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The History & Preservation Coalition of Sarasota County announces nominations are open for the 2017 Sarasota County Heritage Awards.

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, archeological, and historical assets and educating the public to their importance, the Heritage Awards aim to raise the level of public support for governmental and citizen-based efforts to preserve our common past so future generations may learn from it.

All nomination materials must be submitted by email or regular mail by January 15, 2018. Award recipients will be notified on or after February 15, 2018. Awardees will be announced publicly in March, and the Awards Ceremony Luncheon will be held April 7, 2018 at the Venice Golf and Country Club.

The 2017 Award Categories are:

1. Archaeological Conservancy Award – Recognizes outstanding efforts to preserve and document prehistorical sites and/or effective advocacy of archaeological conservation

2. Historical Research Award - Awarded for outstanding contributions through research and publication to increase knowledge of Sarasota County’s past.

3. Lillian Burns Individual Achievement Award – Conferred upon an individual who has made profound contributions to the history and preservation movement in Sarasota County. Contributions may include scholarly research and publication, education, museology, history and preservation organizational leadership, and public advocacy for history and preservation. The Awards Committee will be most impressed with nominations that document sustained excellence and high achievement.

4. Organizational Achievement Award – Presented to a Sarasota County historical or preservation organization for outstanding success in historical preservation, historical education, and/or support of historical research. The Awards Committee welcomes nominations of organizations that have successfully completed a project or a series of projects that have had a significant impact on preserving and understanding Sarasota County’s history.

5. Historical Collections Preservation Award – Recognizes outstanding work in preserving, describing, and providing public access to historical collections located within Sarasota County. The award will be given to individuals or organizations that demonstrate the use of best practices in the field of archival management.

6. Historic Structure Preservation Award- Recognizes and celebrates the best preservation projects in Sarasota County. Nominated projects must have been completed within the last five years of the submission deadline. Nominations are judged for their success in preservation, rehabilitation, and/or restoration of our architectural heritage in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior standards as well as the impact of the project on the community.

7. Student Scholar Award - Promotes and recognizes excellence in student contributions to the field of history, archaeology, or preservation. Contributions should focus on Sarasota County history and can be in the form of a research paper, exhibit, website, or documentary. Nominations are open to juniors and seniors in high school and freshmen and sophomore college students.


Nominators must select one of the categories. However, the committee may move the nomination to another category if the members believe it to be more appropriate. Nominations may be emailed to scheritageawards@gmail.com or by mail to History & Preservation Coalition of Sarasota County, P.O. Box 895, Venice, FL 34284-0895. 

The Heritage Awards Committee intends to uphold high standards so that these awards will be meaningful. The committee reserves the right not to make an award in a particular category if it feels that none of the nominations have made a compelling case. Individual self-nominations are not accepted. All decisions by the Heritage Awards Committee are final. It is the Coalition’s hope that all historical, preservation, and archaeological groups in Sarasota County will enthusiastically support this effort to honor our own and raise public awareness of the work we do.


After an extensive nomination and review process by a professional and experienced advisory committee, an awardee was selected from each of the 2016 categories. The winning projects and individuals represent some of the best in the region and in their fields. 

ARCHAEOLOGICAL CONSERVANCY: Work to preserve and document prehistoric sites and/or effective advocacy of archaeological conservation.


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.


HISTORIC PRESERVATION: Efforts to preserve historical sites and/or effective advocacy of historical preservation efforts in the county.


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. 


HISTORICAL RESEARCH: Contributions through research and publication to increase knowledge of Sarasota County’s past.


Key project leaders, Dr. Rosalyn Howard, Chris Wenzel, and Vickie Oldham, and Coalition 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.


PUBLIC EDUCATION: Programs or individual efforts to inform the public about Sarasota County’s history and its significance.


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.