Here’s our favorite local historian, Jeff LaHurd, on the family who built the Mansion in what is now Phillippi Estate Park:
Edson Keith was a singular man. A well-rounded Chicago millionaire businessman, he left the hustle-bustle of Windy City life to spend his last years with his wife Nettie, on their Philippi Creek estate. Unlike their Chicago colony contemporaries who only wintered in Sarasota, the Keiths became year around residents.
Yale educated Edson, with a law degree from Columbia was multilingual, and a lover of music. To further his musical aspirations, he studied and performed at the famed Paris Opera. He was also a composer and author. According to the Sarasota Herald “He was a composer of note and had many successful musical productions presented in leading theatres … and was a frequent contributor to national publications.”
He was president of the Edson Keith & Co. a nationally known millinery manufacturing company.
It was in Paris where he was pursuing his musical endeavors that he met Nettie, traveling with her parents. They married shortly thereafter.
The Edson Keith mansion on Phillippi Creek was constructed in 1916. Today, the property is Sarasota County’s Phillipi Estate Park.
As was the journalistic practice of the time, while the Edson Keith Mansion was being constructed in 1916, The Sarasota Times assured it would be “one of the handsomest, if not the handsomest along the west coast of Florida.”
Like many of the other Chicago colony mansions, the Keiths’ Italian Renaissance home was designed by Chicago architects. Clark and Otis were well known for their upper-class homes and buildings.
To keep tabs on the construction, Keith built a bungalow on the property, which is now the Farmhouse, where he lived full time. Because the Tamiami Trail had not been completed, building material needed to be barged to the site.
The 40-acre property was nearly self-sufficient with electricity, hot and cold running water, fruit, and vegetables were farmed and animals were raised for food.
Edson died at the estate in February of 1939. The man for all seasons was praised by the Yale Club as “… a gentleman of the old school – a man of business and letters – reflecting high honor upon his alma mater …”
Nettie moved to Prospect Street. She died at age 87 at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
Mae Hansen Prodie and her husband Charlie were the next owners of the estate. Mae made a fortune making clothes for Barbie dolls. Charlie, an avid golfer, ran the estate as the Phillippi Plantation Inn and Restaurant.
When Charlie died, Mae retired to the estate. After she passed away in 1986, Sarasota County purchased the historic estate in a referendum. Today it is the Phillippi Estate Park, a beautiful example of preserving the past for the present and a popular destination for all manner of events.
Jeff LaHurd was raised in Sarasota and is an award-winning historian.
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