Braden Castle: Only ruins remain of Bradenton's historical treasure

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Braden Castle sits in a beautiful spot near where the Braden River meets the Manatee River. It was built in 1850 and has been the victim of hurricanes, fires, vandals and decay. But parts of it still stand.

A monument to our past and a reminder of those who came before us and what they endured to build the community we have today.

When Joseph Braden lost everything in the bank panic of 1838, he moved to Manatee County to make a new start. "Dr. Braden came here under the Armed Occupation Act. They were giving away 160 acres, so he decided to come here and establish a sugar plantation," says Cathy Slusser, director of Historical Resources for Manatee County Clerk of Courts.

He brought his family, his brother Hector, and slaves to work the plantation. He built a house of tabby (a concoction of lime, sand, crushed shells and water) near the river, so he could ship his crops.

Braden Castle

Then his brother Hector was killed. "He was crossing the Little Manatee River during the hurricane of 1846. He got caught in some quicksand, and the legend says when he was found he was still on top of his horse; both of them drowned with his eyes wide open and his hands still on the reigns.”

In 1856, Native Americans attacked. "Dr. Braden and his family were at supper, and the woman upstairs with the baby said somebody was outside and blew out lights…it was the Indians attacking."

The family survived, but their plantation failed. Sugar cane didn't grow well here, so the Bradens moved away and fire swept through the abandoned house.

Then in the 1920’s the Braden Castle became the center of a whole new story when the tin can tourists arrived. "They would come here in their Model-T Fords that they had built a house car on the back of," says Slusser.

They started out camping around the Braden Castle ruins, then bought the property. "They divided it into 200 40-foot lots and sold the lots to their friends. And by 1928, 197 little cottages had been erected here," says Glenna Shanahan, Braden Castle historian.

And Braden River Park is now home to some 500 people. "We know everybody, we care about everybody. We care for each other."

Braden Castle ruins

The old Braden Castle has endured hurricanes, fires, Indian attacks, financial disasters, and tin can tourists, and yet it still stand in the center of a beautiful peaceful little village to remind us of our past and the people who went before us.

Most of the cottages that surround Braden Castle have been remodeled many, many times. But if you look closely you can still see traces of their beginnings. There are 200 houses in Braden River Park, and 100 mobile homes next door.

To get to the Braden Castle ruins, from Manatee Avenue East, turn north on 27th Street, then bear right at Braden Castle Drive.