In the early 1500’s Ponce de Leon started his quest for the Fountain of Youth. This spring was said to have the powers to give eternal youth and heal the sick as well as being surrounded by gold and silver. Ponce began his search for the Fountain of Youth and on his journey discovered Florida naming it Pascua de Florida which means Feast of Flowers. His bold voyages to the East and West of our state opened the doors of imagination for many Spanish explorers. He found and named the island Ana-Maria-Cay in honor of the Virgin Mary and her Mother, Anne.
Although Ana-Maria-Cay appeared on charts and galleons filled with conquistadors that frequently landed on Florida shores however, the wealth they sought eluded them and explorations were discontinued. Ana-Maria-Cay was quiet for hundreds of years.
George Emerson Bean was the first permanent resident on the island and homesteaded what is today the City of Anna Maria. His home was built near the present location of the Rod and Reel Pier. Today you can visit Bean Point and experience beautiful sunsets on this private stretch of beach near the home of Anna Maria Island’s first resident. Bean died in 1898 but just after the turn of the century his son, George Wilhelm Bean joined up with a financier named Charles Roser. Together, they formed the Anna Maria Beach Company and started to develop the streets and lay out the town.
Roser is also the inventor of the Fig Newton. In 1898 Kennedy Biscuit joined with other bakeries and formed the National Biscuit Company, now known as Nabisco. The stock purchase created a million-dollar windfall for Roser, who joined his father developing real estate in Florida.
Charles Roser built Anna Maria Island’s first church; the Roser Memorial Community Church in 1913. The lighted cross on the steeple of the Roser Memorial Community Church was a beacon for fishermen until electricity was brought to the island in the next few years. Today, the non-denominational church still welcomes all visitors to services each Sunday.
The Anna Maria Beach Company built a 678-foot long pier at the end of Pine Avenue in 1911 allowing visitors to come by ship. Through numerous hurricanes the pier survived and still stands to this day. The stroll to the end of the 710-foot Anna Maria City Pier has made Anna Maria Island a travel destination for nearly 100 years. About the same time, the famous Rod and Reel Pier was constructed. This has been a popular spot to catch up with the locals and catch some award winning fish.
The original Anna Maria ice house built in 1920 at 402 Pine Avenue now serves as the home for the Anna Maria Island Historical Society.
The Anna Maria City Jail was built in 1927. It was really used to detain Islanders who got too rowdy. It was open air and prone to heat and mosquitoes. The Old City Jail is now a popular landmark and a favorite subject for photographers.
The first school on Anna Maria Island was built on Magnolia Avenue in 1930, where the Island Community Center stands today. The Island Players Theater, at the Gulf end of Pine Avenue, was a home in the farming community of Parrish before it was floated down the Manatee River in two sections on barges.
Finally, in 1921 the Original Cortez Bridge was built that connected Anna Maria Island with Cortez. This allowed visitors to commute easily to the Island. It was a rickety wooden bridge linking the island to the mainland enabling Model T Ford’s to begin rolling onto the island. It was replaced with a modern concrete structure in the late 1950’s. You can still take a walk on the Western end of this historic landmark. About the same time a second bridge on Manatee Avenue was constructed.
At the end of World War II Jack Holmes, a developer with a dream, created a 600-acre community in the center of the island. This was the beginning of the island development and houses and condos sprung up quickly. In the early 1960’s Seaside Gardens on 63rd Street took shape under his direction. With the help of his friends the town of Holmes Beach developed into the fastest growing community in Florida, according to an article in the Better Living Magazine in September, 1980. They strived for a home community of modest proportions with affordable prices in a luxurious setting. Dredging and filling in the picturesque canals and bayous took place. Holmes gave people what they wanted. The first structure was completed in 1962. The five unit property was ground level and all under one roof. All units had boat docks along the canal. Each apartment had central heat and air. They sold like hot cakes. Today these units are still featured as Holmes Beach vacation rentals.
In 1948 an airstrip was built in Holmes Beach as a landing strip for small planes. This airstrip, located on the property where the Holmes Beach library now stands was closed in 1973 after an airplane accident.
The City of Holmes Beach was incorporated in 1950. The first mayor, Halsey T. Tichenor, served from March 14, 1950 to March 20, 1951.
The Anna Maria Island Elementary School was built in 1950 on Gulf Drive and replaced in 2005 with a multi-million dollar campus.
In 1921 – 1922 the first bridge was constructed from the Village of Cortez to Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach. In 1926 a bridge to Longboat Key was constructed. During this time, the community was known as Cortez Beach. In the late 1920’s the editor of the Bradenton Herald began referring to the community as Bradenton Beach. The name stuck.
In the 1920’s the first Bradenton Beach City Hall was constructed and was replaced with the current City Hall in the 1970’s.
In 1940 the molasses tanker Regina sunk off the coast of Bradenton Beach in a storm. This has created a natural coral reef which has been a favorite scuba diving site.
This southern most city on Anna Maria Island is a charming mix of quaint shops and eateries. Bradenton Beach features three parks in addition to the County managed parks at Coquina Park, Coquina Bayside and the Leffis Key Nature Walk. These parks are all varied in their amenities and features. Leffis Key features about 1500 lineal feet of boardwalks that meander through mangrove and natural shorelines.
The Coquina Public Beach at the southern most part of the island is a popular destination with beautiful sandy beaches and picnic areas.
The City of Bradenton Beach was incorporated in 1952.
The film “On An Island With You,” starring Esther Williams and Peter Lawford, was partially filmed on the island in 1948. Esther Williams bought property, although it is not known if she ever lived on the island. Through the years other movies have been filmed on and around Anna Maria Island. In 1998 Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Shue came to the island to film “Palmetto”. About the same time, Denzel Washington and George Clooney came to the area to film “The Perfect Storm”.
Although Anna Maria Island has continued to grow by leaps and bounds over the years since its first settlers, it has maintained its “Old Florida” charm. No fast food restaurants, high rises or chain stores – just laid back and friendly residents to greet you!