Braden Castle Park
Composed By Garnet B. Lamberson
Imogene D. Crowe
Braden Castle Hobby Club
Organized February 24, 1970
Printed March 1994
I gratefully acknowledge the help of Imogene Crowe and Ray West on whose advice, knowledge, and materials I drew heavily. I appreciate the stories and incidents told by many individuals, most of which are incorporated in this undertaking, and some of which have been told over and over. There are only so many ways in which to tell a story, consequently much of the material is quoted from other accounts. Garnet B. Lamberson March, 1994
CHRONICLE OF EVENTS
1837 National Panic collapse of Union Bank at Tallahassee 1842-43 Dr. Joseph and Hector Braden, brothers, came to Manatee 1843 Dr. Joseph Braden lived in log cabin near Bradenton's Old Main Street 1848 Dr. Joseph Braden bought property on Braden Creek, which increased his holdings to 1,100 acres to largest plantation around 1850 Castle built of poured lime and shell 1856 Seminole Chief Arpiola and band plundered slave cabins and stole slaves 1857 Dr. Braden faced financial ruin - owed $8,412 in notes 1857 Daniel Ladd foreclosed - Dr. Braden moved to Tallahassee, then to Texas 1865 Mary Pelot's parents, General and Mrs. Cooper, moved from Alachua to Manatee 1867 Ladd sold to Mary and John Pelot, Coopers moved to Castle, improved it, added wooden cupola 1876 General Cooper died, Castle abandoned 1903 Castle gutted by fire 1919 Tin Can Tourists of America organized at Tampa 1920 Resentment at Tampa 1922 Tin-canners had 100,000 members 1924 DeSota Park, Tampa, closed in March 1924 Committee bought castle and grounds, membership cards issued 1924-25 Community Hall built, December 22, 1924 - January 26, 1925 1926 Large percentage of houses already built, mens club house built 1927 Ladies Club house built 1928 Plaza Park made. Watermelon feed held 1929 180 cottages complete 1929 Long pier built, 700 feet long 1935 Hunted and ate turkeys 1940 Lagoon dredged 1944 Janaury 1, Manatee absorbed by Bradenton 1950 Tax problems, deeds issued to certificate holders 1960 Decline of Braden Castle 1970 First meeting of Hobby Club - February 24 1970's Rejuvenation of Braden Castle Park 1972 Ruins recognized by state to be historical value 1979 First celebration of Heritage Week 1980 Removed rental cottages, store, post office 1980's First chicken barbecue 1984 First ice cream social 1985 Braden Castle area put on National Register of Historical Places
Braden Castle Story
This little booklet is a twofold story, each unto it self rich in the annals of history, yet intertwined with each other, the Castle story melding into the story of the creation of Braden Castle Retirement Park.
Because it came first, we begin with the Castle. More properly, it should be called Braden Mansion. It now lies in ruins, protected by a chain-link fence, a silent reminder of grandeur and elegant living in days gone by. In 1972 these ruins were significant enough to be recognized by the State and County as of historical value to appear on subsequent maps.
Dr. Joseph and Hector Braden, brothers, along with Robert Gamble, builder of Gamble Mansion in Ellenton, came to this area in 1842 or ’43. They had previously sailed from Virginia to Tallahassee with their families plus 85 slaves, where they eventually faced financial ruin. Dr. Joseph was a graduate physician, but did not practice his profession.
Hoping to regain some of his fortunes, he purchased 640 acres of land from the Federal Government in this area, later owning some 1,100 acres of plantation for the purpose of rasing sugar cane. It was one of the biggest plantations in the country. They had huge vats where they kept tons and tons of molasses. They constructed many buildings to house their own families and those of the slaves, but, for his own home, in 1850, he contracted with Ezekiel Glazier, a finished cabinetmaker, to build the sugar mill and plantation house from his own designs. Mr. Glazier’s helper was a Rev. Edmond Lee, a Presbyterian minister, who had come to Manatee for his health.
It was reported that, while they were working on the house, a Mr. Henry Clark, storekeeper, died suddenly. Mr. Glazier and Rev. Lee stopped work and went to the village to construct a casket for Henry. The date on the tombstone, which can be found in the old Manatee Burial Grounds, is July 22, 1850.
Physically, the extremely thick 20 inch walls of this new home were made of “concrete of lime”, produced at the site and called “tabby”. Tabby was made from burnt oyster shells, crushed and sifted, making lime. Slaves waded out into the river at low tide, scooped up the shells with shovels, and put them into gunny sacks. Deep pits were prepared, and the shells were burned in them. The resulting lime was then mixed with water, sand, and more shells, then poured into forms, the porous substance becoming as hard and durable as stone. Wooden parts were of hewn lumber of oak, pinee, and hickory. Each floor was divided into two sections with a long hall down the center, which today, we would call a breeze-way, for it made for cooler rooms.
The hall contained a grand wooden stairway to the second floor, a duplicate of the first floor. The roof was covered with red cedar shingles.
Fireplaces, each about four feet wide, were constructed in each of the eight rooms and were used for heating and cooking. Each room was about 16 x 16 feet with about 15-foot ceilings. Therre were four windows in each room and , as an extra, elegant and unusual addition, windows and doors were brought in from Mobile, Alabama for Dr. Braden’s Castle. Not many homes enjoyed such luxury at this point in time. The halls were 40 feet long, and 15 feet wide, almost good sized living rooms in themselves!
Floors were hand-hewn pine planks. The partitions were made of tabby stone.
Visitors to the Castle today (1994) will see large, round holes in the sides of the fallen walls. First to come to mind is that the holes might have been caused by Indians (February, 1856) or that they were for gun ports for defense against the Indians. Actually, they are a result of the process of construction. After the foundation and the first foot or so of the walls were poured and allowed to set, forms were placed against the completed ones to allow the next foot or so to be poured on top of the first one. These form-boards were held together by pegs, which, when removed, left holes. We assume the holes were patched, but, since the patches were of lessor quality, they were the first to erode.
The family of Dr. Braden consisted of two boys and a girl. One of the sons was named Robert. Today, we worry about kidnappings and bodily harm to our children. In those days, they worried about Indians. They were fearful of attack. Actually, their fears were genuine, for in 1856, the Indians did sneak around the house. A maid happened to spot an intruder and screamed. Dr. Braden and is little son gathered the household to safety, and one report said that Dr. Braden shot one of the Indians, injuring his arm. The Indians retreated deeper into the plantation a mile away where the workers lived, plundered the cabins, stole 14 slaves, stole some of the children, three mules, and all of the loot that the mules could carry away. In their flight, they dropped a shawl, which helped to locate and capture them by the local militia and return the slaves to the plantation.
Hard times fell upon the country about 1857. Daniel and Elizabeth Ladd had heavily financed the Bradens, even lending them some slaves that were used on the plantation. Things were not going well for Dr. Braden. His brother Hector, who had been practicing law, died; the Cuban market for Molasses was lost. Acres of sugar cane were destroyed by corn borers, so once again Dr. Braden faced financial ruin, owing $8,412 in notes. The legal ownership of the property ended when the Ladds foreclosed, taking possession of the land and house. They did not evict their friend, however, the deed changing hands in 1857, and the Bradens stayed until 1864. They moved back to Tallahassee and thence to Texas where he died before 1888. Two children had preceeded him in death. Robert and his mother then returned to Jacksonville, Florida. Robert came to Bradenton area several times and visited the Castle grounds, but his visits became less frequent until he finally stopped comming.
Another man, a Mr. John Graham, also was looking around the Castle. He had grand ideas of making a resort in and around the Castle. He wanted to build a large hotel and hospital and extend his railway to the Castle. He actually did grade the land and laid the ties from the line that he atready had in operation from Bradenton to Manatee, when some older citizens objected because they thought that Mr. Graham was seeking some political advantage. Their protests defeated the franchise.
Legal records show that on August 8, 1867, 1,147 acres were purchased by Mary Pelot, wife of John J. Pelot, for $2,000.
She later sold 320 acres, which included the Caastle, to her parents, General and Mrs. Pharobe Cooper. They improved the building and added a framed cupola 5 x 10 feet, which provided an excellent view of the surrounding country. A guard stationed there could watch for Indians as well as for boats traveling the river.
Now, Braden Castle, presided over by Mrfs. Cooper, becaame a center for entertaining for family and friends and was synonymous with good times. Some of the guests came in their old clothes, changed into their “Sunday-go-to-Meeting” clothes, loaded into Dr. Braden’s cariole to ride to church, and then rode back to the Castle for dinner. The grounds, shaded by beautiful trees, was ideal, too, for community afairs such as the Fourth of July, Christmas celebrations, and Sunday School picnics. General and Mrs. Cooper were staunch Methodists.
History records that on December 24, 1875, a picnic and tournament were held at the Castle. There was a barbecue of beef, venison, and young hog (“shote”). Drinks were prepared by the women of the community and brought to the Castle in large market baskets and tubs. Games were played. There was rifle shooting, liftinga, wrestling, and knights in lavish costume rode in on dashing steeds to win a Queen. That evening, in the Castle, the Queen was crowned with red roses, after which dancing was enjoyed. Some guests even staayed for an early breakfast! There was some drinking, but the good mannerisms of the Cooper household forbade ribaldry and rowdyism in any form under their roof.
Within a few months, June 20, 1876 to be exact, General Cooper died, Mrs. Cooper having preceded him. After the Coopers died, the land was deeded back to the Pelots. The 34.75 acres which is now Braden Castle Park, was used as a picnic grounds until the Camping Tourists of America bought the 34.75 acres, as related in our next story. We assume that the Castle was soon abandoned.
However, even after the General’s death, in an account of happenings around 1885,“many were the times when young belles of the vicinity had dates a week or more in advance with their best beaus for Sunday afternoon strolls to Braden Castle. It had for some years been discarded for residential use and was gradually falling into decay, but was still a rendezvous for young people.” Another account recalls that it becamae a popular place for picnics and outings by all age groups, particularly on Sunday afternoons.
It would appear that the former sugar cane plantation surrounding the Castle was now unproductive. An enterprising young man, Dr. John J. Pelot, was selling real estate and began using the Castle as a landmark of our first settlers in order to lure vacationers. He can recall when treasure seekers would dig near the Castle at night in search of treasures believed to have been buried by early Spanish explorers. Nothing was found, however.
Speaking of real estate, the importance of slaves is revealed in a record of a land transfer of part of the present Braden Castle at a later daate. It reads. “lands totaling 580 acres for $4,200 and one Negro woman, named Elizabeth Johnson.”
As an advertising gimmmick, the aformentioned young John Pelot had dinner sets of fine china hand-painted in Dresden, Germany, depicting the Castle in full color in the center of each piece. These dishes he sold at cost or gave away to introduce this area to the rest of the country. Some of these peices still exist.
About 1903, still owned by the Pelot family, John and a friend, A. B. Stebbins, fought vainly to save the Castle from a large brush fire, which destroyed the shingled roof, the heavy supporting timbers, and the wooden staircase. The structure was never rebuilt. As the tabby walls gradually tumbled down past the stage of redemption, a chain-link fence finally was placed to prreserve the remains and act as a safety factor. Many years lataer, the ruins served as a factor in placing Braden Castle Park on the regisgter of Historic Places.
After the fire of 1903 we leave the Castle grounds to the ravages of Nature, to be covered by creeping vines, wild undergrowth and overgrowth, and we journey to the Tampa area in the year 1919, where we start our second story.
TAMPA – 1919
Here we find an adventurous group of people who had wished to leave the rigors of the northern climes and go to a warm and morre forgiving climate during the winter months. Traveling was difficult in those days, back in the earlyy 1900’s. The roads were unpaved and rough, the old models of cars – mostly Model T Fords and Maxwells which gavae problems of their own – flat tires, hot engines, and mechanical failures. Tales of ingenious mending of parts were common, such as using ladie’s hairpins to toggle parts together, obtaining water for radiators from wherever it was available, and, yes they had to use chains on the tires sometimes. The links of chains often came apart and clanked against the fenders as they broke loose. Motorists in those days, though, were compassionate souls and helped each other, for they could easily be the next victim!
Ruth Deering reflects that “if a car broke down on the side of a roadway, its occupants would give the ‘sign’ by making a C shape with their thumb and index fingers to the other travelers, and passing Tin-Canners (later identified in this story) would stop and give aid. They always tried to be a friendly bunch, and one motto of the band was to leave each site cleaner than they had found it.”
This group of travelers came to be known as “Tin Can Tourists of America”, and their trademark actually was a tin soup can placed upon the radiator cap. They gathered together about 1920, made camp, and reveled in each other’s company. They camped in public parks all over the South, living in makeshift dwellings of tents, sheds, lean-tos, and some made an early version of housecars, an extention of their cars.
“Tin Can Tourists”, as the winter migrants were commonly known, was organized as a haphazard group at Tampa’s DeSoto Park in 1919. By 1922, the organization boasted over 100,000 members, with the aim of promoting a “feeling of friendship ans wholesome recreation” among the campers and to enforce cleanliness and playground rules. Despite some problems between the native Floridians and the seasonal visitors, the “Tin Can Tourists” survived through the 1970’s.
Meanwhile, resentment was growing against the “Tin Can Tourists”, who were regarded as not contributing to the local economy, because they brought with them their own tinned provisions. In one of the Tampa papers, an editorial is quoted as saying that the tourists from the North came bringing a $10 bill and one suit of underwear and never changing either. In a picture, though, it shows laundry hanging on lines, proving otherwise, at least, the underwear part. Though they were ridiculed, actually, the travelers were doctors, lawyers, skilled tradesmen, and successful farmers coming from many states. The Model T’s and Maxwells had recently become available, and only professional people could afford them. Also, to add fuel to the resentment was the fact that the intruders had formed bylaws which prohibited them from owning property. Disenchanatment with the group began as early as 1920 and came to a head in 1924 when the Civic Club of East Tampa entered a suit that forced the closing of DeSota Park in March, 1924, a month earlier than scheduled.
Copied from the Tampa Morning Tribune of april 4, 1924, the following poem humorously exemplifies the sentiments of some Tampa residents at that time.
AN ELEGY IN DE SOTA PARK
The low-flung herd is moving on its way
in Tin Can Fords, high with brats
And mattresses and stoves that seem to sway
In sympathy with misplaced beds and slats.
Why do they move? God only knows, but thanks
That Tampa has a resprite from the doom
That each year from her friendly home life yanks
The Gulf Port City from the Tin Can tomb.
They come, each with a sardine in his hand;
They fling their tents on homestead, field and lawn;
They never buy, but try to own land-
Lord knows, we Tampans joy when they are gone.
Full many a Ford of direst look e’er seen,
In dismal aspect many Tin Can bears;
Full many merchants say with look serene:
“We’ll hope they lessen with the less’ning years.”
Perhaps some Ford may bear within its breast
Some boy who will do this state well;
Perhaps he’ll help you up – Do you guess the rest?-
Perhaps he will, but we doubt it like hell.
In anticipation of a move in February, 1924, a committee had been appointed to investigate purchasing land for a campground. A split occured in their membership, and the group formed a separate organization and st out to find a more permanent camp site of their own. The committee proceeded to organize and incorporate as the “Tin Can Tourists of America”. They elected a Board of Directors. Included were R. W. Vaugn, Fred Bates, I. K. Supernow, W. B. Jacobs, H. F. Wagner, and Dr. H. E. Robbins. I mention their names because, on Heritage Day in Braden Castle Park, celebrated each year, their homes are designated by signs in front of the houses that they later occupied.
Dues were set, shares of stock were sold, and a search for land was begun. Their pregrinations and searching eventually led them to the vicinity of Bradenton. Among the members of the group was an attorney who knew another attorney in the Bradenton area. In less than a month, the directors, acting on behalf of the shareholders, signed a contract for the purchase of 34.75 acres in Manatee County for $16,000. The property surrounded the ancient Bradenton Plantation House – The “Castle”! Toward the purchase of the land, nine men each purchased ten shares of stock for a down-payment of $700. Later, 40 more people gave money and four more acres were purchased.
To show how pleased they were to find a place to settle, I found this quote, atttibuted to a Mrs. George Harold, “We found this land by the Braden Castle, and it even had a well on it that had such force that it shot clear over to the Caastle when we opened it up. Well, right then and there, we decided to buy the place!” The water had, and still has, a disagreeable odor which disappears after standing. It was the only water used by the campers.
The very first tents were pitched in back of the Castle, and it was written that, at first, they couldn’t see either of the two rivers, because the wilderness was so dense with palmaettos and trees, underbrush, and hanging Spanish Moss.
One month after acquiring their land, on April 4, 1924, they became incorporated under the laws of Florida as the “Camping Tourists of America”. The charter was approved by a Judge W. T. Harrison on May 2, 1924, and is still the governing philosopy of the Braden Castle Association, as it is now known. The rules of the Park reflect the thinking of that period and is one of the aspects that makes Braden Castle unique even today. (1994)
Assured thay would be welcome, the shareholders hired a surveyor and decided what area to develop and where to clear the land. Lots were assigned, 40′ x 40′ and concrete slabs began to appear and tents were erected on the sites. There were common bathing and washing facilities and public “rest room” (early version!). The mobile homes part of the Park still enjoys laundry, shower, and rest room facilities with city water supplied as part of their rent payments, all updated of course! There are now (1994) 95 mobile homes, making up one-third of the parcel of the Park.
The cottage part of the Park had been divided into 200 lots, each 40′ x 40′. Each shareholder bought a lot for $100 and was assigned one of the lots on which to build. By the spring of 1925, neat little cottages had been built, mostly by the owners, with whatever lumber became available. Cottages could be no more than 34′ x 34′ with at least three-foot “set backs”. One of the first houses, located at 1 Braden Castle Drive, situated at the entrance to the settlement, was built in the winter of 1924-25 by C. W. Dietz and wife, Mertie, and son, Ernest Dietz. It is njow owned and occupied by Imogene Dietz Crowe, who is the third generation, and her husband, Edgar. Imogene was here with her parents in 1924 when the house was built and is now considered the local historian, and on whose extensive historical materials I have heavily drawn.
Ray and Dorothy West, 41 Braden Castle Drive, have preserved the authenticity of their house as much as possible. Named the “Westlake House”, it features a concrete security vault under the floor in the hallway. Legend has it that Mr. Westlake was a riverboat captain and the “Pilot House” projects out over the garage. Their delightful home has been a focal point in Heritage Week, celebrated each year in March, as an example of early housing. Their hospitality has given visitors an insight into the character of the little “doll houses” as it was in the early days of the Park.
When lots were assigned, it was decided that if no building was erected on a lot within 18 months of allotment, assignment could be changed. In November, 1924, the Board decided to lay out 40 additional lots to be sold at $100 for ten shares to be west of the Campsite, bringing to a total of 200 cottages in the Park. By the end of the 1920’s, there were 177 cottagaes built. Now, (1994) there are 198.
Board minutes indicated that on December 19, 1924, the Board voted that each stockholder must furnish his own garbage can.
Mrs. Enoch Cornish, who has been coming for over 50 years, told me that she and her husband had bought their house from a Mr. and Mrs. Graham. This structure had been designated the “Northern House” because it was a two-story building patterned like those in the North, the only one of that design. At that time, the area in front of their house was designated as a Park. Under the lovely big oak trees were picnic tables and a wonderful view of the river. When they had company, the guests were required to go to the office and “sign up”. Later, mobile homes began to appear along the river’s egde, and, now, that part, plus the picnic grounds, is totally developed into living quarters. Harold and Grace Wahlgren own and occupy the only orginal mobile home existing today, located at 3 Riverview Lane.
I am getting ahead of my story.
Early in 1924, the people used to gather by the river’s edge near the confluence of the Manataee River and the Braden River near where the Big Hall now stands. Here, they held “Sing-a-longs” and entertainments. Logs or railroad ties had been placed in a circle on which people could sit to enjoy a campfire built in the center. It was not long before a platform was constructed which, later, would become the floor of the Big Hall.
On November 24, 1924, the Board voted to build an 80′ x 140′ pavilion on the existing floor. A committee of six was appointed to oversee the volunteers. It was started on December 22, 1925, with all free volunteer labor and $2,500 worth of materials bought by the Board. Community Hall, as it is known, was erected in 34 days, completed January 26,1925, considered to be a major accomplishment, and just in time to hold the first annual stockholders’ meeting on January 26, 1925.
It still stands on its piers of tabby and concrete. The design of the Hall, with its high, open ceilings, is considered to have exceptional acoustical qualities. Later, a ceiling was built over the stage area, fronted by latticework so that projection of sound would not be inhibited. Their original roof of galvanized sheet metal is still in place. On December 6, 1927, a John Gallop was permitted to place an aerial on the pavilion so that he might entertain the citizens with radio on Sunday evenings. However, it must have been very drafty, because in 1929, a Mrs. Greek asked permission to produce entertainment to raise money to put windows in the Hall. In April, 1979, rest rooms and a kitchen were added, completed in 1981. In the spring of 1983, horseshoe courts were removed, and Leisure Hall was added, finished in January, 1984.
In 1925, the frame part of the office was built, supervised by a carpenter with volunteer help. Orginally, it boasted three rooms, one for the custodian to occupy.
TheBoard hired many different custodians at different times. I read that for one of the first summers, they appointed three men to stay all summer to oversee the Park. One time March 15, 1927, they had to dismiss the current custodian for lack of funds and for economy. Two weeks later, March 30th, they appointed a Mr. Elliott, who had been running the store, to serve as Custodian, from April 1, 1927 to October 1, 1927. He was to have full control of the camp grounds, and camp cottages, enforce the rules, collect the rents, and furnish, at his own expense, toilet paper for the public toiletes. His pay: 50% of the rents collected. Two weeks later, April 12, 1927, he resigned. On that same day, they appointed Dr. Robbins, a member of the Board, to have general supervision of the Corporation’s holdings, and appointed Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Emory, proprietors of the store next to the pavilion, as custodians. Their pay: 50% of the rents collected.
The Board had many decisions to make during the early years. In March, 1926, an application was received from Mr. Sewell to build a garage, and an application from Dr. Lancaster to builf a hospital. However, Dr. Lancaster decided to build his hospital outside the Park where more land was available. The father of Dorothy Smith, who with her husband, Charles, resides at 16 High Street, the third generation residinh at that address.
Later, in June, the Board voted to make null and void an application for a restaurant.
There was aat least one unsavory character whith whom they had to deal. Board minutes show that on October 24, 1925, they voted to revoke the membership of one Dewey McMillan with all privileges denied him on the grounds of the association. On December 1, 1925, Mr. T. E. Russell brought formal charges agaianst Dewey McMillan of “being an agitator and violator of the rules of said association and of the commonwealth of Florida, and guilty of drunkenness, profanity, and aiding in an attemmpt to commit an assault on the officers in the management of the Tourist Camp”.
On December 16, 1925, the Board took action for the prosecution of Dewey McMillan arranging for jurors, bailiff, judge, and witnesses. Trial set for 2 P.M. Friday, December 18, 1925.
The trial took place as planned. The case went to the jury at 3:00 P.M., and the verdict came at 3:30 P.M.: Guilt, as charged. Defendant must leave the grounds within 24 hours, permanently, and if he returns, he will be charged with trespassing, and be subject to malicious Trespass penalties under the laws of the State of Florida.
Another problem was encountered, for, in the Board minutes for February 11, 1927, the Secretary was ordered to serve written notice to the owner of a dog that was shut in the house and barking, that he must dispose of the dog or take it with them when they left for the day. On February 16, the household was formally ordered to abate the nuisance of a dog left alone or vacate the premises within 24 hours.
Another time od decision, on February 18, 1927, the Board called a special Meeting at which they voted to notify the Manatee Board of Health of a contgagious disease.
I found few records of sickness or emergencies that occurred, but surely, there were some. These rugged souls kept right onn planning and building.
Next to be constructed was the Men’s Club House, authorized in February 1926, and built immediately.
In 1927, the first boat docks were built, along with the long pier. The first long pier collapsed at one time when it becamae overloaded as the campers congregated there to watch a boat come in. The second pier was washed out by a tidal wave and, again, it had to be replaced. In 1990, a storm destroyed much of it, and, once again, with volunteer workers, it was restored, complete with lighting. The concrete piers beneath the wooden structure, built by a now deceased resident, Emil Koppmeier, a mason, are a factor in the permanence of part of it. The present pier is 700 feet long.
A photograph taken January 1, 1926, shows that people used to swim in the river.
Records also show that in 1928 a watermelon feed was held.
In the Park, sandy paths that later became streets began to appear and were given floral or tree names: Poinciana Circle, Gardenia Lane, Oak Street, Palm Avenue. Later, as the area grew, streets were named for early inhabitants of the South: DeSota, Lafayette, Ponce de Leon, Seminole Drive. The main street is Braden Castle Drive, owned and maintained by the city of Bradenton of which Braden Castle Park is a part.
In 1928, April 3, it was voted that the streets in Braden Castle Park should be 20 feet wide, except for Braden Drive, which would be only 18 feet wide so that a “good many” fruit trees would not have to be removed. It was further ruled that certified holders could place curbs in front of their buildings, except where it would interfere with traffic turning out to avoid a tree in the center of the road. At one point, a group of residents came to the Board to ask permission to remove a pine tree from their street. They were evidently denied permission, because the next year the same group came back to ask permission to remove a dead tree!
December 4, 1928, the Board voted to number the houses.
In the Fall of 1926, the Woman’s Recreational Club of Braden Castle had been organized. Dues were $1.00 (one dollar) per year and the Club received additional funds from proceeds of entertainment. Their meeting place was between the ruins of the Castle and the river.
About a year later, they petitioned the Board to authorize a Ladies Club House and on December 20, 1927, the Board ordered that it be built. The Board contributed $200.00, and the lumber from the old oil station. Additional material came from two (2) abandoned cottages. The old oil station had been located near the South end of the Park and had been abandoned by December 19, 1925, because the owner owed the Association $166.50. As a result, the Association had taken over the property and here was a good place to recycle the building materials. In regard to the Ladies Club House, on December 20, 1927, Board minutes state that: “any and all who wish will be given an opportunity to donate labor and material”. Once again, volunteers rose to the occasion and quickly constructed the building.
Meanwhile, the Ladies planned to install a Recreation Center where they had been meeting. They had been given permission by the Certificate holders and their legal representatives, and by the Board of Directors on November 22, 1926. They proceeded to prepare the grounds, buy materials and games, but progress was delayed and hindered because of contentions, which resulted in the Club members being asked by the Certificate holders at Annual meeting, January 10, 1928, to abandon their plans and returned dues papid, and disolved their Club. The remainder of their Treasury, $140.90, they donated to the new Club House.
The ladies must have enjoyed their new quarters, for I found an entry taken from Board minutes that on October 3, 1929, the Board voted to buy a load of wood for the Ladies’ Club House and for the office. On December 23, 1930, they voted to buy another load of wood. The Club House served until 1982 when an addition to Community Hall was built. The old Club House is now used as a library, artist’s studio, and sewing center. The new structure, called Leisure Hall, is used for social gatherings, card parties, and meetings of various Clubs.
After the Ladies’ Club House was built Certificate holders petitioned the Board to let them landscape the Plaza, complete with a fountain. Permission was granted January 11, 1928, and soon they had a very pleasant and pretty little Park.
The recreational and educational area, then known as Pavilion Park, now boasted an office building and the “Pavilion”, the Community Building.
The Business Section was at the site of the present flag pole. There was a building that housed a store and a post office. The addition at the right of the store was once a Western Union Telegraph office and later housed a rural Post Office station with the designation, “Braden Castle Station, Bradenton, Florida”. In the summers of the late 1920’s, about 20 residents received mail, in the winters, about 120. All people picked up their mail at the little Post Office, sorted into their private boxes, until 1980 when the building was torn down.
Near the store therre was once a barbershop and filling station operaated by Ann and George Harold, early residents. She was the one who, when they discovered the spouting well, knew that this was the place they would decide to settle.
Somewhere in the Park there must have been a root beer stand for, in the Director’s minutes, December 16, 1925, they voted to reduce the rent to $15 a month.
Along what is now “Orchid Lane”, named for Mr. & Mrs. Emil Schultz who grew orchids, were 10 small cabins, built in 1927 for a source of income, complete with electricity and water facilities, frunished with a cot, a chair, and a table. On November 15, 1927, the rent for the cabins was raised to $3 a week, plus 25 cents extra if an electric iron was used. No electric heaters were permitted. These cabins were torn down along with the store and Post Office in 1980, having bowed to the ravages of time. New mobile homes were placed in the same locations. Prior to 1983, there were two more little rental cottages next to the river. Of the Business Section, only the barbershop remains, used as a rental apartment, the back of which is housed a “garage” – facilities for the Park, storage of equipment, mowers, truck and such.
While we are in this area, farther down, at the river’s edge, we can see an open air meeting place called “Ye Olde Liar’s Bench”. It is a favorite gathering spot for the fishermen and any passing persons for swapping stories and the news of the day – or night! The furniture and decor is changed often, the upholstered pieces often the victims of wind and wet weather.
By now, the 1930’s, most of the structures were in place. Seasonal population was about 1,000, representing 26 states. The five greatest were:
New York 50
December 16, 1930, the Board voted that there should be no soliciting in the Park and that signs should be placed at each entrance to that effect. The rule still holds today – 70 years later.
During the depression years, early 1930’s, many of the cottaages which began as bare shelters with no windows and no heat werre modeernized and enlarged, and they continue to be updated and improved.
The section around the Lagoon orginally was swampland with thick vegetation and trees. In a clearing where Palm Avenue is now located, a Mr. Gallup had built a house. In 1928, he received permission to beautify the grounds around his house. Two more little houses had been moved into this area from outside and were of a more conventional design. Mr. Gallup had tons and tons of swdust and scrap wood hauled in from a sawmill located where Two Rivers Park is now located. Legend has it that he established a nursery of Royal Palms, planting seeds in coffee cans and other containers. As the seedlings grew, he gave some away and planted many around his house. There are still some stately Royal Palms that can be seen on Seminole Drive in the area of Palm Avenue.
Gradually, the area dubbed “Alligator Pool” around the now lagoon was cleared. The grounds were kept mowed. When the tide came in, sometimes it was very high. After it receded, it left a hard, white sand where later the residents played ball and even had a miniture golf course. No slouches, they!
In the late 1930’s, a committee was authorized to have the pool dredged. Plans for the Lagoon were designed by a former missionary who had seen a lagoon in Africa and offered his plan as a pattern. With the help of a dredging machine, some say that part of the swamp was dug by hand by men of the community, the sand loaded into wheelbarrows and wheeled away by some of the women. The resulting Lagoon filled with water carried in by a canal from the Manatee River and provided a lovely view, framed in the evenings by spectacular sunsets, surrounded by the growing Royal Palm trees and other varieties of shrubbery of various sizes and shapes. Park benches, bird houses, and American Flags glorified its banks. Added to that are the wildlife – ducks, herons, storks, and many other species of birds, even an occasional alligator in the water. However, when one alligator decided to take a walk, calling on the neighbors who liked to feed him marshmallows which he ate with great relish, fear for the safety of children, pets, and adults not wanting “company”, in 1982 or ‘83, the resident alligator was removed by wildlife service.
In the war years, the early 1940’s, some of the remaining jungle and marsh was cleared and drained, and the area was planted with Victory Gardens, as well as any other available garden species. Many of the residents lost loved ones to the raveges of war.
I found one entry that in 1935, the residents hunted and ate turkey.
As you wander through the Park, you will see at three locations a very large metal ring suspended by a framework. These rings were fire alarms made from former locomotive drive wheel rims. Each rim had a steel mallet with which to strike the rims in case of fire or other need for alerting the residents. The rersulting strike was loud and clar and could be heard for miles around, clear down to the main part of Manatee. The mallets were ready targeets for souvenir hunters, but, at least one has been retained and is securley chained to the fire ring. The remains of an antique fire wagon is located in front of Leisure Hall.
NO FIRE SINCE 1903! The foresight of the early settlers of Braden Castle Park, requiring brick chimneys, establishment of a fire station, purchase of 12 fire extinguishers, arranging with the Manatee Fire Department to install fire plugs on the Braden Castle water system, the three fire rings, buying a hand-drawn fire engine in 1930, all displayed a sense of responsibility and self-sufficiency, resulted in an enviable safety record in defiance of all known insurance statistics. Thus stated Loren Binkley in one of his many dissertations on local history.
Another community asset is water from two artesian wells, said to have their origins in Georga, one near the entrance to the Park and one located across the street from the Castle, 300 feet deep with 4-inch pipe, supplying the Park with excellent water. The well at the Castle is the one that first attracted the prospective buyers and helped them decide that this was the place they had been seeking. These wells are still in use. Though now we have city water, too, water is piped from the Castle well to many houses, pumped on staggered days to different areas. Residents may be seen with water jugs, filling them at the well for drinking purposes and watering plants. Some attach extra healthfull properties to this water. As to the other artesian well at the entrance to the Park, no longer flowing freely and long since having been capped, in 1986 it was reactivated by a pump and sprinkler system and now used to water the Castle Green area.
At one time, documented in 1935-36, in the area of Castle Green, there was a lovely fountain and fish pond, complete with fish and lily pads, and it was still there in 1957-58.
The 1950’s proved to be a time of change for Braden Castle Park, being a section of the city of Manatee. The town of Manatee could no longer support the required services on its tax base. Consequently, the town of Manatee was dissolved and reincorporated as a part of the City of Bradenton. As a result, Bradenton took on Manatee’s indebtedness which later became completely paid. Because of all this, taxes in Braden Castle began to mushroom. The Homestead Law was now in operation, so those in Braden Castle who had established this as their homes and were eligible, wished to participate in the new setup. Some minor changes in the Charter and By-Laws were made, and property rights to the lots on which cottages were built were deeded from the Association to the individual certificate holders. In the 1960’s, the original settlers were becoming older and Braden Casle suffered a decline. Second generation members were not too interested in maintaining the cottages, so the Park suffered even more.
Then in 1970, a new and laarger generation of retirees began looking for winter homes. Braden Castle looked promising, so they gradually took over the cottages, remodeled, improved, and updaated them, and now most of them are very attractive.
Through the efforts of many residents, outstanding among whom were Loren Binkley, now deceased, Ray West, and Imogene Crowe with her vast collection of historical data, in 1985, the Park area was placed on the National Register of Historical Places in the U.S.A. as a unique Historical District. The ruins had already been recognized in 1972. Such a designation helps preserve the Park from external influences, such as a highway bridge which would destroy it. The possibility still exists at this writing in 1994, but seems less threatening than it did at one time.
Today, Braden Castle Park survives and functions, 70 years later, much as it did when first conceived. Physically, about 90% of the cottages continue to be occupied on a seasonal basis. Except for the Lagoon and removal of the rental cottages along with the store and Post Office building in 1980, no major changes have been made. Each owner must be a member of the Association, and no property may be occupied by anyone other than a member or tenants approved by the nine members of the Board of Directors.
Braden Castle Park is unique in its spirit of friendliness andcaring, the willingness to help one another – an important and often nonexistent feature of today’s communities.
Braden Castle Theme Song
Words by Sadie Walling Tune: Suwannee River
1. Way down upon the Manatee River
Far, far from home
Here’s where we love to roam.
All up and down the camp we wander
Happy to be
In Braden Castle’s Winter Playground
Down by the Manatee.
Braden Castle we all love thee,
That is plain to see
As we all gather here each winter
Down by the Manatee.
2. Folks here are always gay and happy,
At work or play.
All seems to join in sports and laughter
Any hour night or day.
No place on this old earth quite like it
None can compare
With Braden Castle’s Winter Playground
Out in the open air.
3. Soon most of us will be leaving
For a distant clime,
Hope all return again next season
For another happy time.
God bless and keep us through the summer
Happy and free,
Farewell until we meet next winter
Down by the Manatee.