The Coalition wishes to recognize individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions to the preservation and understanding of Sarasota County’s prehistorical and historical resources. Besides honoring those who have devoted themselves to maintaining the integrity of our remaining architectural, archaeological, and historical assets and educating the public to their importance, the Heritage Awards aim to raise the level of public support for government and citizen-based efforts to preserve our common past for future generations.


After an extensive nomination and review process by a professional and experienced advisory committee, an awardee was selected from each of the 2017 categories. The winning projects and individuals represent some of the best in the region and in their fields. 



Dr. George Luer has spent most of his life pursuing knowledge about the ancient Native American cultures that once inhabited Florida. As one of his nominators noted, he began his archaeological career in the backyard of his parents’ Sarasota home where he studied an Indian mound located there. His exploration and analysis of that mound led to his first scholarly article published in 1977 when he was but 21 years old. His career in archaeology has spanned four decades. He has studied shell middens and mound sites along Sarasota’s mainland coast as well as along the shores of the barrier islands. In 1982 he published what many consider a seminal article based on his research titled “Definition of Manasota Culture.” Coauthored by Marion Almy.

Besides an impressive array of scholarly publications, Dr. Luer has worked hard and successfully to preserve the relatively few remaining sites of ancient Native American settlements. He has helped record 383 archaeological sites in Sarasota County alone in the Florida Master Site File. Three of these are now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Both state and federal listings are important steps in preserving these irreplaceable resources from development. Besides his preservation and documenting activities, Dr. Luer has also built a strong record of leadership in professional organizations.

The committee felt Sarasota County was very fortunate to have Dr. Luer with us. His research and writing and advocacy have uncovered and interpreted many remains of early Native American cultures in this area. He also has sought to save these sites from the mindless destruction that obliterated many shell middens and burial mounds over the years. Thanks to Dr. Luer and his colleagues and groups such as those that support archaeological conservancy, like Friends of Little Salt Spring, Warm Mineral Springs/Little Salt Spring Archaeological Society, and Time Sifters Archaeology Society, we know a lot more about our County prehistory. They have saved key sites for future generations to appreciate and study.



The Historic Preservation Award goes to Michael M. Swain for his work in helping to create and above all for working to preserve an enormous archive of film and video on Sarasota County and surrounding areas constituting a remarkable record of life here in Florida from the 1960s to the 1980s. This great archive was donated to Sarasota County by Hack Swain Film and Video Productions. Mike had shot much of the footage and was an obvious choice in 2012 to join Historical Resources and begin processing, cataloging and conservation of this most interesting collection, So far Mike has gone through about 60% of the footage which includes transferring film images to a digital form. The fact that he shot the footage meant he remembered important details of the original production process that helped the cataloging.

Mike’s work is now on hold pending the acquisition of more resources. Some of the programs he created were histories of Sarasota, Venice, Bradenton, Polk County, and Winterhaven. Mike filmed interviews with still living pioneers in these places, gathering information that would otherwise be lost. Mike has also performed preservation services for the Ringling Museum and the Venice Museum and Archives.

The awards committee felt that Sarasota County was fortunate to have Mike Swain—not only because he filmed a collection of life in this area over thirty years or more, but also because he has preserved the majority of it. In the future, cultural and social historians will draw heavily on Mike’s work as they seek to explain the area’s history and development. 



Project leaders, Dr. Rosalyn Howard, Chris Wenzel, and Vickie Oldham, with HPCsc Chair, Dr. Frank Cassell

This project deals with the history of two African American enclaves in the City of Sarasota: Overtown and Newtown. This project grew out of the 2014 centennial observation of Newtown’s founding. Residents and leaders appreciated an important series of articles published in the Herald Tribune, but felt they did not fully explore the community’s history. With strong support from the City of Sarasota, an organization was created of local residents, government officials and academic specialists. This group conceived and continues to execute an ambitious plan to collect as much primary and secondary material as possible on the histories of these black communities, including letters, diaries, government documents, books, news reports and much else. Together with a carefully crafted oral history project, the aim was to create a large archive on all aspects of life in Overtown and Newtown.

There have been important results from the work. The boundaries of a possible Newtown Historic District have been mapped, and an architectural survey to identify significant structures has been completed. The project members have scoured public archives for relevant documents and photos, persuaded residents to contribute letters, diaries, and photos, and conducted the oral history portion of the study. All of this is significant and serves as the basis of a 350-page report that discusses the materials collected, the methods used, and the results obtained. The report is itself an important contribution to understanding the history of these communities.

The awards committee was very impressed with the project, particularly the broad partnership that made it possible, the high quality of the research efforts, and the fact that it has vastly expanded knowledge about the African American experience in Sarasota. Vickie Oldham is the Executive Director of the project, and was personally involved in the oral history component. She grew up in Newtown and has, as a journalist, presented programs about Sarasota History. She now leads the Newtown project into Phase II, which includes historical markers,creation of a walking tour, a book, a mobile app, and brochures.



Venice Heritage, Inc. was created a few years ago by the merger of the Triangle Inn Association and Friends of the Lord-Higel House. It advocates for historical preservation, mounts education programs, and provides support to the City-owned Venice Museum and Archives. Venice Main Street is a 501c3 formed in 1987 and is dedicated to Historical Preservation, Beautification, and Community and Economic vitality in the greater Venice area. Bill Wilson (Venice MainStreet) accepted the Public Education Award. 

The project here being recognized was part of Venice’s celebration of John Nolen, who planned the city of Venice in the 1920s. There was a problem. The outlines of the original district laid out by Nolen are irregular and most residents could not say where the boundary actually ran. The two originations proposed to identify the Nolen Historic District with street sign toppers. Each sign stated “John Nolen Historic District, 1926” and featured a reproduction of the original logo used in the city plans. All 189 street sign toppers installed by volunteers. Cost of $10,929 raised privately. The City of Venice approved the project, which has had educational value for residents and visitors alike.

The Awards Committee was impressed by the community support behind this project and the effective use of volunteers. The partnership of the sponsoring organizations with each other and the city was a great model for other communities' historical preservation and public education projects. The toppers will be permanent reminders of John Nolen and his plan and the effect both had on Venice’s development.