A Brief History of Anna Maria Island

| June 26, 2023

The history of Anna Maria Island is as rich as the views are beautiful. The island, just south of Tampa Bay, was a stopover for explorers making their way to the Florida coast. The island was originally home to both Native American warrior tribes, the Timucua and the Calusa. Exploring expeditions like those of de Soto and Navarez eventually wiped out the natives.

What is in a name?

The island was settled in the mid-nineteenth century by the then-mayor of Tampa, Madison Post. Legends say the island was named in honor of the Virgin Mary and her mother, but it was Post who named the island after his sister-in-law Anna and his wife, Maria. 

With its location, Anna Maria Island became the perfect stop for travelers and fishermen alike. However, it wasn’t until 1892 that George Emerson Bean and their family became the first permanent residents of the island. The family then ran a homestead in what would become the City of Anna Maria.

History Built With a Fig Newton Fortune

When George Emerson Bean passed, he left his land to his son George Wilhelm Bean. George Wilhelm then partnered with a real estate developer named Charles Roser. Roser earned his project and investment money by selling the original recipe for the Fig Newton cookie to food giant, Nabisco. Together they formed the Anna Maria Beach Company and began the task of installing utilities, constructing houses, and building a city.

The charm of the island, along with a new bridge connecting the Island and the mainland, brought growth to the local population in the early 1920s. Perhaps one of the most famous residents of the time was actor Paul Gilmore. Gilmore purchased 40 acres of the island, which he planned on turning into Paul Gilmore’s Oriental Film City, also known as Gil-Mor Isle. While he did have one movie, The Isle of Destiny, filmed on his land, his dreams of a glamorous Hollywood 2.0 ended with the Florida land crash and poor movie sales and distribution. 

After World War II, two more cities, Holmes Beach (1950) and Bradenton Beach (1953) incorporated, taking the island from one city to the three we have today. Around the same time, the economic culture of homesteading and fishing moved to focus on tourism. To make way for the influx of visitors, the old bridge was torn down and replaced with a new reinforced steel bridge. The people of Anna Maria Island were not going to celebrate quietly. People came from all over to watch as elephants and other circus acts were the first to cross the new bridge in an over-the-top, street carnival-esque glamor that had everyone talking. 

Stolen Money? That’s Water Under the Bridge.

This wasn’t the first time that Anna Maria Island had tried to build a more tourist and commercial friendly bridge. Infact in 1941, there was a large fundrasing event with over 17,000 reported to be in attendace. There they danced, golfed, and even took in a death-defying highwire act during the revelry of it all. Those in charge of the event had other plans in mind, and ran off with the money raised to build the new bridge.

Beachy Wonderland With a Small Town Feel

The 1960s brought more development, and a golf course, while land costs and value tripled. Tourism skyrocketed into the 1970s and beyond. However, the island ensured that the architecture never would, and signed an agreement to eliminate the further construction of high-rise buildings. Because of this, we have the diversely built and cozy oceanside town it is today. 

Historical Must Visits of Anna Maria Island

Island of Anna Maria Historical Museum

Dedicated to the preservation of the history of Anna Maria Island, the Anna Maria Historical Museum honors both the native people who inhabited the island and the culture built up by the first official settlers of Anna Maria Island. With info from homesteading to Hollywood and Sports Histories (Did you know that Anna Maria Island hosts Spring Training for many Major League Baseball teams?), this museum will have something to interest everyone in the family. Looking for more family fun? Look no further! We have it for you HERE! 

Rosers Memorial Church

Built by the Roser Family in 1913, this church served as both a lighthouse for the soul and a lighthouse for the fisherman. The church’s steeple, a lit cross, would guide sailors and fishermen alike to the safety of the beautiful island shores. 

The Old City Jail

The original Old City Jail from the 1920s still stands, albeit no longer functioning; it makes for an excellent stop for a picture and a view into a time much different than now. (This one made our list of Hidden Gems to Visit Here!)

Mangrove Walk

Looking for natural beauty to go along with the history of Anna Maria Island? Go no further than Mangrove Walk. This site was for early settler’s picnics and is now an example of eco-friendly landscaping. 

There are more Eco-friendly adventures for you HERE on Anna Maria Island!

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