When will we see you again?

Traditionally, we have held our Conversations at the Crocker once a month, at 7pm, in November and January through April. (Members’ Only Meetings in October, December, and May.) A few years ago, we added Sunday Afternoon Socials, a more informal gathering with refreshments, on (you guessed it) Sunday afternoons once a month.
But if the pandemic taught us anything, it’s to call a halt to the “regular” and take the opportunity to change up some things. Help us, in the poll below, to tailor our offerings to your liking when we are back in operation.

We’ll be asking some more questions in future posts so stay tuned!

There’s always one.

This Day in History, March 6 1917: Sarasota voters passed a bond issue by 59 to 1 to raise $40,000 to buy the Hover Arcade and Dock for the City of Sarasota. No one ‘fessed up to being the sole dissenter, but we know for sure it was a man. (Think about it.)

“Okay, now guys, be sure to stand six feet apart…”

Let’s discuss downtown property values, shall we? The original dock was constructed by the Florida Mortgage and Investment Company in 1886 near the spot the Scot Colonists landed the previous December, and was purchased by Harry Higel (he’s the guy who persuaded everyone to stop calling it Sarasota Key and adopt a much more tourist-friendly name, Siesta Key. Has a nice ring to it doesn’t it?)

Higel offered it to Sarasota in 1905 for $1,500. Then in 1910 he offered it again to the city for $5000. The city didn’t buy. Higel sold it to the Hover brothers from Lima Ohio and they built the Arcade, with construction starting in 1913.

Ah, city officials. In 1916 there was a bond issue to raise $18,000 to build a pier. Vote passed 45 to 29. But alas, the city did not own any waterfront property, so WTF? Since a landlocked pier didn’t make much sense even to politicians, Plan B went into effect. Well, okay, let’s float a bond for $40,000 to buy the Hover Arcade from those canny Ohioans, the Hovers.

Joseph Steinmetz took this photo in 1952 from the top of Sarasota’s Orange Blossom Hotel on the south corner of Main and Palm.

Learn more: An article by Jeff LaHurd and more from Larry Kelleher

So now, my main thought: Who was the one dissenting vote in 1917, and was he thereby laughing up his sleeve at the politicos?

Sparkly Saturday Shebang March 27 2021

The Historical Society of Sarasota County's Annual Sparkly Saturday now on March 27 2021
Originally scheduled in February; now the last Saturday in March

Sparkly Saturday Shebang, Sat. March 27

Our Annual Sparkly Saturday, with incredible jewelry in conjunction with Jewelry to the Rescue, is a Shebang this year, with a tag sale on the Bidwell-Wood House open-air porches and a lawn full of artists, crafters, and authors on our breezy campus in beautiful Pioneer Park.

Don’t miss this chance to stroll in the sunshine, greet friends you’ve missed, and shop to help HSoSC survive in these fiscal-challenging days. If you’re not in the market for more material goods, that’s okay… come anyway, enjoy the companionship, and bring a few bucks for the donations jars. Remember, it costs the Society $128 a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks+ since this pandemic shut our doors, just to keep our historic buildings safe. 

Bring your mad money and wear your mask!

You wouldn’t recognize the place.

An Historical Society Facebook follower, Lynne Armington, sent us this neat photo of Bird Key’s raw development stage with this note:

Dad discovered Bird Key being dredged up out of Sarasota Bay, and decided to build on it in 1960. $48,000 for the lot and concrete construction three bedroom, two bath one-story home. We looked across the Bay to a little shack restaurant called Marina Jack’s. 

Bird Key, 1960, from the Historical Society of Sarasota County

Actually, the family’s view was of Marina Mar, the original name for what became Marina Jack’s. Here’s what Marina Jack’s has to say about their founding:

Back in the day, Marina Jack was actually Marina Mar. Marina Mar was built in 1963 with city-approved plans for an upscale restaurant, shops, snack bar, and 143 boat slips. The establishment soon failed and was taken over by Jack Graham in 1968, who created what is now known as Marina Jack. 

Ain’t history grand? Let us know if you and your family have some unique and undiscovered views of our county’s past, and we’ll share them with others.

Cracker Cowmen

Cracker Cow Hunt, by Casper McCloud, 1993, courtesy Florida Historical Society

The chief tool of the Florida cowboy in the 18th century was a strong whip, and when he cracked it to herd the cattle along it sounded like a gunshot. These whips were 12 to 18 feet of braided buckskin fastened to a handle of 12-15 inches long. As a result of this sound, which sometimes resounded for several miles, these cowboys were called “crackers.”

Early on, Spain attempted to colonize the interior of Florida and by 1700, Florida contained approximately 34 ranches with 20,000 head of cattle. However, when the British, along with Creek Indians, began to raid the ranches in 1702 and 1704, the devastated Florida cattle ranchers abandoned their land and retreated to the fortress towns of St. Augustine and Pensacola, leaving behind massive herds of Andalusian cattle.

After the cattle were left behind, they multiplied and spread across the land. These cattle, which were prized for their hardiness and resistance to parasites, were the ancestors of today’s modern Texas Longhorns.

In about 1750, Seminole Chief Ahaya led his people from northern Florida to Paynes Prairie, to escape encroachment by English colonists. There, he and his band settled on an abandoned Spanish cattle ranch and began to gather the wild cattle into a vast heard, earning Ahaya the nickname “Cowkeeper.” Cattle became the new chief base of their economy they remained Florida’s major livestock producers throughout most of the 1700s. The village he and his people established, called Cuscowilla, was located at present-day Micanopy.

When the English took over Florida in 1763, early settlers and the Creek Indians also owned and managed substantial herds. Soon, cowmen from Georgia and the Carolinas spread into north Florida.

The cattlemen rounding up the loose cattle used long, braided leather bullwhips to bring cattle out from the underdeveloped forest brush. They flailed whips with so much force that the tips created the loud cracking sound. Thus, a name for these Florida cowboys was born.

When the U.S. took possession of Florida in 1821, the territory was described as a “vast, untamed wilderness, plentifully stocked with wild cattle.” These cattle were descended from a mix of Spanish and British breeds and were hardy animals that survived on native forage, tolerated severe heat, insect pests, and acquired immunity to many diseases.

Decades before the cowboys of Texas were driving cattle through Oklahoma and Kansas on the Chisholm Trail, the Florida Crackers were spending weeks or months on cattle drives across difficult marshes and dense scrub woods, from central Florida to Jacksonville, Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina. Along the way, they often endured burning heat, torrential thunderstorms, and hurricane winds and were forced to fight off panthers, wolves, bears, and cattle rustlers.

Groups fighting over the wild cattle began to steal cattle from each other and by the second half of the 18th century, cattle rustling was widespread. Rustling was one of the elements that led to the Seminole Wars.

In 1842, Florida passed the Armed Occupation Act which provided grants of 160 acres as an incentive to populate Florida. This act drew cattlemen in great numbers from Georgia, Alabama, and the Carolinas who homesteaded 200,000 acres. 

The number of cattle increased rapidly from the 1840s until the Civil War and Florida became second only to Texas in per capita value of livestock in the South.

The cattle drove Florida’s economy for much of the 19th century. By 1850, the 120-mile Cracker Trail had been blazed following an east/west route across Florida from Fort Pierce to Bradenton. The moist land surrounding the Kissimmee River prevented travel to the north, while the sizable Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades swamps prevented travel to the south. Though the trail was used by Florida’s early settlers to traverse the state, it was primarily used to drive cattle from Florida’s heartland to the coastal ports for shipment mainly to Key West and Cuba. To maximize profits, the cattle had to be delivered to shipping ports during peak market season in late July and August, when the weather was at its worst.

Cracker cowboys, sometimes called “cowhunters”, utilized herd dogs to move cattle along the trail. They rode short horses called “cracker ponies” and their “cracker cows” were smaller than the western breeds. Florida Crackers became distinguishable by the architecture of their frontier homes, musical traditions, and lifestyles.

During the Civil War, cracker-supplied cattle were the Confederate Army’s chief source of meat, leather, and hides, particularly after Union ships blockaded southern ports. The “Cow Cavalry” was organized to protect herds from Union raiders. Forced to drive the animals by land into Georgia, the “Cow Cavalry” faced harsh conditions and the occasional skirmish with Union forces, prompting some to turn sides and sell their cattle to the Union-controlled port of Fort Myers.

After the Civil War trade boomed with Cuba, Key West, and Nassau, and Florida became the nation’s leading cattle exporter. The commerce provided income to cattlemen, merchants, and shippers, and contributed to the state’s recovery from Reconstruction-era depression.

By the 1890s, cow camps were located in most sections of the state and cattle drives continued into the 20th century until fencing laws were introduced in 1949, ending the era of the open range. One of the last drives along the Cracker Trail took place in 1937.

Raising cattle is still one of the biggest businesses in the state, with Florida’s ranchers raising the third largest number of cattle of any state east of the Mississippi River.

Today, among some Floridians, the term “cracker” is used as a proud self-description to indicate that their families have lived in the state for many generations. It is considered a source of pride to be descended from frontier people that had the grit and tenacity of those laboring cowboys.

Article ©Kathy Weiser-Alexander, October 2018 and courtesy of Legends of America.
Read more.

You, too, can make history.

How do we know what we know?

Research. And more research. And double-checking to make sure that what we present to the reading/ viewing audience is not only correct, but applicable to the topic we’re discussing,

Best resources for getting the facts, and the tone, of past happenings right? Primary sources. And guess what?

You. Are. A. Primary. Resource.

That diary you kept in grade school (or did you call it elementary school, or primary school? Your diary might be the crucial clue for regional word choice.)

Example of a family photo to be used as a primary source by historians

Family photos give real-life clues about fashion.

Your college transcript, the photos of your first car in front of your first apartment. Your snaps of the relatives at a wedding. Maybe even those films of the Christmas parade or the audio tapes of your uncles reminiscing about ice-fishing on the Great Lakes.

You can digitize old papers (here’s how if you use a MAC computer and here’s how if you have Adobe Acrobat), transcribe your (admittedly less-than-Palmer-Method) handwriting into text, make sure those generation-back relatives’ images are correctly captioned. You can contact the historical society or government archives* in the town you grew up in/ camped near/ visited, to ask what they can use.

You can even help preserve web pages for future researchers. It’s as easy as a few clicks. Read how on The Wayback Machine.

Interested in preserving physical artifacts for your family? Explore our series You Can Do It.

* We at the Historical Society of Sarasota County do not have the resources to preserve artifacts. A guide to what the Venice Museum and Archives can accept is here. Sarasota County’s Historical Resources contact info is here. Florida Memory is interested in some items as well; read their FAQs here.

Now’s Here’s a Family Story!

Shane McFarland shared on an FB page, his home-grown historical account of his grandfather. This is precious now, and imagine what a resource for future historians it will be, as well. What family tales could YOU document to save for posterity? Thank you, Shane, for sharing this terrific family biography!

“Mac” The Sailor Man – Sarasota Legend

My Grandy, Arthur Glenn “Mac” McFarland (1902 – 1965), moved to Fruitville in 1933 with 2 children and could only find work Continue reading

Colorful Reminders of History

Decorators are always talking about a POP of color to enliven your rooms. “Well,” says your Intrepid Historical Society Blogger, “What better color for a POP than orange.” And how perfect is orange for a Florida decorating scheme? Color-appropriate what with the blues and greens we often use to remind us of the beauty outdoors…

and history-appropriate as well, since many of the pioneers in this area came here to grow citrus?

Which leads me to the point I am attempting to make. There’s nothing more fun than Continue reading

So the plans got put on ice

This Day in History: January 11 1886

         Sarasota’s days as a great cassava center were put on ice. Hamilton Disston (you know, the man who bought 4 million acres of Florida at a quarter an acre?) met with Frank Higel (you know, the guy with a vested interest in the land that would become, 35+ years later, Venice) to talk about investing in Frank’s brain child, cassava (you know, the stuff they make tapioca— and bubble tea— out of).
          But as Disston shivered through a 23-degree (you know, Fahrenheit not Celsius) night in an unheated hotel, he decided Higel was crazy, trying to grow a tropical crop in the arctic Sarasota District. Bye-bye Disston, adios cassava.
Cassava didn't become a Sarasota cropWith thanks to J. Whitcomb Rylee’s Yesterday’s Sarasota calendar.

Want to grow some cassava?

Heroes are Forever. Just like diamonds.

Michael Saunders, our 2019 Hero of History, has stepped forward this holiday season and has issued a challenge to the community to help the Historical Society raise the final $50,000 of the total $100,000 needed to preserve and protect the Crocker Memorial Church. She has graciously offered $25,000 to match your donation one-for-one, allowing us to begin the lengthy and pain-staking job of getting this historic building repaired and restored.

We were so proud to have March 20, 2019 proclaimed as Michael Saunders, Hero of History, Day. But she’s not a one-day hero: Like diamonds, Michael Saunders is a Forever Hero. With her support of our historic building, she continues her century-long family legacy, contributing to the development of Sarasota and Manatee Counties. Ms. Saunder’s love of Southwest Florida shines on.



Ms. Saunders has served on community boards including The Argus Foundation, The Gulf Coast Community Foundation, The Bradenton Area EDC, the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, The Education Foundation of Sarasota County, SCOPE, Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, Tampa Bay Partnership, and The John & Mable Ringling Museum. She chaired the Capital Campaign to restore Ca’ d’Zan.

Ms. Saunders has made it her life’s work to connect new people coming to our region with homes, neighborhoods and the wider community while also connecting them with the area’s rich history. She has brought countless people to her hometown ready to secure their own future in paradise.

In addition, she has developed corporate philanthropy through the establishment of the MSC Foundation, giving the company’s associates, staff and leadership an opportunity to join together and support local charitable organizations through the company’s regional network of 24 full-service real estate offices and a team of over 900 professionals.

As our President, Marsha Fottler, wrote on the occasion: Michael Saunders has made it her life’s work to connect new people coming to our region with homes and neighborhoods while also connecting them with the area’s rich history. Her passion for the environment led her to serve on the board of Mote Marine Laboratory and The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens for eighteen years, where she was instrumental in the inception of the Children’s Rainforest Garden. This Hero of History has spent her life in Southwest Florida and she has provided exemplary stewardship of history and demonstrates giving back to the community. Her foundation’s philanthropy to children and families in need has made her a hero to all.

Please join Michael Saunders, a Hero Forever, with your donation to keep the Crocker Memorial Church an ongoing community gathering place so that our children and our children’s children will honor as a tangible link to the pioneer spirit that has built Sarasota County into the community we are proud to call home.

Ms. Saunders has put the final support beam in place to finish our fundraising to Save The Crocker Church, if you will help us to our final $100,000 goal.

Please donate today. Your contribution will go twice as far with Michael Saunders’ generous challenge. You may donate securely online or, if you prefer, mail a check to the Historical Society of Sarasota County, 1260 12th Street, Sarasota FL 34236. For more information, email Linda Garcia at hsosc1@gmail.com or call her during our curtailed pandemic hours, Tuesdays and Fridays from 10am to 2pm at  941-364-9076.


UPDATE JANUARY 17 2021: A Message from our President:

Michael’s Match Met!

A short time ago Hero of History Michael Saunders notified the Historical Society that she wanted to help with the Save The Crocker Church project. We were $50,000 short of our goal to raise the $100,000 needed for our contractor to be able to pull the permits and get started on shoring up the building and then making the foundation sound with a new foundation beam. From there, we could move on to all the urgent repairs that will rejuvenate this 1901 historical icon that has been so intrinsically woven into the everyday past and present lives.

Michael immediately came up with a plan. “If you can raise $25,000 from our community,” she said on an early morning phone call, “I will match it with a check for $25,000.” We put out the word and friends of history all over responded. With checks came handwritten notes saying they wanted to be part of Michael’s Match and saying what a great idea this was. In two weeks, HSOSC collected $25,000 in donations, both online and through the mail. Some people brought their donation the Historical Society in person. Michael’s Match has been an unqualified success. Our heartfelt gratitude to Michael Saunders and to all the wonderful donors who stepped up to be a part of this fundraising project with her. What you’ve done is history making.

Marsha Fottler, President HSOSC

What a wonderful holiday it’s been

There’s just SO many holiday wishes we here at the Historical Society want to send you, we decided we’d send you one every day this week! Hope that means your festivities will be seven times as merry… even if perhaps, the pandemic has cramped your style. Here’s to looking forward to seeing this corona virus be history soon.  Happy Holidays from the Historical Society of Sarasota County

May your day be merry and bright

There’s just SO many holiday wishes we here at the Historical Society want to send you, we decided we’d send you one every day this week! Hope that means your festivities will be seven times as merry… even if perhaps, the pandemic has cramped your style. Here’s to looking forward to seeing this corona virus be history soon.

That’s the tree in the parlor of the Bidwell-Wood house. Isn’t it pretty? But this next one will make you laugh, and everyone needs at least TWO Christmas trees in their life.

Her tinsel’s not even in a tangle.


Where sunshine drives away the gloom…

There’s just SO many holiday wishes we here at the Historical Society want to send you, we decided we’d send you one every day this week! Hope that means your festivities will be seven times as merry… even if perhaps, the pandemic has cramped your style. Here’s to looking forward to seeing this corona virus be history soon.