The East County preserve has a rich, if relatively unknown, history.
When the Manatee County Department of Historical Resources celebrated its Manatee Heritage Days in March, few stops were made in East County, a relatively late bloomer in terms of development.
However, one stop on the tour did come through the area, a visit to the Jiggs Landing Fish Camp cabin.
While the spot draws some attention, Bill Halstead and Denise Kleiner say it’s not enough.
The two members of the Old Braden River Historical Society hope to draw more interest to the area since it is the 75th anniversary of the Jiggs Landing Fishing Camp, which was founded in 1944.
Kleiner also has a business interest as her Florida Boat Tours is now the concessionaire for the landing.
Her job, though, is more a labor of love as she attempts to keep the spot’s colorful history alive.
“This is an unusual place because it goes back so far in Manatee history,” Halstead said.
The preserve is located at the terminus of 63rd Street East and Linger Lodge Road and provides access to the waters of the Evers Reservoir and Braden River itself.
Evers Reservoir started as Ward Lake when it was dug out in 1936 before a dam was built in the 1980s to form the reservoir, which provides drinking water for the city of Bradenton. Jiggs Landing has operated on its shores since it was just Ward Lake.
The name of Jiggs Landing came from a nickname of the man who first started the landing as a fishing camp in 1944 — Al “Jiggs” Metcalf. He got his nickname because he was a large man who reminded folks of “Jiggs” from the comic strip “Jiggs & Maggie.”
Jiggs bought 7 acres of land in 1944 and, quite the carpenter, he was able to build several cabins out of rescued wood from an old school house. Halstead said, over the years, he continued to build and completed the last cabin in 1964.
Jiggs was successful in his business venture with his wife, Agnes, but they sold the land in 1968. The property changed hands multiple times before Manatee County took ownership in 2007.
That’s really when Halstead and Kleiner became involved in the property as members of the Old Braden River Historical society.
The county decided to make the location a preserve, and Kleiner suggested the idea of preserving at least one of the original cabins and restoring it. In fact, she founded the organization for that express purpose. Unfortunately, with the cabins’ state of disrepair, that wasn’t an option due to cost and code issues.
Instead, with a series of grants and the efforts of the historical society, the county was able to build a replica cabin. The historical society furnished the cabin with materials that are as close to the period as possible. The cabin’s sink, however, is still original.
Kleiner keeps the historical cabin locked and closed most days, but visitors can still read the sign out front and peer through the windows to get a taste of what’s inside. Occasionally, Kleiner opens the cabin up for visitors to enjoy the rich history up-close and personal.
She is hoping those personal tours increase. She said some people say they’ve lived nearby for years and didn’t know the preserve was there.
“We’re thrilled for those who come, but we don’t get the numbers we should,” she said. “It takes a village to raise awareness.”
These days, the landing is gated and opened sunrise to sunset, but visitors can purchase a pass at G.T. Bray for after-hours access.
Kleiner handles four air-conditioned cabins. The cabins border a boardwalk that juts into the water and where the keen eye can often pick out a couple of sleepy alligators floating in the water.
Other amenities include a concession stand, a playground, kayak and canoe rentals and electric boat tours, too.
Kleiner put it simply: “This place is amazing,” she said. “We need more people.”
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