Historic Spanish Point

Historic Site in Southwest Gulf Coast

Explore layers of history at this environmental and archaeological site, which covers a 30-acre peninsula jutting out into Little Sarasota Bay. Covered in shell middens, small pioneer cottages, a chapel and a citrus packing house, the peninsula was bought in 1910 by wealthy widow Bertha Potter Palmer, one of Sarasota's most dynamic entrepreneurs. A museum on the property tells her story beside a unique excavated shell midden and several pioneer homesteads and outbuildings.

Oddly, there were never any Spaniards at Historic Spanish Point. Instead the name derives from a friendly Spanish trader who tipped off early settlers John and Eliza Webb about the idyllic location when they were searching for land to farm in 1867. The narrow peninsula stretches out into Little Sarasota Bay, with an undulating landscape of prehistoric middens covered in tropical foliage. Eventually the Webbs accumulated the entire peninsula, which they planted with citrus they shipped to market in Cedar Key and Key West. Wander the 1-mile trail (tours via electric cart are also available) around the site and you can see the wooden packing house, Mary’s Chapel, the Webb-family cemetery and Frank Guptill’s beautiful wooden homestead, which he built for their daughter Lizzie.

The Webbs farmed here for more than 40 years before selling the land to Bertha Palmer in 1910. The prominent Chicago real-estate developer and cofounder of Marshall Field and Company treasured the beauty of the place when she selected it as the anchor of her 350-acre winter estate. She left intact the shell middens as well as the Webb homestead, outbuildings and chapel while developing her gardens in keeping with the tropical landscape. Now pergolas, classic Greek columns, lawns and flower gardens punctuate the wild foliage.

To cap it all, between 1959 and 1962 the Smithsonian Institution partially excavated one of the shell middens. You can enter the mound and see what the layers of shell deposits and prehistoric paraphernalia look like from the inside. It’s the only such site in Florida and is quite fascinating. Viewed altogether, the Point offers a unique narrative of Florida’s prehistoric and pioneering history.