Anna Maria Island was part of the Safety Harbor culture area for many centuries before the arrival of Europeans in Florida. Both the Narvaez expedition, in 1527, and the Hernando de Soto expedition, in 1539, entered the mouth of Tampa Bay, north of Anna Maria Island, passing the island by to make their landfall on the mainland.
Anna Maria Island was first settled in the beginning of the twentieth century by Tampa Mayor Madison Post who then named the island for his wife Maria and his sister-in-law Anna. As Cuban fishermen were the first visitors to the island at the southern mouth of Tampa Bay, the settlement was very soon dominated by nautical types.
In 1892, George Emerson Bean became the first permanent resident on the Island, homesteading much of what is now the City of Anna Maria. After Bean’s death in 1898, the land’s ownership transferred to his son, George Wilhelm Bean, who partnered with Charles Roser, a wealthy real estate developer from St. Petersburg, to form the Anna Maria Beach Company in order to develop the area. The company laid out streets, built sidewalks and houses, and installed a water system.
In 1921, actor Paul Gilmore purchased 40 acres (160,000 m2) of land where present day Coquina Beach is at; with the intent to build a film colony named Paul Gilmore’s Oriental Film City which was later renamed Gil-Mor Isle. He did get one movie to be filmed here by Character Picture Corporation, The Isle of Destiny with Gilmore himself appearing in the movie. However, the movie was unsuccessful with it never getting distributed at a national level. He did not find much luck with getting any other movies to get filmed there and later the Florida land boom crashed.
The first bridge that was built to connect Anna Maria Island to mainland Florida began construction in the summer of 1921. A heavy storm wiped out half the bridge, but construction was able to continue. The bridge was finished as scheduled in 1922. It crossed the bay to what now is Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach to the fishing town of Cortez. More people then began to visit the island, which caught the interest of several businessmen.
Nearly a century later, Anna Maria Island has become one of the most popular locations in Florida, visited by both locals and tourists. Its wildlife and nature has attracted many scholars of different sciences such as biology, and marine biology.
Legend states that “a Spanish explorer” named the place “Ana Maria Cay” in honor of the Virgin Mary and her mother, Ann.
A common myth reported that Ponce de Leon (died 1521) named the island for Maria Anna von der Pfalz-Neuburg (born 1667), the queen of Charles II of Spain (born 1661), the sponsor of his expedition.
In the past, pronunciation of the name differed: old timers said “Anna Mar-EYE-a,” but most people today say “Anna Mar-EE-a”.
From May through October in Florida, sea turtles come ashore to nest.
The island is a bird sanctuary. There are pelicans, multiple types of cranes, herons, feral parrots, sandpipers, osprey, hawks, vultures, seagulls, crows, and a nesting pair of bald eagles. Bottlenose dolphins are in the Intracoastal Waterway, the Gulf, and Bimini Bay.
There are roseate spoonbills, snowy egrets, and wood storks. Marine animals include redfish, snapper, mackerel, black drum, snook, trout, and amberjack.
Adjacent to Anna Maria Island’s bayside is the island of Key Royale, formerly known as School Key. It was uninhabited until 1960, when a bridge was built joining it to the Holmes Beach section of Anna Maria Island and development began. It is included in the city limits of Holmes Beach. Longboat Key lies at the very southern edge of the island, connected by the Gulf Drive drawbridge. Just to the east of the drawbridge lies Jewfish Key.
Anna Maria Island today is divided into the three cities of Anna Maria in the north, Holmes Beach in the middle, and Bradenton Beach in the south. In 2005 the United States Census Bureau estimated the combined population of the three cities at approximately 8,500.
a groin on Cortez Beach at sunset
The main north-south road on the island is Gulf Drive, which begins on the south end of the island at the foot of the Longboat Pass Bridge from Longboat Key. Gulf Drive is the only road that runs the entire length of the island. It is State Road 789 south of Manatee Avenue (State Road 64) in Holmes Beach and Holmes Beach City 789 (a former portion of State Road 64) north of there.
There are two bridges across from the mainland: the Cortez Bridge, which brings State Road 684 into Bradenton Beach from Cortez, and the Manatee Avenue Bridge, which brings State Road 64 into Holmes Beach from the Palma Sola section of Bradenton.
Anna Maria Island is served by a free trolley-style bus that runs north and south on Gulf Drive. The trolley connects with both the MCAT (Manatee County Area Transit) system serving the greater Bradenton area, and the SCAT (Sarasota County Area Transit) system. The MCAT connects to the trolley at Manatee Public Beach, at the intersection of State Road 789 and State Road 64. The SCAT connects to the trolley at Coquina Beach, at the south end of Anna Maria Island, just before the Longboat Key Bridge. Several local taxi companies serve Anna Maria Island.
Anna Maria Island was only accessible by boat until 1921, when the wooden Cortez Bridge was constructed from the fishing village of Cortez to what is now Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach. The remaining parts of the Cortez Bridge are used as a fishing pier.
Lifeguard station at Coquina Beach
Since 2002, tourism development has been targeted as a key economic goal by island, county and state officials and millions of tax dollars have been invested to draw visitors to the island with national and international advertising and publicity efforts. This success has not been without its downsides of congested traffic, noise, litter and parking complaints during peak tourist seasons. This influx of visitors has prompted developers to shift many of the original 1950s- and ’60-era houses into large multi-family rental units, a subject of local controversy.
In 1938 Siam Garden Resort began a fish camp and in 1948, MGM brought Esther Williams, Peter Lawford, Ricardo Montalbán, Jimmy Durante, Cyd Charisse, and Xavier Cugat to Anna Maria Island to film “On an Island with You.” In the plot “a beautiful movie star travels to Hawaii and finds romance in this South Seas musical.” Anna Maria Island is featured in the Florida band Shinedown’s video for “Second Chance”.
Anna Maria Island is the setting for the 2016 comedy/drama, Monty Comes Back, written and directed by Bradenton native Thomas John Nudi.
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