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The Fogarty Boat Works At Manatee Village Historical Park

The Fogarty Boat Works

Capt. "Bat" Fogarty with grandson Charles. The Boat Works can be seen in the background. Image: Manatee Village Historical Park Collection.

The Fogarty family founded the Fogarty Shipyards on the Manatee River in the 1860s. Captain Bartholomew ("Bat") Fogarty started building boats at 19 years old and built them until his death in 1944. This building housed Capt. "Bat’s" last boat works, originally on the banks of the Manatee River. The boat works closed when he died.

When "Bat" Fogarty’s grandson, Charles, died in 1993, the Fogarty family donated the boat works to the South Florida Museum (now The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature). Inside was a time capsule: Wood patterns, molds, tools, and machinery were all left where Capt. "Bat" last placed them.

The South Florida Museum worked with the Manatee County Historical Commission, the Florida Historical Society, and the Fogarty family to preserve the boat works. The South Florida Museum created a display for part of the collection. The building and the rest of the tools were then moved to Manatee Village Historical Park, restored and opened to the public in 1995.

Shipping In Manatee

Capt. "Bat" Fogarty (in white shirt) with his father Capt. "Tole" Fogarty at one of the Manatee River beacons, circa 1890-1900. Image: Manatee Village Historical Park Collection.

Stormy Winds Lead to Opportunity

Captain John Fogarty was sailing the Grover King up Florida’s Gulf Coast in 1865 when a dangerous storm blew in. Fighting the driving wind, rain, and waves, John sailed into the mouth of the Manatee River. When the storm calmed, John saw a paradise: a wide river with a natural harbor, abundant wildlife, large schools of fish, and woods with strong trees like oak and cedar.

The Fogarty Brothers in the late 1800s. Left to right: Jeremiah, William H., Bartholomew “Tole” and John. The latter three founded the settlement of Fogartyville. Image: Manatee Village Historical Park Collection.

The next year, brothers John, Bartholomew (known as “Tole”), and William moved from Key West to Manatee. They claimed land grants totaling 135 acres between what is now Manatee Avenue West and the Manatee River. Fogartyville, as it came to be known, eventually included homes, a general store, bakery, cemetery, small dairy, two churches, warehouses, wharves, boatyards, and shipyards. In all, seven members of the Fogarty family became ship captains and sailed from the Manatee River and Tampa Bay.

"Tole" Fogarty family. Seated, left to right: Mary Ellen Fogarty, Captain "Tole," and daughter Elizabeth. Standing, left to right: Kate, Captain Bat, Captain John J. and Lettie Fogarty.

Image: Manatee Village Historical Park Collection.

Building a Legacy

During the Civil War (1861-1865) the Union Navy confiscated or destroyed most ships on Florida’s Gulf Coast. After the war, this left Manatee County in need of shipwrights. When the Fogarty family arrived in 1865, they brought expertise in boat building and sailing. John Fogarty was part owner and captain of a ship, Bartholomew worked in a New York shipyard during the war, William worked as a carpenter at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, and Jeremiah served as a paymaster (accountant) in the Union Navy.

The Fogartys began harvesting wood in 1868. By March, they began building a smack (traditional fishing boat) named Relief. At the same time, they paid off their land claims and built homes for themselves. In addition to building boats, the Fogartys made money working in the cattle industry, farming, and captaining ships to trade goods.

Hand Drawn Map of Fogartyville. Not to Scale. Image: Manatee Village Historical Park Collection.

The Fogartys become a prosperous family by the 1880s but their success declined in the early 1900s. Steam engines and steel hulls became a more popular choice than the Fogartys’ wooden sailing ships.

A Highway on Water

During the 1800s and early 1900s, water provided the easiest and fastest way to transport cargo. Cities grew at major ports and sprung up along rivers as points of distribution for goods all across the country. In Manatee County piers were built along the Manatee River. The piers were a factor in the growth of towns and even placement of general stores. The Fogartys arrived during a time when there was great need for vessels of all sorts and sizes to restart commerce in Manatee following the Civil War (1861-1865).

The schooner John Fogarty aground at the old Fogartyville dock. The picture clearly shows the contours of the hull as well as the rigging used to hoist and maneuver the sails. Image: Manatee Village Historical Park Collection.

The Fogarty Shipyard built ships as large as the schooner John Fogarty, pictured above, and launches as small as row boats. Locally harvested wood formed hulls using a variety of tools. While most were hand tools, Capt. "Bat" did have some power tools, such as the large belt powered machines.

A screw propelled boat being launched at the Fogarty Boat Works, circa 1912. Image: Manatee Village Historical Park Collection.
Capt. John J. Fogarty on the Manatee, serving as captain, circa 1903. Image: Manatee Village Historical Park Collection.
Coastal steamer Manatee which carried passengers and freight between Ellenton and Tampa. Image: Manatee Village Historical Park Collection.

"Captain Bat"

Tole Fogarty’s son Bartholomew, or “Bat," built his first boat at 19 years old. For the next 60 years, Captain "Bat" constructed hundreds of sailing ships, powered vessels, and skiffs the way his father and uncles had taught him. Vessels built by the Fogartys were used for fishing, passenger and cargo service, and recreation. Over time, the need for sailing vessels decreased as steam powered ships became easier to build and more common. Eventually, the Fogarty shipyards closed, but Capt. "Bat" labored on as a boat-wright on a smaller scale.

Image: Manatee Village Historical Park Collection.

Originally, the "Bat" Fogarty Boat Works sat on the river bank, with the double doors facing the water. Here, despite failing eyesight in his later years, Capt. "Bat" continued building small boats popular with local fisherman. His last large boat was started in 1930 but not completed until 1935. By then, he had to feel the wood to determine if contours were correct. Capt. "Bat" Fogarty died on July 28, 1944 at which time his family sealed the boat works until 1993 when they donated it to the South Florida Museum (now the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature).

Capt. "Bat" standing in the Captain Bat, circa 1920-25. He built this boat, like many others, mostly with hand tools, many of which are still in the Boat Works today. Image: Manatee Village Historical Park Collection.
Photos from the interior of the Boat Works as it looks now. Many of the the types of tools seen here are the same as those used today by craftsmen in many varieties of traditional wood working. Images: Manatee Village Historical Park Collection.
The Boat Works in its original location prior to being moved to Manatee Village Historical Park. Image: Manatee Village Historical Park Collection.
The Fogarty Boat Works. Image: Manatee Village Historical Park Collection.

The Fogarty Boat Works is just one of the buildings you can visit at Manatee Village Historical Park. We are currently open by appointment most weekdays 9:30AM to 2:30PM. Appointments can be made on our website.