- November 4, 2019
Admittedly, we’re just babies relative to the legacies of other countries. But history — even a short one — is crucial to understanding our community. The following landmarks help connect us to the past.
Around the same time that Stonehenge was created, at 1,000 to 2,500 years ago, the shell midden at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens' Historic Spanish Point campus was gradually lain down by the native people of the area.
Visitors to A Window to the Past at Historic Spanish Point can view a cross section of time as they walk inside the layers of shells, peering into them through a literal window.
According to John McCarthy, Vice President for Regional History at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, the materials, which were stacked over approximately 1,000 years, reveal the utilization of shellfish as dye, tools, and technology, as well as the evolution of pottery.
The site is far from simply a trash disposal site, said McCarthy; rather, it was designed as a foundation to maintain a coastal village during storms, as well as for the people to live where they could experience the breeze.
“The people that built these were very wise, strategic, resourceful, creative, successful people,” he said.
He said that while little is known about the descendants of these early inhabitants, some members of the Seminole tribes of Florida trace their ancestry back to Florida’s ancient peoples.
The Historic Spanish Point campus, located in Osprey off North Tamiami Trail is open daily from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Visit Selby.org.
Pioneer Park offers a picture of where it all began.
The Bidwell-Wood House, a Classical Revival-style home, is among the earliest documented homes in the Sarasota area. It was originally located at the corner of U.S. 41 and Wood Street.
The home has notable ties to the area's past. Alfred Bidwell, who had built the home by 1884, was implicated in the murder of postmaster Charles Abbe by the Sara Sota Vigilance Society. Abe had allegedly been aiding landgrabbers, helping them to find land boundary violations to acquire others' property.
In 1896, Luke A. Wood from Rhode Island purchased the home for his wife, Annie Wood, as a winter residence, and in 1934, Wood donated 12 acres to the city, creating Luke Wood Park, which still exists today. The house remained in the family until 1966.
The Crocker Memorial Church began in 1901 at what is now the intersection of Bee Ridge Road and U.S. 41, on two acres of land that its founder Peter Crocker purchased for just $1. A Civil War veteran born in 1843, Crocker fought at the battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg.
The building now serves as a venue for weddings, funerals, plays, musical entertainment, art classes, and clubs.
Jane Kirschner, who helped coordinate the move of both buildings to Pioneer Park in 2006, when she was formerly president of the Sarasota Historical Society, said that preserving buildings like these is important for understanding Sarasota. “If you don't know the history of a place, you don't know the place as far as I'm concerned," she said.
The park can be found at the intersection of North Tamiami Trail and 12th Street.
Vickie Oldham, president and CEO of the Sarasota African American Cultural Coalition, said she recalls a bustling business district in Sarasota’s first African-American community, Overtown.
She said the Leonard Reid House, which was recently moved to Newtown – the community which evolved form Overtown and where where Oldham grew up – exemplifies the Frame Vernacular architecture typical of the homes Overtown residents built and inhabited.
Oldham said that during those times, which saw the oppression brought on by Jim Crow laws, the community was resilient because of its reliance upon itself.
“They tried their best to live their lives and endure the hardships of this life in Sarasota,” she said of its people. “And they were able to have a quality of life, because they loved one another, and the community was tight-knit, and they did the best that they could.”
The home, built in 1926, is known for its past ownership by a pioneering member of the community, Leonard Reid. Born in South Carolina in 1881, Reid became acquainted with and then employed by Sarasota’s first mayor, Colonel Hamilton Gillespie, even helping to lay out the town’s first golf course.
Reid and his wife, Eddye Coleman, were influential in establishing Payne Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Their daughters Ethel Reid Hayes and Viola Reid were prominent educators and taught Oldham herself when she was a young child.
“We will take very good care of this Leonard Reid family home, and we will love it,” she also said. “Just like the family loved the Overtown community and the Newtown children.”
The house is now found at the corner of Orange Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
A familiar sight located on the eastern side of Tamiami Trail, just north of the airport, the Kreissle Forge supplied a wide array of items to the community during the 60 years of its operation.
The forge was founded by German immigrant George Kreissle Sr., in 1947, and occupied by his son George Kreissle Jr. until 2007, when it was sold to another metalsmith, Martin Hoss, then changed hands to Kingston Realty in 2018.
Ralph Hoehne, the company's owner, said that a search is actively ongoing for another generation of craftspeople to occupy the location, although it is a challenge to find practitioners of metalworking today.
The site still retains its equipment including a fireplace and coal repository for heating metal, a hammer press for flattening metal, steel tables for working on projects, rollers for bending and twisting metal, and welders.
Just a few examples of items produced by the forge include the re-creation window grilles on the Ringling Mansion, the metal staircase at the St. Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church on Longboat Key, the light fixtures inside Columbia Restaurant at St. Armands Circle, and the gates in the courtyard of the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature.
However, so extensive was the collection of items the forge produced, that many of them have yet to find a place. Those interested in purchasing the metalwork can visit the location from 9 to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
The name of Mary Fran Carroll (1922-2014) will not be forgotten in Lakewood Ranch.
As the individual credited with envisioning the Lakewood Ranch community, she once said that the Mary Fran Carroll Bridge, which spans the Braden River along Lorraine Road just north of 70th Terrace East, was “validation” for her efforts when it was dedicated in 2004.
Carroll graduated in 1943 from business school at Northwestern University and entered public accounting at Northern Trust Co. in Chicago, where she was a native resident.
“It was a perfectly lovely time for a woman to be a business major, because men were going off to war,” said Carroll in 2013. “They would never hire a woman before then.”
She traveled to Sarasota in 1980, exploring the area for a bank client, which led to a career with Schroeder-Manatee Ranch as chairman of the board and CEO from 1984 to 1997.
When rumors of an airport east of I-75 arose, Carroll told the board to reconsider the use of its 26,000 acres of land, which was then devoted to ranching and farming. She went on to lead the establishment of the Summerfield and Riverwalk communities and to help create the Sarasota Polo Club.
Carroll was noted for her toughness, intellect, and strong desire to do what was right.
Having watched Lakewood Ranch develop into a full-fledged community, she said in 2008, “God, I have to be proud.”