guided tour from the rookery estuary; did a 2.5 hr walk-in Tiger Tail Beach $8 Pkg collecting shells; must hop to nearby Goodland and dine at little Bar restaurant and have stone crabs; hope to visit Deinor-Wiggins pass state park about 25 miles nearby in Naples (they have kayaking).

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