Who knew March is officially Florida Archaeology Month?
I’ll bet several of our historic groups who’ll be here on Saturday March 25, from 10 to 5, knew… and maybe they’ll bring artifacts and tell us even more amazing things about not only locally, but simple day-trips away! Be sure to visit the Time Sifters Archaeology Society and Reflections of Manatee folks if ancient stuff is fascinating to you and your family.
And if we’re lucky, our country archaeologist will be leading tours of Phillippi Estate Park’s very own archaeology site during our day. (YES! People lived on this very ground on which you’ll walk 6000 years ago!) He hasn’t given us times yet, but stop by in the Mansion at the county’s History Center display and they’ll let you know!
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!
What’s fresh air and green grass without a dog to walk!
At Phillippi Estate Park, dogs on leashes with responsible human companions are not just allowed, but welcomed.
(Note: Of course, everyone realizes that no, your dog cannot attend the Historic Keith Mansion Guided Tours offered every Wednesday morning during season, which starts October 5 2022 this year and continues til spring. Century-plus old floors and fixtures need extra-careful safeguarding. If you use a service dog and wish to come on a Mansion tour, please contact Priscilla Brown, Program Coordinator, 941-316-1309 or email@example.com, a few days in advance.)
Yes, “watershed” is a real thing, not just a metaphor (or is that a simile I’m thinking of? I was absent that day.)
A watershed is an area of land where all the rainfall collects and flows downstream into a particular body of water, like Manatee River or Sarasota Bay. Unfortunately, this water can pick up a lot of pollution along the way. In order to keep our favorite downstream fishing spots, beaches, and waterways healthy, we need to take care of our upstream area too.
The Watershed Audio Tour explores the habitats, plants, and wildlife that make our area so unique and highlights the many ways we can better protect and enjoy these natural wonders. Topics include local sustainability, conservation, restoration, wildlife, ecosystems, water quality, and more.
As a County Park on the shores of Phillippi Creek, the role our park plays in the health of our waters is huge. Many thanks to the fisherfolk, the canoeists and kayakers, and the pedestrians who enjoy PEP every day for helping our environment be healthy and litter-free.
This free tour features 40 stops around Sarasota and Manatee counties that can be accessed by phone from anywhere (941-926-6813), or visit the featured locations at outdoor sites to get an up-close and personal experience.
The historic Keith Farmhouse, which Edson Keith built to live in while his mansion was being built, was actually kind of a bachelor pad. His wife, Nettie, stayed behind in Chicago to coordinate the wedding of their daughter, Katherine, to a fellow by the name of David Adler.
(Yes, you Chicagoans and visitors to that city, that Adler. Adler Planetarium?)
Well, David was quite the wonderful son-in-law. He went on to design over 45 of the great classical homes for the ultrawealthy, and today at least 12 of his works are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
David was “society’s architect,” gaining his commissions by word of mouth. The homes he designed (and sited, landscaped, and even provided the interior decor for) were quite grand… much more so than the Adlers’ home in Libertyville IL, now a center for the arts.
There’s been a four-art documentary made on David Adler’s career and the elegant homes he designed, but it’s hard to locate. Read more on the documentary’s website. If anyone knows where we can watch it, let us know.
In 1845, Florida became a state. When it did, the U.S. federal government granted to the new state, various lands… including that which is now Phillippi Estate Park.
In 1881, the State of Florida, facing financial straits, sold 4 million acres of land to Philadelphia resident Hamilton Disston for $1 million, including that which is now Phillippi Estate Park. More about Mr. Disston’s real estate ventures here.
In 1883, W.J. Drumright bought 40 acres for $50 and developed the land for farming, citrus groves, and beekeeping.
Around 1910, father-and-son team, Geoge and Woodburn Matheny bought the land to develop in a subdivision… by the name of Phillippi Park.
In 1911 Mabel Linn, a socialite from Chicago, bought 8 lots for “$1 and other considerations” from the Mathenys. But, maybe, she changed her mind about building a home here, fearing she’d miss the spring jonquils of Illinois.
In 1915, Edson Keith Jr. of Chicago bought the parcel that is now Phillippi Estate Park from Mabel Linn for $7000. He was retiring and became, perhaps, one of the first transplanted residents who said “That’s not the way we do it Up North.”
Want to take a auto tour of Sarasota County? Download, for free, at the Apple app store or Google Play, the interesting tours created for the county centennial in 2020 by the Friends of the Sarasota History Center. There are 9 tours in all, including, of course, Phillippi Estate Park. Narration and driving directions are triggered automatically as you drive. More info here.
Prefer a stroll? The Florida Humanities Council, in partnership with the Department of Cultural Affairs, Sarasota County, and Friends of Sarasota County Parks, offer, in their Florida Stories app, a walking tour of Phillippi Estate Park. Download the free Florida Stories app at the Apple app store or Google Play. More info here. And yes, dogs on leashes are welcome at PEP.
Too hot to walk, but you still want to learn about PEP? You can listen and/or read the transcript of the walking tour here.
I was talking to someone the other day who said, “Hey, I know that place. I drive by it several times a week.”
And I asked, “Have you ever pulled in?”
Nope, they hadn’t. Here’s all the Phillippi Estate Park loveliness they missed:
60 acres of 100+ year old Florida.
A shady playground for the kids.
A natural walking path through the mangroves.
Fishing piers on the tidal creek.
Observation decks (look for marine life!)
Canoe and kayak launches with plenty of parking.
Picnic tables under centuries-old oak trees.
A palm circle planted by some of the first folks from Up North.
An ancient midden (and in case you don’t know what a midden is, a signed self-guided tour explaining all for your delight.)
Oh, and there’s an app with a walking tour through the park.
A mansion built in 1916, and its outbuildings, including the Keith Farmhouse, a simple wooden structure that’s lasted over a century and due to become the Phillippi Interpretive Center.
And that’s without mentioning the seasonal (October-April) Wednesday Farmhouse Market, the free Brown Bag concerts in the winter, weekly docent-led tours of the Edson Keith Mansion on Market days, the rose garden, benches for sitting and contemplating life while gazing over the water… and of course, dogs, leashed, are welcome. A Save the Date: History Day in the Park will be Saturday March 25 2023.
So next time you drive by 5500 South Tamiami Trail, instead of just waving, go ahead, pull in. All that loveliness is waiting for you, dawn to dusk.