The Historical Society of Sarasota County

Creating an awareness of the rich historical heritage of Sarasota County, Florida


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This Day in History: Happy 45th, Van Wezel!

van wezel from louiswerycomOn this date in 1970, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall opened.

Designed by the late Frank Lloyd Wright’s firm, Taliesin Associates Architects, the building was called by its critics the “purple cow” or “purple people seater.”

How much do YOU know about the Van Wezel?

The Van Wezel was painted purple because:

  1. Purple was a good foil to the turquoise waters of Sarasota Bay.
  2. Mr. Wright’s widow suggested it.
  3. Purple is the color of royalty, and Sarasota looked forward to the “royalty of performers” appearing in the theater.
  4. The paint was donated by a local paint dealer, and that’s the color he chose.

Why did the One Eyed One Horned Flying Purple People Eater come to Earth?

  1. His spaceship crashed in the Grand Canyon.
  2. He wanted to get a job in a rock-&-roll band.
  3. He craved a Starbuck’s every day.
  4. He liked short shorts.

The first Broadway show in the Van Wezel was

  1. Cactus Flower
  2. Fiddler on the Roof
  3. Guys and Dolls
  4. The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd

Who were Lewis and Eugenia Van Wezel?

  1. They built the first year-round residence on Lido Key.
  2. Lewis was a diamond buyer for Tiffany’s.
  3. Eugenia’s brother-in-law was Gustaf Nobel.
  4. They built a downtown building known as the Eugenic.

Answers: In each case, the correct answer is #2, except for the last. All the choices are correct about the Van Wezels! You will be awarded extra points if you pronounce Van Wezel as “Van Way-zel”, not “Van Weasel.”

Did you know? Tours of the Van Wezel backstage areas and the Fine Arts Society art collection are offered to the public the first Tuesday of the month, October through May. More info.

And if you can’t remember all the lyrics of One Eyed One Horned Flying Purple People Eater, here it is on YouTube. Tequila.

With thanks to Yesterday’s Sarasota Calendar by J. Whitcomb Rylee, the Van Wezel web site and Sarasota History Alive! for these tidbits. Photo from LouisWery.com.

Narrated trolley tours of downtown Sarasota by the Historical Society of Sarasota County


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Yup, it WAS “the good old days”

Nowadays it takes 5 fishermen and a boat to catch a kingfish.

Kingfish trophyBut back in the day…

Sept 30 1913: For easy fishing, stay at the Bay Island Hotel. On the first day of kingfish season, a 4′, 27-pound beauty, complete with a mullet in its mouth, jumped 10 feet from the bay, over the seawall, and onto the lawn where it was corralled by a guest. Mr. Faubel, the manager, quickly pointed out the fine fishing on his lawn. — Entry in Yesterday’s Sarasota calendar by J. Whitcomb Rylee

Photo from http://www.insideflorida.com/

More on the Bay Island Hotel from Sarasota History Alive.


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Voting, Then & Now

You didn’t have to register to vote. You did have to be a member of the militia. And there was no such thing as Sarasota County… heck, there wasn’t even a Manatee County.

Here’s what political districting looked like in 1843 when Florida voted to become a State in the United States of America.
Florida map, 1853(Click the map, which is courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, to enlarge)

Read Florida Memory’s article on voting then & now.


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Today in History: A Mother’s Gentle Nudge

On August 18, 1920, Tennessee passed the proposed 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by a one-vote margin, becoming the 36th state to ratify the measure and clearing the way for its official adoption eight days later.

Can you imagine NOT "giving the vote" to a woman like this?

Can you imagine NOT “giving the vote” to a woman like this?

Incredibly, women’s suffrage in the United States ultimately hinged on an 11th-hour change of heart by a young state legislator with a very powerful mother.

“I know that a mother’s advice is always safest for her boy to follow,” he explained, “and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification.” Read about it.

(Thanks to this family web site for the image of a strong woman c. 1920.)


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The Colonel marries his “darling little Bright Eyes”

140523 Blanche_wedding day 1905

Blanche, referred to by her husband as “Bright Eyes”

On this date in 1905, Col. John Hamilton Gillespie married his second wife, Judge McDaniels’s daughter Blanche, in Sarasota. They honeymooned in Scotland. — Entry in Yesterday’s Sarasota calendar by J. Whitcomb Rylee

Read our very own Sue Blue‘s article about Col. Gillespie for Scene Sarasota.

See the Gillespie home, before and after Blanche had a greenhouse added.

The photo is from http://www.owenburns.com/, who honored Col. Gillespie in 2011 with merriment and golf.


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The trial of the century in Sarasota

1885: Members of the

Sarasota Vigilante Committee

went on trial for the murder of Postmaster Abbe. Abbe had

Sarasota Postmaster Charles Abbe

Charles E. Abbe. Click to read about the buildings HSoSC preserves and protects

been involved with some of the “land barons” who had misused the laws to acquire holdings in the area. The Vigilantes killed Abbe over the scheme.

— From J. Whitcombe Rylee, Yesterday’s Sarasota, a 1993 Calendar in conjunction with the Historical Society of Sarasota County.

Photo from the Manatee County Library web site


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The first post office opens today

Charles Abbe, courtesy Manatee Cty Library SystemOn August 16 1878, Sarasota got its first post office. It was located in the store of Charles Abbe, in the area now known as Harbor Acres. Mail came in “fairly” regularly, delivered by horseback.

Charles Abbe Continues to Spark Fascination, a newspaper article by Janet Snyder Matthews

The (maybe) 2013 location of the first post office, an article by Harold Bubil

Just one year later in 1879, Judge Webb was appointed postmaster and named the area where his Webb’s Winter Resort was, Osprey.

It wasn’t until 1909 that the Crocker family (yes, our very own Crockers, of Crocker Memorial Church fame) opened their post office, claiming the “southern part of Sarasota was underserved.” The location? Present-day Bay Road (the eastern extension of Bee Ridge Road) and Red Rock Lane or Red Rock Lane.

An aside: It’s said that John Webb had to rename his community from Spanish Point because the rules at that time stated that post offices had to have a single-word name . The Judge lifted his eyes in thought and saw an osprey drifting overhead. I consider it fortunate that he didn’t see a vulture. “Vulture, Florida” just doesn’t have that ring, does it?

Photograph of Charles Abbe from the Manatee County Public Library web archives