May 24, 2011

History of Anna Maria City Pier

The Anna Maria City Pier Centennial took place recently with a two day celebration.  Many visitors have asked about the history of this quaint "old time" Florida pier.

The following story appeared in the Bradenton Herald on May 15, 2011:

Can the Anna Maria City Pier Centennial Ever Really Live Up to the Original Party?
Published Sunday, May 15, 2011 2:00 am
by Merab-Michal Favorite

 The Anna Maria City Pier was built in 1911 as a way to promote tourism and receive supplies.

ANNA MARIA  -- George "Will" Wilhelm Bean had big plans for his North Point property on Anna Maria Island that had been purchased by his father in 1893. Aside from the planned streets and sidewalks for the “finest resort on the west coast of Florida” the entrepreneur first had to find a way for travelers to approach the detached island paradise. Bean built a grand pier to receive steamboat traffic, sent his 10-year-old daughter out in a brightly colored rowboat to welcome incoming ships and convinced his sister to dress like a gypsy and tell visitors’ fortunes – all this in the name of tourism.
Will Bean’s father, George Emerson Bean, was the first homesteader on the island. He and his family settled the tract of land from North Point to Magnolia Avenue, which is where the Island Community Center is today. Three years after they moved in, father and son formed Anna Maria Beach Development Company. They laid out streets and sidewalks, built houses and constructed a water system. One of their partners in the venture was none other than Charles M. Roser, the inventor of the fig Newton cookie which he sold to Nabisco for one million dollars.
The developers needed a way to get people to their island paradise, so they built the 776-foot pier in 1911 to receive steamer traffic. When tourists heard of the of the pier opening, they flocked by the hundreds. Will Bean dressed his daughter in a black and white bathing costume and painted her rowboat red. Visitors beamed with delight when they were greeted by the small child upon arrival.  While his sister told fortunes, Will Bean stocked a small gift shop with island mementos such as shells and starfish. He didn’t stop there; as part of the island tour, Will Bean put a flock of peacocks in his yard along with a live alligator that resided in a small man-made pond in front of his home.
Since the pier's opening, it has been a popular fishing spot.
Just after the pier was finished, the Anna Maria Beach Company printed a brochure claiming that Anna Maria was “Florida’s famous year-round resort.” Up until this point, most northerners vacationed in Northern Florida, never venturing below Jacksonville. The brochure also claimed that the four artesian wells at Anna Maria contained medicinal ingredients that eased suffering for people with stomach, bladder or kidney troubles. It also called the water a “mild laxative” and boasted that since each of the 60 cottages had plumbing, “health-giving water was accessible to all.”

The venture was a huge success. Picnic goers all over Manatee County could take day trips to Anna Maria via Steamer. During the summer, one ship ran a 50-cent, round-trip special on Thursdays. It would drop parties of young people off in the morning and on the return trip from Tampa, they would be picked up. Overnight camping trips to the island were also very popular. The Beans built a bathing house in the vicinity of what is now the Sandbar Restaurant. For those who didn’t feel like camping or picnicking, a hotel that served lunch to day trippers was constructed shortly after.
The pier was the hub of activity. Not only could excursion boats dock, but now the island had easy access to suppliers. In the early 1920s two buildings sat at the end of the pier. On the left, the Lotus collage was built for the family of a Tampa banker named John Price. It had four bedrooms and four baths. An icehouse for island residents was built on the right. It became a fish cannery which failed shortly after. It was rebuilt as a rental cottage called Belle Haven and owned by a man named Charles Roser.

Today the pier is still a popular place for families to go to catch dinner.
It wasn’t weather but neglect that brought the buildings down. Even though they survived the hurricane of 1921, both eventually fell into the bay due to rotten pilings. After the City of Anna Maria acquired the pier in 1928, maintenance was always a hardship. While moneys provided by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal helped make necessary repairs in the 1930s, many of the buildings had already rotted away.

In the 1970s, a storm carried off two thirds of the dock and the city paid $30,000 to replace it. The buildings at the end became a restaurant and baitshop.
Although it has retained its classic look, proponents have been unsuccessful in getting the pier registered as a national historical landmark. In 1988 Tropical Storm Keith damaged the pier again and again it was repaired by the city.

One thing has remained consistent with the City Pier and that’s the fishing. Since the beginning it seems like not a line goes in the azure water without something biting it. The Pier may be too jury-rigged to make the National Registry of Historical Places, but it’s a Manatee County historical landmark all the same. We may not use it for what it was originally intended, but it is still the most popular fishing place on the island. The city may curse every time they have to replace a plank or patch a roof, but if people still enjoy walking down the dock and to view famous Florida wildlife and stunning sunsets, then in my opinion it’s worth it. We should enjoy more things for one hundred years instead of allowing them to be washed into the depths of history.

Anna Maria Island 1940-1970: Tales of Three Cities from Bean Point to Bridge Street by Carolyne Norwood, copyright 2010 by Anna Maria Historical Society
The Early Days 1893-1940, copyright 2003 by the Anna Maria Histoical Society. All photos: Anna Maria Historical Society.

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