Located in Palmetto, Florida, the Manatee County Agricultural Museum offers a variety of museum exhibits and programming pertaining to the region’s agricultural heritage and industry, including a large collection of agricultural artifacts and a variety of public special event programming.
Agriculture has historically been a central industry for the western Florida community and the Manatee County region, serving as one of its prime economic contributing forces. The idea for a community museum facility preserving the region’s agricultural history was first proposed in 1979 as part of expansions to the Manatee County Extension Service’s offices at the county’s fairgrounds. Though a two-story museum was proposed as part of expansion plans, the Manatee County Fair’s potential move in the early 1980s caused plans to be deferred. A 1985 historical survey by the Palmetto Historical Commission that emphasized the importance of agriculture’s historical roles in the region led to the formation of the Manatee County Agricultural Museum Association two years later, which was incorporated as a nonprofit organization overseen by a board of directors. Several proposed museum sites, including the city’s historic Craig Sugar Mill and a facility at the County Fairgrounds, were deemed unsuitable due to a lack of supporting resources, but in 1995, a city-owned facility that formerly housed the region’s firehouse and jail was secured under the terms of a 50-year lease. More than $375,000 in grants and donor funding was acquired for the development of the facility throughout the late 1990s, and in March of 2002, the Manatee County Agricultural Museum was officially opened to the public.
Permanent Collections and Exhibits
Today, the Manatee County Agricultural Museum is operated by the Manatee County Agricultural Museum Association nonprofit organization, in conjunction with support by the Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court, the Manatee County Board of County Commission, and the City of Palmetto. The museum’s historic former jailhouse and firehouse facility is located within the city’s Palmetto Historical Park, which also preserves the city’s first post office, along with a number of historic houses, schoolhouses, and chapels. While admission to the museum is free, visitor donations are encouraged to support the Association’s public programming endeavors. A variety of exhibits are presented at the museum showcasing artifacts, historic photographs and documents, and personal stories related to the history of the agricultural industry and its social and cultural impact on the Manatee County region.
A large museum collection is held by the Association, featuring a wide variety of agricultural industry artifacts donated by area citizens. Large pieces of industrial agricultural equipment are showcased, along with a variety of documents, photographs, oral history accounts, and other ephemera related to the region’s agricultural history. Though the museum is limited in its display and storage space of larger artifacts, smaller artifacts belonging to special collections and volumes and documentation are accepted on an ongoing basis.
A variety of permanent core exhibits are showcased at the museum, including a Manatee County Hall of Fame exhibit which honors exemplary members of the region’s agricultural community. Two or three new inductees to the Hall of Fame are chosen annually by the Manatee County Extension Office and the Bradenton Kiwanis Club, and a museum exhibit room presents portraits and information on previous inductees. An Archive Center presents information about local farms, agricultural businesses, and notable farming families, while a Barn Exhibit showcases large artifacts including engines, feeders, and a silo filler and fanning mill. A period-replica Farm Shop and Garage also presents smaller tools, along with a restored 1925 Model T Ford pickup truck, a common mode of transportation for farmers during the early 20th century. A Citrus Room displays artifacts related to the citrus farming industry, including Charles Johnson’s famed Tropicana Suit from his time serving as the company’s PR representative in the mid-20th century, while a Livestock Room features artifacts related to the area’s cattle industry. An Ag and Economy Board serves as a children’s exhibit, teaching young visitors about farming tools and regional crops.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Guided tours of the museum are offered for small groups and organizations, including curriculum-incorporated field trip experiences for elementary school students. A pre-K Super Sprouts field trip and workshop program is also offered, emphasizing farm-to-table practices and food literacy, and custom adult group tours for community organizations are available by special reservation. Rotating temporary special exhibits are presented at the museum periodically, focusing on a variety of cultural topics related to the region’s agricultural industry and 20th-century social history. Public special events at the museum or sponsored by the Association include a panel and discussion series, a Night for the Museum annual fundraiser, and the Manatee Heritage Days and Palmetto’s Heritage Festival events. Internships for college students are offered for young adults looking to immerse themselves in museum collections and civic history career fields, and community volunteers are accepted on an ongoing basis for a variety of programming and administrative tasks.
1015 6th St W, Palmetto, FL 34221, Phone: 941-721-2034