This Week Newsletter - April 29, 2009

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Sarasota History Alive! Where history happens every day.

This Week

Heck, before we know it, school will let out for summer vacation. Seems like we all just dealt with Spring Break. I am certain the students at any school are getting anxious to hear the last dismissal bell or buzzer of the school year to sound.

Here in Sarasota, there are "twin" schools built in the 1920s that are a local treasure; not only to view architecturally, but also to attend. This week, Lee takes you back to the beginnings of Southside School. Do tag along for a good show, and learn about "Mickey" the heroic wonder-dog. Click here to tune in.

Tales of Sarasota

This week, Diane talks about a treasure of a find from dedicated local photographers. It is such a pleasure when people donate their photos to the History Center for all of us to enjoy.

Diane and Pete have a vast amount of friends and acquaintances in Sarasota, and we all benefit from their relationships. Follow Diane to the opening day of the original Sunshine Skyway Bridge and check out the ferry below, on perhaps one of her last trips. Click here to read her blog.


Residence of Hester Ringling Lancaster Sanford

Hester was the first child of Edith and Charles Ringling. She was born in Baraboo, Wisconsin during 1893. This was eleven years after the first Ringling Brothers troupe was formed. Hester was raised in Baraboo as her parents and their extended family built the troupe into the smoothest running organization of its kind in the United States of America.

At first the brothers poured their profits back into developing the circus, assuring its safety and adding features that would attract greater audiences-while the family members were provided a comfortable existence. By the time Hester was ten years old her family was enjoying prosperity and her mother and father built a large frame home in Baraboo. Hester said that her parents never allowed their children "to get the idea that they were wealthy" and brought them up to share their values. An article written by Lowell Brandle quoted Hester about her father: "My father was a very sympathetic person. He cared about people-not just mawkish sentimentality-but cared about what they felt and thought. It was always said around the circus that anyone could go to ‘Mr. Charley' and he would listen and help if he could. People today sneer at that quality, call those persons ‘do-gooders'..." -another quote indicated that Hester would ask herself what her father would do in situations, and act accordingly.

Hester and her brother were allowed to spend a month with the circus in the summer while on vacation from their studies. They traveled in a private railroad car with their parents as the show moved along. Later she attended Northwestern University and studied voice in Germany, planning a career in grand opera. Both of her parents were talented musicians, passing on their love of music.

Initially, Hester followed a concert singing career. She married Louis Lancaster and had two sons. Louis was killed in the First World War a few years after they had been married. When her parents began to build their winter retreat in Sarasota, a home for Hester and her sons was built alongside. Later she married Charles E. Sanford. Hester gave concerts, taught voice lessons and drama to children, and was very active in the developing theaters of Sarasota. In 1932 she produced and directed her own play, Pearls and Sawdust, in Sarasota. A photograph of the cast shows a circus setting and the names range from Owen Burns, Albree Freeman, Edna Swain Halton, Betty Purdy, Clarence Stokes, to Isabel Thompson, Holloway Kennedy, and Hester among the actors.

President of the Players for over six years, Hester was known for her dramatic roles at the professional theater, the Palm Tree Playhouse, on Palm Avenue until 1961. Read more..

Hidden History of Sarasota - by Jeff Lahurd

Sarasota, Florida, a one-horse farming town turned thriving winter residence of the Ringling circus and flocks of snowbirds, has experienced more than its share of quirky characters and peculiar events. Learn about the illustrious John Ringling, from the details of his daily breakfast to the fifty-five-year saga that determined his final resting place. Find out the real identity of A-NO.1, the "King of Hobos," who spent a night in Sarasota's finest hotel. Witness the most memorable wedding in Sarasota-between two gorillas. Join longtime resident and historian Jeff LaHurd as he chronicles the fascinating, forgotten stories that made Sarasota the exceptional city it is today.

Jeff has done it again! His wit and research delves into our intriguing history, and once again he gives us a peek into what most history books don't tell you.

Hidden History of Sarasota sells for $19.99. If you would like to meet Jeff at a book-signing, you have two options coming up soon:

May 14th @ 6:30
Sarasota News & Books
1341 Main Street, Sarasota

June 13th 1:00-3:00
Borders Bookstore
3800 S Tamiami Trail, Sarasota

(Hidden History of Sarasota is published by History Press, Inc. For more information contact his publicist Katie Parry:







Churches Satisfy Need for Convenience

Southwest Florida's unique attributes of climate and population has affected the way the community has developed.

One truly Sarasota County phenomena, an outgrowth of these dual forces, is the drive-in church. Developed to accommodate Sarasota's post World War II population boom, Sarasota's earliest drive-in services were held at existing drive-in movie theaters. Daytime religious services provided an interesting contrast to the nighttime entertainment there, a fact that did not pass unnoticed by the news media.

An April 1955 article in Life Magazine stated that "Some caustic observers took a dim view of the drive-in church, asking who has the popcorn concession and how do you take the collection, sell tickets?" Venice-Nokomis Presbyterian Church pastor the Reverend Robert White also had misgivings about his drive-in church, but he soon discovered its unique value for those unable to leave their cars, for the hard-of-hearing, and for those who, for many reasons, avoided traditional churches.

The Venice-Nokomis Church, at 111 East Firenze Avenue in Venice, was the earliest local church specifically designed to serve the driving public. Featured in Life Magazine in April of 1955, the Venice-Nokomis Presbyterian Church (pictured here) was designed by noted architect Victor Lundy.

The modern, two-story, glass and steel design was built for $7,600 and consisted of little more than a raised pulpit with room for the minister, organ and choir. Read more...

(photo credit: Sarasota County History Center)


Yesterday's Sarasota Calendar

Every day of the year we highlight what took place in Sarasota's history, thanks to Whit Rylee and Tom Payne's extensive research and sense of humor. Frequently check our website's homepage to find out what occured today.

Also, be sure and check out Whit's website at:

Tomorrow in 1902, Governor William Sherman Jennings signed a statue officially making Sarasota a town, and, much to the delight of homeowners ever since, giving to it the right to collect taxes. You may find it interesting to know that our first City Seal was a crudely drawn mullett with a rising sun onver palmettos with shells at the base. Our motto was: "May Sarasota Prosper."

(photo credit: Sarasota County History Center)


History Locator

This week we are honoring the Joseph Daniel Anderson historical marker. It reads: After the Civil War, many Georgians moved their families to Southern Florida. Joseph Daniel "Jody" Anderson, born in Georgia in 1867, was a child when his father moved to the Tampa/Sara Sota area. In 1884, Joseph became the head of the Anderson family. Two years later, he moved his family to southern Manatee County. He homesteaded the land in the Mystic River (Forked Creek) Valley. In 1890 he married Helen Alice Johnson of Sarasota. They had eleven children. Eight survived.

With only hand tools, Anderson converted the Florida wilderness into an agricultural industry. This fertile land produced vegetables, sugar cane and citrus. In the vast Myakka/Pinedale area, he raised his cattle and swine. He and brother Moses "Lee" prospered in ranching until the Range Law Act curtailed the right to use this land for grazing.

Sleds (later wagons) were used to move the farm produce, fruit and cattle to Lemon Bay where they were transferred to draft boats and transported to ships at Boca Grande. Some of the wagons were rafted across the bay to Manasota Beach where the produce was ferried to Cuban smacks and later to American schooners. Read reverse side...


Organize, Digitize and Webasize

Your Sarasota County History Center is embarking on a fascinating and important project to digitize their collections and add them to a user-friendly website.

These efforts will enable viewers to research online what photos, manuscripts, and maps they house making the website a tremendous resource for engineers, researchers, Realtors, genealogists, writers, and history buffs. 

The editor of Sarasota History Alive! is highly involved with this undertaking, and will periodically show you  photos that are yet to be identified. The History Center can always utilize volunteers to assist with identification of photos. If you have historical knowledge of people, places, and events that occurred in our community from the mid-1880s until the late 1960s, please contact the History Center for details on how you may be of assistance. Their phone number is: 941-861-6090.

In the postcard-photo above, the young man inscribed on the back of the card, "I lost a nickel this morning when this was taken; hence the scowl." Back then a nickel was worth a lot and could have been spent wisely. Seems like more and more that holds true today, too!

(photo credits: Unknown photographer)


What Am I?

Last week's winner of the "Where Am I" quiz was Ginya Carnahan. She guessed corrcectly the location of the crowd watching Any Wright conduct a concert in a beautiful beach setting. Click here to review the photo, question and answer of last week's challenge.

This Week's Clues: I obviously was an elegant furniture store when I was constructed during the heyday of the Sarasota School of Architecture. Back then U.S. 41 was widened from a two-lane road, and things were just-a-booming during the 1950s for Sarasota. Architectural design was not to be outdone, and our local architects appreciated modern simplicity, as demonstrated in the dramatic photo.

I have been several things over the years, so please do guess what business houses me today.

Please submit the form that allows you to guess the answer. Click here to fill it out, and next week we will announce the winner, and give the solution to the question. Answer early, since the first person with the correct answer, claims the prize. Contestants may win only once per month.

Our sponsor again this week is the Avenida de Colores. Celebrating a 400-year-old type of performance art, the Avenida de Colores Chalk Festival in Burns Square will welcome over 20 professional street-painters traveling to Sarasota to join over 40 local artists in painting the streets of Pineapple Avenue.  For more information visit, 

This week's prize is a tee shirt representing the Chalk Festival. On the sleeve is the Chalk Festival logo and the front has an adaptation of a Life Magazine "The Flapper" cover from the 1920s. Way cool...

(photo credit: Sarasota County History Center)

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