We are pleased to present a wonderful article about the Lemon Bay Historical Society written by Jana Susan Paley for the Facebook group “Sarasota History & SRQ Quiz.”
Those of us interested in the preservation of the cultural heritage of the entire Gulf Coast will be pleased to learn that residents of the southern portions of Sarasota County are just as active in banding together to guard area history as the people of Tampa Bay, Manatee County, and the City of Sarasota. Almost 35 years ago, a concerned group of citizens in Lemon Bay organized what we now know as the Lemon Bay Historical Society.
Sixty years ago, the people of Englewood started a Labor Day tradition known as Pioneer Days, a celebration which has grown into one of the best attended end-of-summer events in the state. During the 1983 Pioneer Days Celebration which honored Englewood’s first newspaper editor, Josephine Cortes who was also the founder of the annual festival, a group of Lemon Bay residents, many of whom were area natives, decided it was time for their community which surrounds the long and narrow 8,000 acre body of water known today as the Lemon Bay Aquatic Preserve to preserve its distinct heritage.
The Lemon Bay Historical Society (Society) is a two county effort–Lemon Bay stretches from Sarasota County into Charlotte County. Concerned residents held the first organizational meeting of the Lemon Bay Historical Society in May of 1984 and they readied for a kick-off party at the following Pioneer Days Celebration. The group’s inaugural consisted of a mullet roast for 150 people. Making the event particularly special was that the mullet was freshly caught by founding members of the group, the Platt family and Bill Davis, while Bob Cashatt foraged swamp cabbage which was prepared using the famous recipe of Eula Davis, Bill’s mother. Next time we have a Local Recipe’s Week, we will be calling the Lemon Bay Historical Society so we all can learn a proper mullet roasting technique as well as Eula’s method for cooking swamp cabbage.
In 1985, the founders of the Lemon Bay Historical Society officially incorporated the group as a non-profit organization. They enunciated a clear mission–“Perpetuating the legacy of the past and honoring the pioneer settlers of the Lemon Bay area.” Turns out that master swamp cabbage forager Bob Cashatt was also a terrific graphic designer; he created the yellow, gold, and blue logo for the Society which is still in use today. The Society encourages anyone interested in preserving the heritage of the Lemon Bay area to join–membership dues are just $15 per year for a single person and $20 for a family. Members meet the last Tuesday of each month from September through April. If you are interested in joining, just go to the Society’s website and you can download a form.
Like the Englewood Area Historical Museum, the Lemon Bay Historical Society does not have a large collection of photographs, documents, or artifacts, but to make up for not having large permanent exhibits, the group is big on sponsoring experiential events. For example, in March the group hosted author, retired business owner, ship captain, and world traveler D.L. Havlin spoke at the Society. Havlin says “history is often my brick-mason for it can provide a building in which my story can live and breathe.” He spent the evening regaling the audience with his stories about life in southwest Florida.
Last February, Carol Mahler entertained the crowd with tales of Florida Crackers, Seminole Indians, and the history of the Lemon Bay area. The Society entitled her presentation “Florida Folklore with a Lemon Bay Twist” and many of her stories concentrated on traditions associated with the community. Mahler is a professional storyteller who serves as the coordinator of the Desoto County Historical Society’s Research Library and Museum which often shares common content with the Lemon Bay Historical Society. If you have never heard of Mahler, you might want to check out her “History Mystery” column in the weekly Arcadia’s weekly newspaper, Arcadian which is reprinted from time to time in Sarasota publications. Mahler also wrote a children’s book “Adventures int eh Charlotte Harbor Watershed” which is annually distributed to students in seven Gulf Coast area counties.
Residents of the Lemon Bay community also enjoy open-mike nights sponsored by the Society. During the last event, 13 people showed off their talent by performing original songs. Cash prizes were awarded for the best act and for the runner-up.
Events mainly take place at the historic Green Street Church. Thought the Society owns the white clapboard building, the land it sits on is leased and the lease must be renewed in May of 2018. Though the Society has offered to purchase the underlying property, the owner prefers to continue to lease the property. The Society members want to insure the future of the iconic building by moving it to a lot located on the south side of the Lemon Bay Cemetery. Currently, the Society is raising money for the effort. If you are interested in providing support, take a look at the Society’s website.
The Society’s biggest annual event is the Cracker Fair which takes place each February around the time of Valentine’s Day. Many Society members dress up as Florida pioneers, play music, and conduct historical activities. The most anticipated event of the Cracker Fair is the Lemon Dessert Contest which is co-sponsored by the Lemon Bay Garden Club. Lemons must be the main ingredient of the dessert and though there is some prize money for the winner, most people who enter do so to earn a year’s worth of bragging rights.
The annual event is held at Englewood’s Pioneer Park near the Elsie Quirk Library. Perhaps next year a group of us Spoonbills can support the Society by attending. By the way, you can taste the lemony treats entered in the contest by donating a buck a plate. Judging from the photos of some of the previous entries, it looks like a bargain for anyone who as a tart-tooth.
If you want to support the Society but you are not necessarily interested in becoming an active member, you might be interested in purchasing a “Move & Save the Church” tee shirt. The Society also publishes a photo essay book which shows “then & now” pictures of the area. Each year the Society updates the spiral-bound book–who knows–maybe next year this feature essay will be included in the publication.