Pioneer Era: The Webb Family Homestead
The rich heritage of human habitation at Historic Spanish Point entered a new phase in 1867 when John Greene Webb and his family from Utica, New York established a homestead on the shores of Little Sarasota Bay. A Spanish trader the family met in Key West told them of an elevated point of land on the bay. When the Webbs found the special piece of Florida wilderness, it was just right for them and they settled here. The Webbs named their homestead Spanish Point to honor the good advice of the trader. (This is the only historical or archaeological evidence of a Spanish connection to the museum.)
John Webb and his family planted citrus, sugar cane, and many vegetables. The family built a packing house to prepare it for market. To transport the produce, John’s sons Jack and Will, along with son-in-law, Frank Guptill, built a ten ton schooner called Vision. John Webb’s wife, Eliza, her sister Emily, and their daughters, Anna, Lizzie and Ginnie also worked on the homestead in the early years. Anna and Ginnie liked to sketch their new surroundings, and the museum’s collections include many of these drawings and letters. A letter written by Eliza speaks volumes about pioneer life in Florida. (read it)
The Webbs encouraged winter boarders to come stay with them. These boarders enjoyed the mild climate, walks along the nearby beaches, fishing in the bay, hunting, sailing and other leisure activities of the day. Thus the first tourist resort in the area was established. Webb’s Winter Resort was a success for the family and one of the dormitories for the guests, built in 1885 by son Jack Webb, is now known as White Cottage. Today it features an exhibition about Mrs. Potter Palmer who also used the building for her guests when she owned the land.
John Webb became a Postmaster in 1881 when he requested a Post Office be placed at Spanish Point so the family wouldn’t have to sail the 15-20 miles to get their mail. The US Postal Service informed him that the place needed to have a one word name, so John chose “Osprey,” no doubt inspired by the birds so commonly seen over the bay. It was the only post office with that name in America, and letters would arrive from all over the world simply addressed, “Osprey, USA.”
In the early 1900s the Webb family sold parcels of the homestead to new settlers. All members of the original pioneer Webb family are buried in the Pioneer Cemetery next to Mary’s Chapel except for Jack Webb who had moved to California. The original Mary’s Chapel was built at the request of family members of Mary Sherrill who stayed at Webb’s Winter Resort and sadly died at a very young age. The chapel was reconstructed in 1986, with the original stained glass windows and bronze bell.
Florida owes its success to people like John Webb and his intrepid family who braved heat, humidity, insects, illness, fires, and risk of hurricanes to settle and build up the gulf coast region. Historic Spanish Point is proud of this aspect of our story and invites you to experience it first hand by strolling through the 30-acres of nature and gardens, and by engaging yourself in the past by touring the historic buildings.