Dredging Changes the Manatee River

Updated: Jun 5

Image is an aerial of the Sandpile from the Rev. Herb Loomis Postcard Collection, Manatee County Historical Records Library.


By Cathy Slusser


When the first settlers arrived in the “Manitee Lands”, what later became Manatee County, the Manatee River had many more bays and inlets than it does today. Some of the areas along the river’s edge were also swampy and filled with muck. The process of dredging, scooping up the river bottom with machinery including cranes and pumps, changed the river’s shore line dramatically.

The process of dredging to deepen the Manatee River and make it more navigable for the large ocean going schooners and steamboats began in the late 1800s. On June 27, 1889, the editor of the Manatee River Journal stated, “There is probably no subject of more importance, tending to advance the interests of the towns along the Manatee river, and the county generally, than the matter of deep water of the bar at the mouth of the river, and the changes are that this is one of the least difficult obstacles to overcome, that stand in the way of our prosperity.” With the Manatee River serving as the main form of transportation for the community, the waterway needed to be deep and navigable.

A major effect of the dredging was the straightening of the river’s shoreline and creation of new lands. As the dredge collected sediment from the floor of the Manatee River, it deposited the “spoils” along the shoreline. In the 1890s, dredging was used to deepen the shallow Adams’ Ford, a sand bar in the river east of where present day Manatee Memorial Hospital is located. This enabled steamboats such as the “H.B. Plant”, “Pokanoket,” “Mistletoe,” and “Manatee” to make the trip farther up the river to Ellenton, Rye and Manatee. As boat transportation gave way to automobiles and railroad trains, dredging continued, but more for the purpose of creating new land along the riverfront than keeping the river’s channels clear. Much of the downtown riverfront was at one time under water.

When the Memorial Pier (today’s Pier 22) and the original Green Bridge (now the fishing pier in Palmetto) were constructed in the mid 1920s, part of those projects included creating additional land for the City of Bradenton from approximately 9th Street West to 13th Street West. As a result, the Manatee River Hotel (currently the downtown Hampton Inn) lost its riverfront location. The Manatee County Central Library, the City Pier, the Bradenton City Hall and Auditorium, South Florida Museum and Bishop Planetarium, Art Center Manatee, the Manatee Players and Manatee Memorial Hospital are on this dredged land created in the 1920s and owned by the City of Bradenton.

If you have ever wondered why the entrances to the Central Library on the north and south are a floor apart, it is because the library building, built in the mid 1970s, is located on a bluff that once overlooked the river before additional fill was placed on the north side along the river’s edge in the 1920s. Enter from the north and you are on filled land. Enter from the south and you are on the original elevation of the river’s bank. Some downtown Bradenton streets slope towards the river as well.

Aerial maps of the Manatee River show that by 1940, extensions of land projected along Riverview Boulevard in the Fogartyville area, as well as an approximately two block square addition to downtown Bradenton near the Memorial Pier (today’s Pier 22) where the Bradenton City Hall and Auditorium are located today. Several acres of land had also been added to the Beau View subdivision east of the present day Manatee Memorial Hospital.

In the mid 1950s, additional land was created by dredging when the DeSoto Bridge was built across the river west of Manatee Memorial Hospital allowing for hospital expansion. In the 1960s, more dredging produced an area that for many years was called “The Sandpile” because it consisted of sand dredged from the river bottom. “The Sandpile” now houses the Riverwalk, condominiums and apartments, a hotel and the new Manatee Performing Arts Center.

The next time you walk along the Riverwalk or the shoreline of the Manatee River, remember that where you are walking may have once been underwater!

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