More times than I would care to admit, Tim and I have found ourselves exploring a part of sarasota unbeknownst to us. And every time we are completely enamored by what we discover. A few weekends ago we made our way to Historic Spanish Point, a 30 acre museum that takes you back in time to Florida’s first settlers and archaeological remnants of Native American settlement in the area. Florida is a weird state to live in. More often than not you feel like everything lacks history and deep seeded roots of other cities. But sites like these bring it back to Old Florida, a nice reminder that long ago some very brave people took a chance on. Anyone who loves history and wants to know more about Florida’s past should definitely check it out.It is incredibly unique to have a site like Historic Spanish Point that not only shows us Florida’s prehistory but also houses a more contemporary turn of the century archive.
Historic Spanish Point houses a prehistoric shell mound (midden), turn of the century pioneer housing, a chapel, gardens, nature trails, and citrus packing house. Established by John Green Webb long after the Native Americans had left the site, Historic Spanish Point is only a fraction of what once was an impressive homestead. Years later, the homestead was purchased by Bertha Palmer as part of her southern estate. The houses seen on site are both from the Webb days and Palmer days, each of the owners having rented out rooms and cottages as winter resort options for northern visitors. While exploring the open air museum that is Historic Spanish Point, keep in mind the 4 P’s: Prehistory, Pioneers, Palmer, and Plants!
Historic Spanish Point
John Webb and his family came to the site in 1867. The Webb’s established a citrus grove on the homestead, which in order to ship the citrus to northern markets required a packing house. The one you see on property now is an authentic reconstruction of the original one where fruit was washed, sorted, and packed before being sent to Key West or Cedar Key for shipment. The two ports where the only places from which settlers in the area could send and receive goods. Sarasota as well as Florida’s success is very much so indebted to the men and women who braved the harsh environment to settle the Gulf Coast!
Historic Spanish Point’s history also includes Bertha Palmer who in 1910 came to Florida to establish a winter estate. The Webb homestead was included in her 350-acre purchase. She kept the original pioneer buildings and added beautiful gardens and connected them with formal lawns. The “Queen of Chicago” helped thrust Sarasota into the limelight!
Though there was an effort to preserve the site and parts of the site are original, others have been restored from photographs and written records. Even the prehistoric evidence of early inheritance is seen in a burial mound and shell midden, both left behind after hundreds of years of Native Americans calling the shores of Little Sarasota Bay home and to this day preserved.
A Day Exploring Our Past
When you first drive up to Spanish Point, you are greeted by a welcome center-once school house. As you make your way down the canopy road, you go back in time. Suddenly the sounds of the busy 41 are left behind and you travel back to what I can only imagine were fabulous times of walking among gardens and catching up with old friends. For whatever reason, as I made my way deeper into Spanish Point, I saw myself leaving the modern day.
The gazebo that greats you as you smart to walk toward the pioneer houses is similar to that one Bertha, the site’s second owner who later donated the land and preserved previous structures, had with many of the same native ferns.
Mary’s chapel and the Pioneer cemetery are quick reminders of how hard it must have been and the bravery it took to settle the area. Named after a young girl who passed away while staying at the Webb’s Winter Resort of illness. Her parents hoped the warmer climate would cure her and after her passing other resort guests donated the financials needed to build the chapel in her honor. The beautiful stained glass windows are from the original structure.
The Duchene Lawn and Classic Portal are my favorite part of Bertha’s mark on Spanish Point! Originally use to framed the bay’s gorgeous view, mangroves have since blocked the bay. What is seen today is no less stunning though, as rows of palms are perfectly framed by the portal. And with such a clean and crisp day like the one we had when we visited, it isn’t hard to see how so many people before us fell in love with the area.
We will definitely be going back on a day that we have more time to explore (and grab a map from the welcome center, something we forgot to do this trip!) But in the mean time, enjoy the pictures we took and imagine yourself in Old Florida! All over this beautiful open air museum you will find small touches and details left behind by those who called it home.