Times have changed for those living on the Braden River and in the surrounding communities. For the last few years, residents have been able to enjoy the renewed Jiggs Landing Preserve. The new park offers the same amenities as the original historic fish camp from the 1940s owned by Jiggs and Agnes Metcalf, such as the boat ramp, picnic tables and docks. However, one of the things missing is the “fish camp” atmosphere that once existed on the property.
The absent ambience I speak of was that from the warm, jovial camaraderie that Jiggs and Agnes shared with the fisherman who gathered at the bait shop counter or, more frequently, on the boat docks that lined the shore of the landing. They would discuss the catches and preferred baits, served up with a healthy dose of advice and banter.
If you drifted back in time, the experience at Jiggs would have been similar to what you see today. When you walk through the gate today, you still hear the sound of crushed shell underfoot, feel the shade of Southern pines overhead and see the majestic oaks with moss swaying gently in the wind. The boat ramp is to the left, at the far end of the property, the docks and pilings are to the right of the launch while standing alone is the new, vacant bait shop with the porch outside. You still hear laughter and chitchat from fishermen sharing stories of magnificent bass they caught right off the dock, but there is an air of emptiness because their hosts are absent.
The seven-acre property looks similar to the old camp, with new, finely built “cracker-style” cabins off to the side. Prior to the property’s sale in 1967, Jiggs Landing cabins were a place fishermen would spend a few days or weeks and take in all the Southern hospitality that the folks here dished out. People would get a dose of the “Old Florida” feel and would always make plans to return. The Metcalf family memories include many holidays where a long, wooden table was set under the pines filled with a colorful assortment of linens and dishes ready to be filled with home-cooked food. Family and visitors alike wish to see some of the “old time” memories of this place on display.
Hours prior to the 2010 grand opening of Jiggs Landing Preserve, members of the Old Braden River Historical Society put finishing touches on the recreated historical cabin, resembling what once stood on the property. The kitchen even has accoutrements of the period, such as Kelvinator fridge, washboard porcelain sink and metal kitchen table.
Members of the society, with a few exceptions, were never able to experience Jiggs Metcalf’s jolly laughter or his wife Agnes‘ tedious bait tending. Through these few people and through the pictures, we can relive some of that time period.
The society, the Metcalf family and Manatee County continue to work to get the memories and the environmental importance of this place on display. Photos and memories about Jiggs Landing — descendants and friends who came for a good ole’ time — could fill an auditorium.
For now, experience Jiggs Landing in your own way. Make memories here and catch your own fish. If you are lucky enough to run into “Doc,” ask him to show you one of his handmade flies. Doc has fished these waters for many years and can give you some great tips on where to catch the “Big One.”
Denise Kleiner, president of Old Braden River Historical Society, currently lives in Manatee County is an independent financial advisor, writer and speaker influenced by history and the non-profit sector.