Historical sites provide the opportunity to slip into the lives of those who have come before us. Spanish Point Museum and Preserve overlooks Little Sarasota Bay in Osprey, just south of Sarasota. Touted as a 30 acre archaeological, historical, and environmental museum, it was the first place in Sarasota to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a delightful place to spend a few hours.
As one strolls through the serene setting, the richness and diversity of Florida plant life is amazing. Scents of flowers and the mangrove studded edge of the bay combined to entice us to stop and just experience the wonder of the natural world.
Indigenous people had lived on this waters’ edge over 4,000 years ago and left huge middens – piles of shells, bones, and broken tools and pottery. It is amusing to think that archaeologists are basically garbage diggers but there is much to be learned from society’s refuse. Generations of people lived in this area and the middens became landfills on which eventually the chief’s house was built. Eventually the area was abandoned and nature took over.
People have been coming to Florida from the northeast to escape the cold for many generations. In 1867 the Webb family came from New York to make a life homesteading. They explored various vicinities in Florida and while in Key West they met a Spaniard who suggested this region as it had an elevated area leading to the bay. Most of Florida is flat and subject to flooding but this spot had the middens which artificially built it up. John and Eliza Webb and their five children moved and in honor of their advisor, named it Spanish Point.
It must have been rough going, hacking away at the near jungle in the Florida heat. I commend those hearty people who eventually farmed 10 acres of this land, growing oranges and shipping them down to Key West to be distributed throughout the country. I wonder how many oranges found in Christmas stockings came from the Webb family’s endeavors.
I imagine it wasn’t too difficult for them to lure northern friends and family members to the balmy Florida winters. One friend came in hopes of healing. Mary had advanced tuberculosis and unfortunately succumbed to this prevalent disease while on the point. Her family built an alluring chapel in her honor.
This area was remote with few opportunities for advanced education. While taking one of the daughters up north to school, the family met a Maine boat builder and enticed him to join them on Spanish point. Frank Guptill married one of the Webb daughters and when she tragically died after falling down stairs, he married Lizzie who had returned from school up north. They built a home and a life together and his craftsmanship is evident today in the house on the hill.
Years later Bertha Matilde Honore Palmer, a Chicago wealthy widow purchased over a quarter of Sarasota County and built her winter estate “Osprey Point” at this location.
She insisted on preserving the historical remains of both the indigenous people and the early pioneers. While elsewhere in the county she pursued real estate development, cattle ranching and citrus groves, magnetic Spanish point was the location of her formal gardens and winter home.
I found the sunken garden and pergola captivating and could just picture Ms Palmer and her guests strolling the grounds and enjoying the breeze from the bay.
In 1980 the descendants of Ms Palmer donated the land to the Gulf Heritage Association so that it will be discovered and enjoyed by generations to come. It is a relaxing place to discover 5,000 years of history and to learn more about the natural history of the area. It is a portal to the past and the present.
Finally the views to the bay and an opportunity to see modern day mansions make the trip complete!
(Photos by Bob Wilson http://bobwilsonphotos.com/gallery.html )