3-24-23 Poor Anne! Broken foot and sprained knee means we’ll be missing her on History Day! Best wishes for a swift recovery, Anne! Yes, that’s right, Southwest Florida doesn’t have centuries of recorded history. But that’s okay… lots of other places do, and lots of Floridians love to read about olden times. History Day in the Park is pleased to welcome prolific author Anne Easter Smith, whose specialty is Ye Olde England.
And you’ll have plenty to read with all of Anne’s books!
History Day in the Park is all about history, right? And you know what’s cool about history?
We’re always making it.
Each in our own way. Here’s a fellow who’s making it (and racking up the awards along the way): Troy Roberts with his Siesta Key Rum.
And guess what? Siesta Key Rum will be at History Day in the Park! There will be all sorts of wonderful, award-winning infused rums… and we hear tell, too, that there’s a rum-bottle dog toy available. Let’s hope there will be some for our four-legged companions, who, as you know, are always welcome on the grounds of Phillippi Estate Park.
We are so pleased to announce that, true to his lifelong support of history, Richard Capes has donated two of his discontinued prints of his painting, “Edson Keith Mansion”, to History Day in the Park to be awarded in a “pick-your-prize” raffle on Saturday March 25.
In this segment from Gulf Coast Journal with Jack Perkins, you’ll see Richard painting the Keith Farmhouse in 2008, before the exterior of the Farmhouse was restored. Now, 14 years later, Richard has donated his famed artwork of the Mansion itself to the cause of turning his artistry into a living part of current day Sarasota by encouraging donations for the planned Interpretive Center.
Click to hear Jack Perkins tell us about Richard Capes and his generous soul.
To see the complete Gulf Coast Journal with Jack Perkins show which aired on Christmas Day 2008, click here.
We would like to thank Richard and his brother, Jim Capes, for their generous donation which will thrill art lovers in our community. The second print will be used as a fund-raiser this coming fall/winter during “Afternoon at the Mansion”, a series of local history presentations.
Raffle tickets for the Capes watercolor and other prizes will be sold during History Day in the Park on Saturday March 25 in the Mansion itself and by roving costumed characters, so bring cash to buy your tickets. You need not be present to win.
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.
You’re familiar with farm markets, of course… but did you notice the Phillippi market is actually the “Farmhouse Market“?
That’s because it helps support the Keith Farmhouse! Here’s a shot of the back of the Farmhouse, with its cistern which saved rainwater for reuse.
Phillippi Farmhouse Market is an all-volunteer market managed by a Friends of Sarasota County Parks volunteer. The market of 50+ vendors is on grass, in a park, with live music, fun food choices, pet-friendly, free adjacent parking. Net proceeds from the Market are donated to the renovation of the historic Keith farmhouse located on the property.
And now is the perfect time to make a stop at the Farmhouse Market part of your Wednesday morning routine… just look at all the produce that’s fresh now locally!
Can you imagine the festive meals you can make out of all this?
Open every Wednesday from 8am to 1pm… and you’ll have fresh produce, live music, AND help the Farmhouse Interpretive Center museum become a reality!
The first building erected on the Edson Keith estate was the historic Keith farmhouse. It is reported that Edson Keith stayed in the farmhouse while overseeing his mansion being built. Edson Keith had, along with a law degree from Columbia, an engineering degree from Yale. While he hired Otis & Clark Architecs from Chicago to design his Italian Renaissance home, he had the farmhouse built by local craftsmen.
After the mansion was completed, the farmhouse became the residence of the farm and household workers. (Ask the docent, if you’re attending the weekly tour of the building on Wednesdays at 10:00 am, October to May, about how the mansion caused the downtown dock disaster!)
The farmhouse is one of the few existing wood-frame structures from the early 1900s in this area. It remains a vivid reminder of Sarasota’s origins and the people who helped build the community.
The exterior rehabilitation of its clapboard exterior was completed in 2010 and today, we are working to transform the house into an interpretive center featuring archaeological artifacts, educational exhibits, historical photos and memorabilia.
While we don’t have records of the specific workers who built the Keith Farmhouse and the Mansion, today we salute the laborers in Florida’s past.
Picking oranges, laboring in the vegetable fields, canning beans, shucking oysters or sorting oranges were jobs available all over the state. Those laborers made the land more valuable, and so attracted more people to move here.
As Florida became more populous, jobs like turpentine tapping, cigar making, and messengering became available.
All ages worked, from what we today would consider too young, to too old.
The tourist industry… if you could wear a swimming costume with panache, you could get a job!
Of course, not all laborers worked with just their hands. Henry Ford and Thomas Edison worked too, mainly with their brains and imagination. And that’s hard work too. Remember Edison’s famous quote:
So to all laborers, then and now, you and me, who make the world around us every day… Happy Labor Day!
Photo credits to Florida Memory, Library of Congress, and Jacksonville Historical Society.