The Historical Society of Sarasota County

Creating an awareness of the rich historical heritage of Sarasota County, Florida

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#BeTheOne: You can preserve history!

Help the Historical Society of Sarasota County Preserve History

Lost: The Bispham-Wilson Home stood until recently near the corner of Tamiami Trail and Proctor Road. The Bispham Dairy served the Sarasota area for 65 years. Razed 2014-2015. More.

Lost: El Vernona Hotel> John Ringling Hotel> John Ringling Towers. Built in the 1920s as the El Vernona Hotel by Owens Burns, and named after his wife, Vernona, the hotel was the center of glamour and activity in Sarasota. Razed 1998. More.

Saved: The Bidwell-Wood House was built in 1882. It is now revitalized as the centerpiece of the Historical Society of Sarasota County, located in its new home in Pioneer Park at 1260 12th Street, Sarasota. 

Saved: Crocker Memorial Church, built in 1901 as a place of worship and gathering spot, continues into the 21st century repurposed as a community amenity next to the Bidwell-Wood House in Pioneer Park.

You too can #BeTheOne to help preserve our county history, by participating in the upcoming Giving Challenge 2016.

If you miss the Giving Challenge, we always welcome your membership and participation in the Society.

Photo credits: Bispham-Wilson Historic District, By Ebyabe – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
El Vernona Hotel> John Ringling Hotel> John Ringling Towers, as seen on
Bidwell-Wood House, Greg Wilson Photography
Crocker Memorial Church, Historical Society Archive




The heavens are smiling on our new season!

Historical Society of Sarasota County's Events Committee 2016

L to R: Deborah Bowers, Kate Holmes, Linda Garcia, Brenda Lee Hickman, Marsha Fottler, Lynn Harding, Diane Esthus, Meade Ferguson, Marie Rowe. Behind the camera: Terrance Leaser

The heavens were shining upon the Historical Society of Sarasota County’s Pioneer Park campus when our Events Committee met to plan an active, engaging 2016-2017 season for our members and guests. We can’t WAIT to show off our newly-freshened Bidwell-Wood House (1882) and Crocker Memorial Church (1901) to everyone!

In addition to our monthly Conversations at the Crocker events (which are often SRO!) on the 2nd Tuesday of each month, our Welcome Back Reception for members in October, our Members’ Holiday Gala in December and of course, the never-to-be-missed Annual Meeting & Potluck in May, we have to present to the community:

  • Our Trolley Tours of Historic Downtown Sarasota, presented by the famous Sue Blue, this year’s Hero of History (Sept 17 and March 11 are already sold out, so get your reservations in!);
  • Our traditional Historic Sarasota Bay Cruise on the LeBarge, narrated by the talented John McCarthy (Reservations coming in fast, and space is getting limited, so claim your seat now!);
  • A Private Tour of Ca’ d’ Zan hosted by Keeper of the House Ron McCarty, with lunch (Members only event, reservations now being accepted for this intimate event);
  • And Artists in the Park on Sunday in collaboration with Light Chasers Plein Air Artists (keep an eye on our Calendar for more info as this develops!)

Also, we’re having three opportunities for you to participate, donate, and re-house some wonderful possessions. We’d love for you to donate, shop, and spread the word to the community in general about:

  • The Pop-Up History Book Swap: Available at every Conversation at the Crocker, and probably a few other places as well
  • Our popular and anticipated Bi-Annual Designer Tag Sale on Saturday November 12
  • and our newest partnership, Sparkling Saturday, a gently-used, heirloom and estate costume jewelry sale with Jewelry to the Rescue on Saturday November 26.

As you can imagine, there are volunteer tasks and jobs aplenty! Call our Site Manager, Linda Garcia, at 941-364-9076, or email her at, and she’ll help you match up your interests and availabilities with some fun way to help HSoSC keep on shining!





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Summer Heats Up and Members Step Up!

Summer Heats Up & our Members Step Up!!!

Many thanks to our members who have stepped up this summer to help the Historical Society of Sarasota County.

The Historical Society's Landscape Chair, Sue PaddenSue Padden has volunteered to head up the landscaping committee and has planted our herb garden – she comes often to check on “her garden”. She has also elected to do a monthly donation to HSOSC with our pay pal monthly donation key on our website. Please join her in this by checking the button on the website. This is a tremendous help with the funding for the maintenance and upkeep for the two historic gems in Pioneer Park – the Bidwell-Wood House (1882) and the Crocker Memorial Church (1901).

 Paul Morrisroe volunteered his time and labor to repair the irrigation systems sprinkler heads and connections. This is a great help for the maintenance of the yards.

 Jon Moore and Linda Garcia accepting an antique steeple bell from Jack Helm of Helm VaultJon Moore located an antique church bell at the Helm Vault company and coaxed them into making a donation to HSOSC.

We thank him and Jack Helm and are looking forward to our “Ring the Bell” party in September (details coming: stay tuned!).

Gloria Nepstead has stepped up to replace Margret Bering as our volunteer plant lady taking care of the flower boxes on the front porch of both the church and the house.


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Pinning your way through Sarasota County History

1908 bathing beauties and Pinterest

Click to visit our very own Pinterest at the Historical Society of Sarasota County

Are you a Pinner? No, we’re not asking if you wear pinafores… but if you’ve explored Pinterest! For the visually-oriented, the researcher, or even just the curious, it’s a veritable treasure trove of images and links.

I am all of the above, so here’s a few Pinterest Boards I enjoy and follow:

First up, of course, our HSoSC Pinterest page.

Some photos I have not seen before and which set me researching, here. His photos, alas, are not always credited or commentated. This fellow also pins other interesting things, like vintage automobiles!

Ever wonder what Fruitville Road used to look like? This Pin Board shows you!

A local Realtor has her own curated Sarasota History Pin Board. Her other boards, covering the area, are interesting as well.

Expanding our historical interest: If you have a rainy week to fill, surf through the 41 boards that Florida Memory maintains. Everything from vintage maps to vintage fashions!

New to Pinterest? Learn how to use it with this complete and free tutorial. If you want to browse Pinterest on your phone, here’s info on the app you’ll use.

Image originally found at




Every church deserves a bell…

Jon Moore and Linda Garcia accepting an antique steeple bell from Jack Helm of Helm Vault

Jon Moore and Linda Garcia accepting an antique steeple bell from Jack Helm of Helm Vault.

Jack Helm, owner of Helm Vault Service in Bradenton has presented the Historical Society with a restored 14” antique steeple bell for use when the Crocker Memorial Church is active with community events.  The building, built in 1901, has been in continuous use ever since and is the meeting space for the Historical Society as well as other civic and social groups.

Additionally, the church is a site for small weddings which makes this donation of a bell so lovely. Helm Vault Service also supports the Historical Society with the personalized engraving of the bricks saved from the Airline Seaboard Railway Depot which are purchased by Society supporters with a donation, and laid in front of the Bidwell-Wood House (1882) each November.

Directors and supporters of the Historical Society of Sarasota County accept the gracious donation of a church bell from Jack Helm.

Members of the Historical Society Board of Directors gathered to accept the wonderful donation. They’re excited to ring the bell at the Crocker Memorial Church for events and meetings such as Conversations at The Crocker in the future.

We’ve set the 2016-2017 Calendar of Events for next season and are ready to accept reservations for the narrated Sue Blue Historical Trolley Tours and the Historical LeBarge Cruise narrated by John McCarthy for the first Sunday in November and again in March 2017. Don’t get shut out of these wildly-popular historic events. Call our Site Manager, Linda Garcia, Tues-Fri from 10am to 2pm to grab your reservations! 941-364-9076. Or email her 24/7 at


Preserving the Past with Paint

There are two (possibly more, even) ways to preserve history with paint, and this month, we present these to you:

A. Preserve the Past with Paint, Method One:

Painting the Bidwell-Wood House, Historical Society of Sarasota CountyThe first method of preserving history with paint involves hydraulic lifts and ladders and professional house painters. Thanks to YOUR support, the Bidwell-Wood House, the oldest residence in Sarasota County, is getting its “spa treatment” to keep it going strong in its third century. This would not have been possible without your participation and donations, and the House and the Society thank you! Stop by soon and see how “young” we look with the repairs and paint job!

B: Preserve the Past with Paint, Method


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Saluting our Award Winners!

The highlight of the Annual Meeting (well, besides Linda’s Spanish Rice, which we wait for all year) is the announcement of the recipients of our two honors, the Hero of History and the Distinguished Service awards. The announcement this year was made by Marsha Fottler, Vice-President of the Board of Directors, standing in for Howard Rosenthal, President, who was unable to attend.

The winners for 2016 are, for the Hero of History, Suzette Jennings Blue, and for the Distinguished Service Award, Norma Kwenski. Their accomplishments are set forth below; click their names to enjoy.


Historical Society of Sarasota County's 2016 award recipients: Sue Blue (standing) and Norma Kwenski (seated.)

Historical Society of Sarasota County’s 2016 award recipients: Sue Blue (standing) and Norma Kwenski (seated) in the parlor of the Bidwell-Wood House, the oldest residence in Sarasota County. Photograph courtesy of Society Director Virginia Hoffman.

Hero of History 2016

Suzette Jennings Blue

Most of us associate Sue Blue with the Saturday morning historic trolley tours that she’s been doing for our historical society since about 2004. It’s a volunteer passion and all the proceeds come directly to this organization. But, Sue’s devotion to history and education as an author, researcher, and actress goes back a lot farther than that. In many ways Sue holds the institutional memory for this historical society and it’s her we often turn to when we need clarification on some aspect of these two buildings or events that are important to the evolution of this organization.

Sue attended Southside Elementary and is a graduate of Sarasota High School, class of 1946. Her  name is actually Suzette and it’s what her classmate Pete Esthus always called her. While a senior Suzette portrayed the role of Sara de Soto in The Legend of Sara de Soto at the Municipal Auditorium. After college and a career as an actress and theater teacher, Sue returned to her hometown, Sarasota, in 1994.

She restored the childhood home built by her grandfather, Aaron E. Scarborough, in 1925. Sue became a member of the historical society in 1996 and a year later was on the board serving as program chairman. She later served as served as Vice-President of the Board. Today she is a member of the Advisory Board and was a subject for an Ordinary Historian video interview. We have copies here if you want to view it and you should because she’s had quite a life.

During her years on the this board, Sue worked on preservation projects such as the Lido Pool, Sarasota High School, the Van Wezel home, the Municipal Auditorium, the Bidwell-Wood  House and Crocker Church. She wrote our brochures and was editor of our monthly newsletter. And she authored a series of 20 articles on Sarasota history that appeared in Scene magazine. Additionally, Sue wrote and directed a staged reading of “Mr. Bidwell,” and we’re hoping for a revival of that next year.  Sue served on Sarasota County Historical Commission from 2008 – 2012.

Sue still lives in her childhood home built by her grandfather.  Her work on behalf of the Historical Society would be enough to quality her as a Hero of History, but her preservation activism in the wider community has been so outstanding for so many years, that it is time indeed for us to declare with great pride and admiration that Suzette Jennings Blue is the 2016 recipient of the Hero of History award.

Distinguished Service Award 2016

Norma Kwenski

Norma Kwenski is the volunteer that every organization wants to call their own. She’s the one who arrives early, stays late and will do anything that needs attention from weeding the garden, to taking ticket money at Conversations, ironing tablecloths, washing dishes, to hostessing at the Holiday Party and bringing homemade deserts with her. Norma is always so “on the job”  that if I arrive at Pioneer Park for an event and don’t see Norma, I assume I’ve made a mistake and come on the wrong day.

Norma and Brad Kwenski moved to Sarasota from Illinois in 1969 when their children were young. Kay was 9 and sons Brent was 7 and Kendell just 5. They moved into a 1927 Mediterranean Revival home in beautiful Sapphire Shores that had no air conditioning or heat, but plenty of vintage charm. Brad got involved with the Ringling Museum, volunteering for the Medieval Fair. And he worked with Veronica Morgan when these two buildings were in the Rosemary District. They lived in their Sapphire Shores dream neighborhood until Brad became ill and encouraged Norma to make the move to a no-maintenance condominium in Longwood Run. Brad passed away in 2007.

Norma says Jane Kirschner, who had already pulled son Brent into her community service orb, was responsible for Norma becoming a member of the Historical Society. Later Jane made sure Norma got actively involved.

“I never thought I had any special talent,” says Norma, “I just thought I’d be quiet and help where help was needed.” And that’s what she did. But, volunteering so widely and so often, has given Norma a unique perspective on our organization.  She always shrewdly observes and reports on the successes of an event and tactfully points out where we could improve things. For instance, when she was collecting money on the Crocker porch for Conversations at the Crocker a couple years ago, Norma noticed that the lack of handrails was inconvenient and downright dangerous for many people coming up and down the steps. So, she talked it over with her children and the Historical Society board and the Kwenski Krew decided to donate money in Brad Kwenski’s name for handrails. People coming to the Crocker Church bless her every day for being so vigilant and so generous.
This morning we members of the Historical Society are so happy to let Norma know that she is appreciated, not just today but every day of the year. Norma Kwenski is the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award for 2016.