Early Sarasota families: Browning and Whitaker

Browning and Whitaker early families

Stuffed with people and culture today, I can’t imagine Sarasota, Florida, once was a small fishing village with only a few hundred people at the turn of the 20th century. Charles N. Thompson was the manager of Ringling Brothers Circus in the 1890s. He checked out the village and bought a 154 acre track for $1650, then later added 30 acres more. Dresses for dancing cost that much today. Hard to imagine all that land then for the price of one dress now. Sounds like a fairytale.

Ringling Museum of Art

Ringling Museum of Art

Thompson had heard stories from his friend, H.C. Butler, about how wonderful Sarasota was. Butler had built a winter home there 1891. Thompson said that he was interested and would visit the area during the circus winter season. In the winter of 1895, Thompson and his wife traveled to Tampa. They wanted to see what their friend was talking about. Thompson rented a boat and left Tampa Bay for Sarasota Bay. He docked at the Butler dock and stayed with the Butlers while looking the area over.J6_museum

Walkway at Ringlings Art Museum

Walkway at Ringling’s Art Museum

The following winter, Thompson and his wife came to Sarasota and began to build their home. The home would later become a showplace for the Sarasota area. Thompson would talk about his winter home throughout the circus world.J5_museum


Ringling Museum

Being friends with the Ringling Brothers, he would boast of his home in Sarasota.



Another friend joined Thompson in convincing the Ringling Brothers to come to Sarasota. Ralph Caples, Agent for the New York Central Railroad, also owned land in Sarasota. On November 3, 1911, Caples bought the Thompson home and some additional land.museum-30

Bronze sculpture, bull and person tied on top

Bronze bull sculpture (can you see the figure on top of the bull?)

Caples sold the Thompson estate less than three months later to John Ringling. After selling his home, Thompson built a second home next to it. He sold other sections of his land to Charles Ringling in 1915. Ultimately he sold the site of his second home to Charles Ringling so that he could build a home for his daughter, Hester Ringling Sanford.

Ringling's fountain

Ringling’s fountain

Thompson continued to develop his interests in Sarasota until his death in 1918. Although not as well known today as the Ringlings and Caples, Thompson played a pivotal role in the development of early Sarasota.

Sarasota Bay today

Sarasota Bay today




The grounds of the Ringling museum are beautiful, as you can see in the photos above. The museum is filled with 16th century to 21st century art.

There doesn’t appear to be a picture anywhere of the Thompson Home. Ringling has hundreds of photos of  his architecture and collections. T

Mark D. Smith, Archivist
Sarasota History Center

Thank you to Mark D. Smith for much of this information. Sarasota has the reputation of being a top cultural center in Florida. Have you been to Sarasota?

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