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Old Caples Hall at New College of Florida

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Lauren O'Neil-Butler; former Sarasota History Center intern
Source: Sarasota County Historical Resources
Photo Credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources
Credit: New College website

Sarasota History - Old Caples Hall at New College of Florida photo

Historic Old Caples Hall, a hidden treasure located at 5315 Bayshore Road on the New College of Florida campus, has been a place of study, sport, and festive occasions for over fifty years

The Italian Fifteenth Century inspired architectural style of the building has long complemented the learning that occurs inside the building. Many art history and humanities New College faculty have their offices and classrooms located in the hall. Consequently, students at New College have had numerous opportunities inside this historical gem to study and compare architectural methods, an experience that goes hand-in-hand with the unique educational philosophy of the school.

The Ralph and Ellen Caples estate was built in 1921, and has undergone minor alterations since the 1920s. Alfred Clas, who designed the Charles Ringling mansion, is reported to have also designed the Caples residence.

The stuccoed exterior of the building manifests many arched and square-headed stained glass windows and a red tile hipped roof. The stunning interior of the house includes two living rooms, a dining room, a tiled porch (pictured above), four bedrooms and four baths, which today are mostly offices and classrooms. To the immediate east of the building is an arcaded three-car garage and a similarly stuccoed and styled two-story apartment that currently houses the New College Environmental Studies Department. To the back of the building is a  U-shaped open courtyard that overlooks Sarasota Bay, an untouched historic area that is a favorite among visitors and students alike.

The Caples were active participants in the development of Sarasota after their permanent move in 1909 from Ohio. In 1912, Ralph Caples purchased the Belle Haven Inn from the Southern Investment Company. Noticing the increasing population of the county, he next purchased 55 city lots and built the “Caples Block” on Main Street between Palm and Pineapple. Later, in the 1920s, Caples invested in the Mira Mar Hotel, Sarasota’s first first-class downtown hotel.

Caples played a leading role in the expansion of Sarasota until his death on February 7, 1949. In 1962, Ellen Caples bequeathed her home and property to New College, saying, “My home, which my husband and I built, as well as the land surrounding it, seems ideal for use with this educational institution. I am delighted that the identity of the home and land will be retained for such a worthy purpose.”

Indeed, the space has been used for numerous purposes since New College acquired the building and it has achieved a rich and growing history. Aside from the many classes held in it annually, Old Caples towers above the shore from which the crew team launches their sails and it is also the site of the cooperative organic garden.

In the early 1990s, the sea wall in front of the Caples estate was torn down in a student project to restore a native habitat. The building also has a good amount of mystery surrounding it, as ghost stories (professed by students studying slides in the slide room during the late hours of the night for an early morning exam) have accumulated over the years.

‘Old’ Caples Hall, an integral vein of the New College campus and a landmark of Sarasota history, is surely a building with an unforgettable past and a bright future.