Our Summer Fundraising Challenge has been MET!

Imagine the excitement when our site manager, Linda Garcia, received a communication from one of our supporters saying that a matching $10,000 would be donated, if we could get just 10 more Historical Society lovers to give $1,000 each to help the Society continue its mission.

Imagine how our Board of Directors was so thrilled to realize that this anonymous donor was challenging others to donate a significant amount by offering to double their donations.

And finally, imagine not just those who stepped up with $1,000 to turn it into $2,000… but also the many many members who loved the idea, and whose contributions reflected their monetary ability to cheer us all on!

To all who heeded the call from a small nonprofit struggling in these times to keep the two historical Sarasota buildings we protect, preserve, and present… we are so proud to tell the world that

Our Summer Fundraising Challenge has been MET!

Thanking the donors whose generosity helped The Historical Society of Sarasota County meet its Summer Challenge Matching Grant!

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

Bertha’s Been Busy Baking Brownies

Kate Holmes as Bertha PalmerOne of our most popular “spokespersons” from the Speakers’ Bureau at HSoSC is Bertha Palmer, here shown as presented by Kate Holmes. Having done over 300 appearances as “The Queen of Chicago/ Sarasota’s Legendary Lady”, Kate tells us that the two most-asked questions she gets are “Where did you get that great dress?” (Answer: On the Internet of course!) and “Can I have the recipe for Bertha’s most famous invention, the Palmer House Brownie?”

So here’s the brownie recipe. Kate says the secret’s the apricot glaze, so don’t skip that step.

BTW, you CAN get Bertha’s Brownies at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago… or, if you’re very lucky, your local group/ club/ HOA will invite Bertha to appear before your group and one of your members could be talked into baking these! (Save one for “Bertha” to take home for her hubby…)

113 years of hard sitting is coming to an end….

When the Crocker Memorial Church was just 12 years old, in 1913, 63 of Sarasota’s women came together and formed The Woman’s Club of Sarasota. Their service to our community can be summed up by this quote on their brochure:

The good works of life consist of many small units.

We are delighted to announce that The Woman’s Club has taken on a “small unit” for the Crocker Church: they are Continue reading

Family comes to aid of historic structure.

Historic Crocker Church in Pioneer Park, Sarasota FL

The Kwenski Krewe: (left to right) Kendell Kwenski, Kay Kwenski, Norma Kwenski, Brent Kwenski and Montana Kwenski. The family provided the funding for handrails at the historic Crocker Memorial Church (1901) which is curated by the Historical Society of Sarasota County. The gift was made in memory of Brad Kwenski, Norma’s husband and the the dad and grandfather of the Kwenski family.

The family of Norma Kwenski, a member of the Sarasota Historical Society of Sarasota County, responded to a need at the Crocker Memorial Church (1901) by donating the funds to provide hand rails to the porch of the de-sanctified church building in Sarasota’s Pioneer Park.

These new handrails provide additional safety for people come to the Crocker for monthly member programs, for weddings, and for community social and civic meetings and public events that are held at the Crocker year round on a continuing basis.

“I mentioned to my children about the need for handrails on the porch and they suggested we make a family gift of the funding in memory of my husband Brad who loved history and loved this community,” said Norma Kwenski. “It gives us all such great pleasure now every time we’re at the Crocker and we see people using the handrails. It’s made a real difference and my husband would be thrilled to know he is being remembered for a role in historic preservation and in keeping these historic places alive and in use.”

Haven’t you ALWAYS wanted to peek in their drawers?

Here’s what some members of the Historical Society got to do this month: peek in John Ringling’s dresser drawers!

Ron McCarty, Curator of Ca'd'Zan, shows Historical Socierty members John Ringling's haberdashery

Ron McCarty, Curator of Ca’d’Zan, shows Historical Society members John Ringling’s haberdashery. Click to see John Ringling’s ties close up, something you don’t get to see on a public tour. HSoSC’s  private tour sold out almost the same day it was announced to our members. Join HSoSC and get first dibs on tours like these!

We are blessed to have Ron as an avid supporter of the Historical Society of Sarasota County. Join him and hundreds of your fellow citizens and seasonal residents in supporting our mission!

Here’s what we’re all about.

Here’s how to join.

Here’s what’s coming up in the near future!

Like to learn more? Sign up for our free e-newsletter. No nagging, no spam, just a glimpse into how HSoSC helps preserve and present the history of Sarasota County.

The passing of a beloved supporter and local historian

George "Pete" Esthus at Day in the Park

Pete in his Sarasota railroad man outfit at a HSOSC event.

It is with sadness and regret that we tell you of the passing of Pete Esthus, a wonderful man and great supporter of the Historical Society. Our hearts are full, and we offer condolences to his wife Diane and their family.

The Herald-Tribune article.

If you would like, as the family suggests, to make a donation to the Historical Society of Sarasota County in Pete’s memory, please send a check to our mailing address, PO Box 1632, Sarasota, FL 34230.
Or use your credit card by calling our office at 941-364-9076 Monday- Friday, 10am to 2pm.

Red Hat Ladies Caught Red-Handed at HSOSC

Red Hat Ladies Caught Red-Handed at HSOSC

HSOSC Member Lois Greer brought her Red Hat group to the Historical Society for an outing recently. Docent (and HSOSC Prez) Howard Rosenthal was on hand to greet them as they drove up 12th Street in a bevy of pre-WW1 automobiles driven by Lois’ husband Ed and his fellow old-car enthusiasts.

The ladies were a remarkable group –  11 women, all dressed in purple dresses with red hats (except for the one renegade who opted for a red dress and purple hat!)

Lois and Ed Greer are exceptional volunteers for HSOSC. They donated uncountable hours working on the restoration and painting of the two historic buildings in Pioneer Park since HSOSC moved the buildings to Pioneer Park in 2006. We always count on Lois for assistance as needed, and just try to keep Ed from posing one of his beloved cars for vintage photo ops during our events!

After touring the Bidwell-Wood House the ladies and their chauffeurs followed the music coming from the Crocker Memorial Church, our second historic building. The Sarasota Earlye Musicke Consort happened to be practicing that morning, and director Charlotte Trautwein graciously explained the early music and early recorder instruments to our guests. The group played a selection for the ladies, who then headed out for a luncheon.

If your club or social group is interested in such an outing, please contact our Site Manager Linda Garcia at 941-364-9076 or hsosc@yahoo.com for available dates and reasonable rates. Our Back Porch is perfect for your picnic or refreshments during season, but you’ll have to find your own vintage cars! We also have speakers available for club meetings.

Donation of Dining Room Table!!

Nancy Dunn donates Tiger Oak TableNancy Dunn has made a fabulous donation of a Tiger Oak Pedestal Table with Lion Head and Paw legs for the Bidwell-Wood House dining room. Her company is Estates Sales by Nancy Dunn, LLC and she also generously donated five matching chairs for the dining room and two beautiful red cushioned Victorian chairs for the upstairs hallway.

Sue Blue is a Historical Society VIP

“Sarasota” Sue as Sue Blue is widely known, resides in her childhood home built by her grandfather in 1925. She graciously narrated the Historic Downtown Sarasota Trolley tours and writes Sarasota memoirs for on-line magazines. Sue also wrote a one-act play based on the 1885 Bidwell trial, entitled “Mr. Bidwell.” Here, a message from Sue:

Sue Blue, portraying Rose Wilson, owner and editor of the early 20th-century Sarasota newspaperA hearty welcome to the tourists, the visitors, the weary travelers from a native Sarasotan. We year-round occupiers of paradise really feel sorry for you. There you go, running out to the beach to soak up some sun, tearing down Tamiami to oogle the Ringling digs, hopping that bridge to St. Armands for some heavy duty shopping. You haven’t even strolled through Selby Gardens, swung on the treetops trapeze in Myakka, or put your paws on a baby stingray at Mote Marine! And, oh yes, you need to look at Bertha Palmer’s pergola down at Historic Spanish Point, put in an appearance at the Opera, experience theatre at half a dozen venues and catch a show at the Van Wezel.

The what? You know, that giant purple structure on the Bayfront. The purple cow. The purple people seater. No time to take in a show? Well, you really should at least poke your head in the lobby and view the shell ensconced in an illuminated glass case. It is said that Mrs. Frank Lloyd Wright envisioned the color tones of this shell as the palette for the Van Wezel. Notice its iridescence…its shades of purple and lilac and lavender. She thought the Sarasota sun, over a period of time, would affect the building’s paint job resulting in an iridescent shell-like appearance. Well, wouldn’t you know, whenever the paint does begin to fade and take on a kind of interesting mottled tone, somebody down at City Hall says, “The Van Wezel needs paint! Right now! It’s beginning to look all streaky!” And they paint it purple. It’s our purple cow; Sarasota’s purple people seater. Our very own show boat.

There are some amazingly weird stories about Sarasota. The best ones, I think, involve the early pioneers. Of course, it also helps that those early pioneers aren’t around any more to argue the authenticity of the tale. So, prop your feet up on a crystal Siesta sand castle and allow me to tell you about our first white settler, Mr. William Whitaker.

Bill left his Savannah, Georgia home at the age of twelve having taken a distinct disliking for his new step-mother. He worked on a tramp steamer, headed down to Key West and wound up in Tallahassee where his half brother placed him in school. After graduation, he joined the US Army and served during the First Seminole War. The Army awarded him, along with other veterans, deeds to Florida property if he would live on and work the land for at least five years. Bill took the bait. At last, a home of his own.

Sailing in the Gulf down the west coast of Florida, he came upon an aquamarine bay and a dune of yellow limestone which he called Yellow Bluffs. This is where he built his first home. Yellow Bluffs is located on Sarasota bay in the area of today’s 12th Street. After building a barge, he sailed across to Longboat Key where he cut cedar trees for his house. He was a fisherman, a farmer, and later, a very successful cattleman. He also cultivated the first orange grove in this area of Florida. The orange tree seeds were obtained from Cuban fisherman in trade for Bill’s tasty smoked mullet. Cattle became his main source of income though and gave him the wherewithal to educate his eleven children.

About the time that Bill received the deed from the government for his property, he journeyed to upper Manatee County to court and wed tiny Mary Jane Wyatt. She might have been diminutive but Mary Jane evidently knew no fear. As a teenager she had hobnobbed with Billy Bowlegs (not his Seminole name!) on her father’s ranch. He was the chief of the Seminole tribes in this area. As a married lady she invited him to share a meal now and then at the Whitaker home. As tensions mounted between Federal troops and the local Seminoles, Mary Jane began to think about this friendship. She is purported to have inquired (note, I said purported since there is no way of knowing if this conversation actually took place) in her melting southern voice, “Now Billy, you wouldn’t kill me, would you?”

To which he is purported to have replied, “Yes….But I would do it quickly!”

Drive about a half block east of Tamiami Trail on 12th Street today and you will see a small, enclosed family cemetery. Here lies William Whitaker and a host of his descendants. Next door east is the 1901 Crocker Memorial Church. Adjacent is the oldest house in Sarasota, the Bidwell-Wood House of 1882. The Historical Society of Sarasota County has restored those buildings. If you see me there I’ll tell you about the 1884 murder-most-foul that was planned in Mr. Bidwell’s parlor!