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Sarasota Thursday, May 20, 2021 5 months ago

Historical resources department protects Sarasota County's history

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As they celebrate the centennial year, historical resources employees reflect on the past and look toward the future.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

As Rob Bendus winds his way through the maze that is the county’s historical resources building, he points out  artifacts that reflect Sarasota’s history.

Here are original blueprints from the Sarasota County Courthouse,  dated 1926. On a table rests a letter from Herbert Hoover to a Sarasota resident, and on a shelf in the corner is the typewriter Walter Farley used to write “The Black Stallion” series.

“We are here to be stewards,” said Bendus, the manager of historical resources. “We are just protecting these items, so we can show other people what life was like in Sarasota. That tangible connection to the past is really powerful.”

That’s a role Bendus and his colleagues take more seriously during Sarasota County’s centennial year.

Rooms upon rooms have been filled with artifacts. One is full of maps, another contains newspaper clippings, another holds textiles and large objects, while still another houses archaeological findings.

And the collection keeps growing. Members of the historical resources team regularly collect items from archaeological digs and donations.

“We have a hard time turning away stuff because it’s Sarasota’s past, and it’s really important to maintain it because it isn’t our stuff — it’s the people’s stuff,” Bendus said.

The historical resources department used to be located in the Chidsey Building along Tamiami Trail. However, Sarasota experienced several hurricanes in 2005, so leaders moved the contents to 6062 Porter Way, east of Cattlemen Road and just south of Bahia Vista Street.

The move was to be temporary, but now after 15 years in the building, the department is out of room. Many artifacts are stacked in cabinets from floor to ceiling.

The building is kept as cool as possible to preserve the artifacts, though the temperature fluctuates throughout. Most artifacts need to be kept at around 40 degrees, though most of the rooms sit in the 60s.

The most troubling issue  is a lack of a  fire-suppression system.

“If there were a fire like there was two or three weeks ago in the library of South Africa or the National Museum of Brazil or Notre Dame, we will lose just about everything connected to Sarasota’s history,” Bendus said.

The facility houses an old Louis Vuitton steamer trunk that belonged to Gordon Palmer.

However, as the county plans to move to a new administrative building, there are plans to move the historical resources department. 

There, items would be stored properly, and historical resource employees would have the space to house a variety of programs.

Leaders also are keeping an eye out for land for the possibility of building a history museum in the future.

Talks of a museum have been in the works for 30 years, but because museums are so expensive, the county would need a public-private partnership to help fund the cost.

“It’s so important to preserve these things because they add to our quality of life,” Bendus said. “When it comes down to it, it’s about developing a sense of place, what is that history. It’s our job to preserve that.”

Anyone can tour the historical resources department by setting up an appointment at 861-6090.

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