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Frank Higel was Entrepreneur and Pioneer

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Mark D. Smith, former County Archivist
Photo Credit: Sarasota County History Center
Credit: Sarasota County History Center

Sarasota History - Frank Higel was Entrepreneur and Pioneer photo

Born in Philadelphia, Francis "Frank" Higel was a skilled chemist and discovered a process by which starch could be obtained profitably from the roots of the cassava plant. This plant had been grown in the Venice area successfully by early pioneers. Higel saw the money-making potential in this process and went looking for investors.

He explained the process to Hamilton Disston, a Philadelphia saw manufacturer. Disston, along with a group of wealthy businessmen, had purchased millions of acres of land in Florida for speculation reasons. Looking for a way to capitalize on their investment, Disston sent Higel to Venice in the winter of 1883-84, to try out the process.

Higel arrived in Venice in 1883 with his wife and six sons. He purchased choice land in the Roberts' homestead for $2,500 and set up his homestead. He began growing large quantities of cassavas and tested his process. With his process a success, he wrote to Disston to tell him that it worked and that he should inspect the area. Equipment for manufacturing was shipped down to Higel and Disston arrived in Tampa in 1885. Unfortunately for Higel, Disston had arrived in Tampa during the coldest winter on record. Disston decided, after spending several very cold nights in an unheated Tampa hotel, that Florida was not the place to grow semi-tropical plants. Within a month the equipment was shipped back to Philadelphia and Disston pulled out of the venture.

Higel returned to Venice and decided to start over. He began to develop high grade cane syrup, which would later be in great demand in the Sarasota region. He invested in grinders, cookers and driers for his products. He also made citrus and guava jellies, marmalades and canned fruits. To make his products appealing, he had gold labels printed up. His trademark was a manatee with the slogan, "Put up in the Grove" on each label.

Higel produced a variety of products ranging from lemon juice to orange wine. He also had claims to what each product could do. The lemon cordial was an "excellent remedy for malarial fever" and the orange wine was a "delightful tonic and stomachic, highly recommended for debility, loss of appetite and indigestion".

Higel was also involved in the development of the Venice area. He applied for a post office site in 1885 and requested a post office to serve a community of thirty residents. He named his post office Eyry. He was appointed postmaster of Eyry in February, 1885, but the office was discontinued in November, 1885. Another post office was established in 1888 at Venice. Several names were suggested for the naming of Venice, including Fish Hawk and Guava. Higel suggested the name of Venice as being most appropriate because of the network of bayous and creeks. The name Venice was accepted by the state; however, Higel did not see Venice grow because he died on a trip to Philadelphia in 1892.