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Long before there was Sarasota, there was Terra Ceia. The Timucuan Indians lived here for hundreds of years; it was their prime hunting and fishing area, as evidenced by the mounds of ancient artifacts. When white settlers arrived in the 1840s, the island was the first place they headed for. It had everything—fishing, hunting, great soil for agriculture, natural beauty and a perfect location, right at the mouth of Tampa Bay.

The settlers built homesteads and substantial businesses, and many became quite prosperous. The local produce, particularly the flowers, became world famous; asters from Terra Ceia were a hit at the inauguration of William Howard Taft in 1908.

It was around this time that the home at 401 Terra Ceia Road was built. Realtor Jeanette Ward has found two different dates for its construction. “One was 1900. The other was 1908,” she says. “And we’re still trying to find out who originally built it.”

In style, it’s a classic American farmhouse, with a wide screened porch running across the front, overlooking a long driveway that heads toward the road. The interior features several rooms with the original shiplap paneling, guaranteed to warm the hearts of Chip and Joanna Gaines and other old-home lovers. You’ll find a large dining room, a fireplace, and wood floors everywhere. There are three bedrooms on the second floor, plus a sunporch with views over the property.

The home has had additions and renovations over the years; a new owner would probably want another remodel to bring out the home’s history and charm even more effectively.

The Nanney family owned the property for over 40 years and ran a large nursery there. It’s still in operation near the house but under a different owner (Amerson’s Landscaping), and the home’s lot size is down to three acres. But many sellable Washingtonian palms still dot the property, giving a new owner (it’s on the market for $324,900) the unusual opportunity to add “palm tree farmer” to his or her resume.

It’s a happy irony that the area’s first community is among its most unchanged. There is still a feeling of working agriculture, with small farms, nurseries, herds of goats, and a few produce stands. No town really exists, but there is an old post office (formerly a bank) and there are several picturesque churches.

Yes, new residents are moving in, although there has been no ruinous development yet. People from St. Pete and Tampa have discovered the place and take advantage of the easy commute—just 18 miles to downtown St. Pete, 39 to downtown Tampa.

The newcomers tend to buy—or build—large Key West-style houses, three stories high, with porches on all sides and occasionally sporting Victorian embellishments. Many have views of not only the water but the nearby Sunshine Skyway bridge as well. These homes usually start at around half a million and can easily go up to three or four times that. You’ll also find smaller Florida homes of all styles and ages sprinkled about. They start at around $250,000.

Terra Ceia still values its history. It boasts the state’s first Women’s Club, dating back to 1901 and still in existence as the Terra Ceia Village Improvement Association. Their biggest activity is the annual Mullet Smoke-Off, held each year in November. If mullet is to your taste, this is the place to be. You can sample smoked mullet, mullet cakes, mullet spread—the list goes on and on. Many participants show up for the famous mullet toss, in which a mullet (recently deceased) is tossed 50 or so feet into a toilet, with prizes for the winner. The event has become so popular that several years ago PETA showed up to protest cruelty to mullets, thus raising the interesting philosophical question: Can you be cruel to a dead fish?

The answer is apparently no. PETA backed off, and the mullet tossing has become the latest chapter in Terra Ceia’s colorful history of Indians, explorers, pirates, agricultural pioneers and, now, business types from Tampa looking for the simple life—and a great old house to remodel.

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