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Manatee County Courthouse: Bradenton's century-old landmark

Posted at 5:44 PM, May 20, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-22 14:23:26-04

BRADENTON, Fla. – Every Tuesday over the last month, we've taken you to visits at historic Suncoast landmarks. Now ABC 7's Linda Carson takes us on a journey to Manatee County's history.

Last week, the county held a dedication ceremony celebrating the completion of the renovations of the historic Manatee County Courthouse. It also marked the 100th birthday of the courthouse.

It was first completed in February 1914, and through the century, it has served Manatee County well.

In 1914, the new courthouse was truly the center of county business. "The first courthouse housed all the county government agencies; there was a courtroom here, jail on the 3rd floor," says Cathy Slusser, director of historical resources.

And hangings were held here on the courthouse lawn and roof. "One of the most tragic stories is how they would hang people through the skylight from the roof…and that skylight went down to the kitchen in the jail. So the bodies would fall down into the kitchen after they'd been hung."

Originally there was a green dome on top. "But in 1926 the country commission decided officially it was a fire hazard, but really they decided that it made the courthouse look too provincial; it wasn't as modern as they wanted to represent the courthouse,” says Slusser.

So they removed the dome. But there's a reminder of it in the recent renovations. "The new gazebo that's been built here in the landscaping, the little copula on top of it is the same design as that dome was."

The front lawn has really been redone. “A lot of the monuments that cluttered the courthouse lawn and really couldn't be seen because they were so jumbled up together have been relocated. So they are in more permanent positions, and now you can see the view of the front of the courthouse. It's like we took this jewel of a courthouse and put it in a beautiful setting."

The Confederate memorial was moved to the side of the courthouse. "United Daughters of the Confederacy put that in place in the 1920’s, and during the renovations to the courthouse we discovered a time capsule inside that Confederate memorial which held an old newspaper and some more mementos."

And the new landscaping is made up of all native plants. "We're actually hoping that the landscaping will help calm peoples nerves as they come through the courthouse, and that it also be a place for concerts and other community gatherings. It’s really an urban park now."

Originally the courthouse was on a dirt road and had a fence around it to keep local livestock from wandering on the grounds. It also had a fountain and a pool in front, with live alligators in the pool. Fortunately those gators are now only a fond memory.