The first government surveys were conducted near the Peace River Valley in 1849. Settlers began to move to the interior along rivers and creeks, with the majority of development occurring in the coastal areas. Manatee County was created on January 9, 1855, and within its borders it contained 5,000 square miles extending from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Okeechobee. The small Village of Manatee, one mile east of present day Bradenton, was chosen as the county seat. By 1860 the population was 854.
Early settlers in eastern Manatee County soon protested that the Village of Manatee was unsuitably located since some settlers had to travel the full width of the county to visit the courthouse. Representatives where appointed by the Manatee County Commission to select a central terminal for the new county seat. On April 29, 1866 a plot of land in the SW Quarter, Section 22, Township 378, Range 23E, was proposed by the representatives as the designated county seat and given the name "Pine Level." The proposal was approved and county seat was moved to Pine Level. It must not be overlooked that the county seat was possibly relocated from the Village of Manatee since it was considered to be the "center of Rebel thinking" in an era during the Civil War. Thus moving the government to the neutral interior of the state, and specifically to Pine Level, may have been a reconstruction ploy to punish Confederate sympathizers.
The new courthouse played a central role in Pine Level's history and demise. The following are specifications for the first courthouse built at Pine Level on May 29, 1866 according to George Lane Jr.'s research in his Arcadia & Desoto County: "One log house, 20 feet square in the cleaved 10-foot story with a room added to the end, 20 feet by 10 feet, with a partition through the room making two 10-foot Jury Rooms to be cased with 2 foot hart [sic] pine or cypress board and floored with planked or hyghed puncheon boards. One door in each side and two windows to be case and faced with shutters. The house to be furnished with one table, 2 feet by 8 feet long, 22 10-foot benches, 1 box bench for the Judge." The courthouse would later be secured with locks and enlarged.
This first courthouse was destroyed by fire, a second courthouse would succumb to the Great Hurricane of 1878, and the third would later become the residence of Mr. D.W. Mizell. Joseph Herman Simpson notes in his book The History of Manatee County: "The courthouse was constructed of small peeled unhewn logs. There were a few inches of sawdust put on the floor and the suffering people had to endure from fleas...was almost unbearable. It was said to be the worst courthouse in Florida."