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Peter S. Harllee: Builder of Barns & Manatee’s Tomato Industry

Born in 1845 in South Carolina, Peter Stuart Harllee returned home after serving in the Civil War and then briefly moved to Texas. In 1872, he moved to Manatee County. His older brother, John Wardell Harllee, was well-established here as a mercantile store proprietor, selling horses, mules, and supplies to farmers on both sides of the Manatee River. John convinced Peter that life would be fine in Manatee. He also wanted some Texas horses and mules delivered to him and Peter was happy to comply.

Man in suit with hat - Peter S. Harllee

Peter S. Harllee c. 1900

Courtesy of Manatee County Public Libraries Historical Digital Collections

Peter began farming and around 1880 bought a plot of land north of downtown Palmetto on Highway 41 in Palm View. The property became known in the area as the Harllee “100.” Peter built a two-story pole barn on the property. The exterior had stalls between each pole where the mules were kept and the inside was used to store seed and fertilizer in the second story and feed and livestock supplies in the first story. Over many years, this building became known locally as “the Harllee Barn,” and became a much-loved subject for photographers and artists.

Peter was one of the early commercial tomato growers in Florida. Married to Alice Bullock in 1879, they built a home of Alabama heart pine on the Manatee River. Granddaughter Helen James remembers in a 1974 Herald article that there were no locks on the doors. “They never thought of locking doors. There were no strangers then.” One wonders what Peter and Alice would make of today’s local community and how things have changed. She also remembered her grandfather as a fine, jovial man who adored his grandchildren. The neighbor children called him Mr. Pete.

Two story house with a front porch

Courtesy of Manatee County Public Libraries Historical Digital Collections

Having much success in tomato farming, Peter Harllee became esteemed in the eyes of the residents and was elected the first mayor of Palmetto in 1894. He stepped down as mayor when he was appointed as Customs Collector, a federal officer in charge of collecting import and export tariffs. However, he was elected mayor again in 1901. He also served a term on the Manatee County Commission.

Peter and Alice had eight children. Their only surviving son, John Pope Harllee, Sr. also became a farmer. He formed Harllee Farms with his two sons and the family-run business thrived then and continues today. Peter and Alice’s descendents have been involved in numerous Manatee County industries besides agriculture – law, banking, accounting, politics, education, and others. The Harllee Family’s impact on our community has been strong and wide…but it all started with tomatoes. In 1999, the Herald-Tribune newspaper conducted a series which profiled the 20 Most Influential People in Manatee County’s Past and Present. Peter Stuart Harllee was the 10th person to be placed on that impressive list. He was selected not only because of his own achievements but also because so many of his descendents have devoted themselves to public service as well.

John Pope Harllee, Sr.

One lingering piece of physical evidence of Peter Stuart Harllee’s life is “the Harllee Barn.” The barn was still standing on the Harllee 100 until several years ago. It had fallen into a state of disrepair, so it was dismantled and rebuilt on the Manatee County Fairgrounds.

two story wooden barn with a wide roof overhang for storage

Harllee Barn in its current location at the Manatee County Fairgrounds

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