Main mound at Emerson Point
Manatee County's rich heritage centers around the Manatee River. Evidence that prehistoric inhabitants depended on the Manatee River can be seen in the burial, midden and temple mounds located along the river's banks. By the 16th century, the Spaniards had arrived and were among the first Europeans to explore the Manatee River. In 1819, the United States government began a program to encourage the settlement of Florida. Enticed by the offer of free land, pioneers began arriving in the Manatee River region in 1842. Despite many problems, by 1855 enough settlers lived in the area to justify the establishment of a new county. At its creation, Manatee County consisted of 5,000 square miles and extended from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Okeechobee.