While Sarasota was still excited about becoming its own county on July 1st 1921, and celebrating the 4th in grand style, here’s the world they lived in. Some of these 1921 events might surprise you and others amuse. Isn’t history fascinating?
On July 2, 1921, President Warren Harding signed a joint congressional resolution declaring an end to America’s state of war with Germany, Austria and Hungary. (Calvin Coolidge was Vice-President in case you were wondering.)
Brave Bessie: Bessie Coleman was an early American civil aviator. She was the first African-American woman and first Native American to hold Continue reading →
This day in history June 21 1893, features the debut of a monumental contraption that our very own Bertha Palmer, before she became the Legendary Lady of Sarasota, got the first ride on:
The Ferris Wheel!
It was big. Very big. Each car held 60 riders. It cost 50 cents to ride it. I’m guessing Bertha, as President of the Board of Lady Managers for the Columbian Exposition, Chicago’s World’s Fair, was comped.
Learn more about Bertha Palmer, her life in Chicago and in Sarasota, by booking our very own Bertha Palmer to present this fascinating woman’s life story as a costumed first-person interpretation to your group or club by contacting our Site Manager Linda Garcia at email@example.com or 941-364-9076.
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.)
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.
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. With thanks to J. Whitcomb Rylee’s Yesterday’s Sarasota calendar.
After all, this much fish is way too much for dinner tonight. (Photo from Florida Memory.)
On this day in history, December 12, 1902, the Sarasota Ice, Fish, and Power Company was granted the first permit to construct a commercial plant smack dab in town. (It was located, according to one source, near Lemon Avenue and State Street.) Sarasota had been a town for less than 2 months at that point.
SIFP generated electricity to make ice to keep the catch fresh. It wasn’t for seven more years that Sarasota got street lights (2, count ’em, 2) and from that point on, there was nothing but progress progress progress. (Well, except for the Bust. Another tale to tell.)
We’re happy to announce that this fishy Day in History is dedicated to Elisabeth Waters,
who was gifted with a “Claim Your Day” by Alexandra Jupin in our effort to keep our head above water in this economically-challenging pandemic time. If you’d like us to find an appropriate Day in History for you to claim, you can get the details here.
This Day in History: “1904– With a crank and a jingle, 48 subscribers entered the telephone age as Sarasota got its first telephone exchange. Miss Woodruff was the town’s first operator. The owners had expected only 25 customers or so.” — from Yesterday’s Sarasota 1993 Calendar by J Whitcomb Rylee in conjunction with HSoSC. (The photo’s from a book for sale on eBay; if you’re quick you can get it!)
The books of Sarasota finally get their own home as the Chidsey Library was dedicated. The cost of the building was $18,500, and was a gift of John Chidsey. The building served as our library until 1976. — from “Yesterday’s Sarasota The Calendar for 1993” by J. Whitcomb Rylee, in conjunction with the Historical Society of Sarasota County
Since then, the building has been Sarasota County’s Historical Resources Center, the Visitor Center, and left vacant. Recently, the Friends of the History Center are keeping it and its exhibits public with the help of volunteers from a dozen or so local historical groups, including, of course, the Historical Society of Sarasota County. It’s, for now at least, the Historical Exhibits and Educational Center located at the Historic Chidsey Library Building. 701 North Tamiami Trail, Sarasota.
On this date in 1970, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall opened.
Designed by the late Frank Lloyd Wright’s firm, Taliesin Associates Architects, the building was called by its critics the “purple cow” or “purple people seater.”
How much do YOU know about the Van Wezel?
The Van Wezel was painted purple because:
Purple was a good foil to the turquoise waters of Sarasota Bay.
Mr. Wright’s widow suggested it.
Purple is the color of royalty, and Sarasota looked forward to the “royalty of performers” appearing in the theater.
The paint was donated by a local paint dealer, and that’s the color he chose.
Why did the One Eyed One Horned Flying Purple People Eater come to Earth?
His spaceship crashed in the Grand Canyon.
He wanted to get a job in a rock-&-roll band.
He craved a Starbuck’s every day.
He liked short shorts.
The first Broadway show in the Van Wezel was
Fiddler on the Roof
Guys and Dolls
The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd
Who were Lewis and Eugenia Van Wezel?
They built the first year-round residence on Lido Key.
Lewis was a diamond buyer for Tiffany’s.
Eugenia’s brother-in-law was Gustaf Nobel.
They built a downtown building known as the Eugenic.
Answers: In each case, the correct answer is #2, except for the last. All the choices are correct about the Van Wezels! You will be awarded extra points if you pronounce Van Wezel as “Van Way-zel”, not “Van Weasel.”
Did you know? Tours of the Van Wezel backstage areas and the Fine Arts Society art collection are offered to the public the first Tuesday of the month, October through May. More info.
And if you can’t remember all the lyrics of One Eyed One Horned Flying Purple People Eater, here it is on YouTube. Tequila.
Nowadays it takes 5 fishermen and a boat to catch a kingfish.
But back in the day…
Sept 30 1913: For easy fishing, stay at the Bay Island Hotel. On the first day of kingfish season, a 4′, 27-pound beauty, complete with a mullet in its mouth, jumped 10 feet from the bay, over the seawall, and onto the lawn where it was corralled by a guest. Mr. Faubel, the manager, quickly pointed out the fine fishing on his lawn. — Entry in Yesterday’s Sarasota calendar by J. Whitcomb Rylee
You didn’t have to register to vote. You did have to be a member of the militia. And there was no such thing as Sarasota County… heck, there wasn’t even a Manatee County.
Here’s what political districting looked like in 1843 when Florida voted to become a State in the United States of America. (Click the map, which is courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, to enlarge)
On August 18, 1920, Tennessee passed the proposed 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by a one-vote margin, becoming the 36th state to ratify the measure and clearing the way for its official adoption eight days later.
Can you imagine NOT “giving the vote” to a woman like this?
Incredibly, women’s suffrage in the United States ultimately hinged on an 11th-hour change of heart by a young state legislator with a very powerful mother.
“I know that a mother’s advice is always safest for her boy to follow,” he explained, “and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification.” Read about it.
Blanche, referred to by her husband as “Bright Eyes”
On this date in 1905, Col. John Hamilton Gillespie married his second wife, Judge McDaniels’s daughter Blanche, in Sarasota. They honeymooned in Scotland. — Entry in Yesterday’s Sarasota calendar by J. Whitcomb Rylee
Read our very own Sue Blue’s article about Col. Gillespie for Scene Sarasota.