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The Crockers

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Ann Shank, former Sarasota County Historian
Photo Credit: Sarasota County History Center
Credit: Sarasota County History Center

Sarasota History - The Crockers photo

Peter and Sophia Crocker were one of the nearly dozen families who came to live between Phillippi Creek and Hudson Bayou after the Civil War but before the present city of Sarasota was settled by colonists in 1885.

The Crockers were married in Key West, where Peter had become a lighthouse keeper after his discharge from the Union Army in 1867. Three years later he was transferred to Dry Bank to be keeper of the lighthouse there at a salary of $820 per annum.

Fannie, the Crocker’s first child (and only one to survive childhood), was born in Tampa in 1873. After moving to the Sarasota Bay section of Manatee County in 1880, Crocker purchased 20 acres at the southwest corner of the present Bay Road and U.S. 41 for twenty dollars. There he farmed and raised citrus.

According to numerous applications to the Federal Government for a disability pension, Crocker suffered from chronic rheumatism and other ailments, which frequently left him unable to work. In spite of his physical difficulties, however, he participated in the life of the small community. On several occasions, the Board of Manatee County Commissioners appointed Crocker, with two others, to lay out and mark roads that had been requested in the area of his property. Residents elected Crocker to at least two terms as trustee for the Phillippi Creek School. The Manatee River Journal noted in 1899 that Crocker had opened a store, and his obituary in the Sarasota Times on December 21, 1911, noted that he had operated a post office in his home. (The Crocker Post Office was open from 1909 to 1912).

Years later in an interview with Dottie Davis, Fannie Crocker Curtis described her childhood. Before any schooling was offered in the area, she lived with her mother’s relatives in Key West and attended classes in a convent. When the family needed basic supplies that could not be grown or made, her father walked to Manatee, a village near Braidentown, and carried the goods home on his back. A neighbor made an occasional dress for her and denim pants for her father.

In the early years, they cooked outside over a wood fire built on a cooking scaffold (a sand-filled wood frame with a roof to keep off the rain). A Dutch oven for baking and an iron frying pan were the standard equipment. Homemade wicks set in a saucer of fish oil provided interior light. For Curtis, the most difficult part of those early years was the nearly overwhelming presence of mosquitoes. She remembered carrying cabbage palm fronds to brush away the insect that could quickly cover any exposed skin.

Today, Peter Crocker’s name is remembered in association with a church and a cemetery. In 1901, Crocker and two other trustees of the St. John’s Chapel Church acquired twoacres on the north side of Bee Ridge Road slightly east of what is now U.S. 41. Crocker then pursued construction of a church building, which, after moves and additions, has served the Bay Haven Baptist congregation, the Throne of Grace Parish on Florida Avenue, and now resides at 1260 12th Street adjacent to the Sarasota County Historical Society’s home at the historic Bidwell-Wood house.

The St. John’s Chapel/Peter Crocker Memorial Cemetery remains. Until recently, it has been almost obscured from view by overgrowth. In 1997, Bill Whetzel realized the historic nature of the cemetery and began removing debris and overgrown vegetation. The project grew larger that he had anticipated and his enthusiasm and determination attracted family, friends, neighbors, area businesses and community members to join the effort.

While Peter and Sophia Crocker would have difficulty recognizing their 20 acres today, the small cemetery is a reminder of the contribution those early settlers made to our community.

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