Harllee Family Helped Start Tomato Farming in Manatee

The Harllee family, who started farming in Manatee County shortly after the Civil War, and helped pioneer the Florida tomato industry, have sold the Harllee Packing House in Palmetto.

The 18-acre property at 2308 U.S. 301 N., sold for $6,750,000, according to the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s website. The buyer is Yue Zhou Development LLC, whose principal address is listed as the packing house property.

William M. Blalock of Wyman, Green & Blalock Real Estate, served as the seller’s broker. The seller was listed as Harllee Packing Inc. The registered agent was listed as John P. Harllee IV.

The packing house, located directly across the street from Feld Entertainment, has 121,180-square feet under roof, including cold storage facilities. The Bradenton Herald was unable to reach the new owner to ask her about her plans for the property.

The Harllee family, like many other farming families in Manatee County, have sold significant acreage to developers.

Heritage Harbour, Manatee County’ second largest master planned community, is being developed on 2,496-acres that was formerly the Harllee Ranch.

In 2015, Diane Ingram, Manatee County Agricultural Museum supervisor, wrote a History Matters column for the Bradenton Herald headlined “Peter S. Harllee: Builder of barns and Manatee’s tomato industry.”

Born in 1845 in South Carolina, Harllee served in the Civil War, briefly moved to Texas after the war, and finally settled in Manatee County in 1872, where his older brother, John Wardell Harllee was a mercantile store proprietor, selling horses, mules, and supplies to farmers on both sides of the Manatee River, Ingram reported.

“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,” Ingram said in her column.

“Peter built a two-story pole barn on the property. The exterior had stalls between each pole where 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,” she wrote.

Harllee was one of the first commercial tomato farmers in Florida. The Harllee Barn, now on display at the Manatee County Fairgrounds, is a reminder of those pioneering days.

Over the years, several members of the Harllee family became elected officials in Manatee County.

A descendant, Peter S. Harllee Sr., joined his father, John Pope Harllee and his brother, J. P. Harllee in the family business in 1932, when he was 19.

“The Harllees grew tomatoes all over the county, including where the county jail is now located at Port Manatee, according to a Bradenton Herald story in 2003, when Mr. Harllee died at 89.

For his farming and civic contributions, Mr. Harllee was inducted into both the Manatee County Agriculture Hall of Fame and the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame. He was named Manatee County Man of the Year in 1990 and served as first chairman of the board of the Manatee County Agriculture Museum.

“He is the last of the generation that built the industry and engendered the respect of the community for this industry,” Jay Taylor of Taylor-Fulton said in 2003 of the passing of Mr. Harllee.