Explore Sarasota's Maine Colony and Its Historic Clubhouse
Unless you live in the neighborhood, you may not have heard of it. Even if you have, maybe you’ve missed its quasi-hidden location. After all, even the Sarasota County Propery Appraiser's website has the address of the Phillippi Crest Community Clubhouse listed as vacant land. But at 99 years old, it still remains the social anchor of a historic neighborhood originally called Maine Colony.
In 1916, the development of Maine Colony was front-page news, when a group of Maine residents announced plans to build winter homes and a community clubhouse in a south Sarasota neighborhood near Phillippi Creek. The property was purchased from the Palmer family, but World War I delayed construction of the clubhouse until the mid-1920s.
Early aerial photos show many homes on Ashton Road, the main roadway, as well as on its side streets, including Portland and Damariscotta, named after the hometowns of the area residents.
The wood frame clubhouse was a welcoming place where the Maine tourists would converge for potlucks, dances, fish frys, card games and more.
Fran Lawrence, 83, remembers when her dad was president of the club in the early 1950s. Her family came from Maine. “They would cook on that ancient stove and make these great big meals for a small charge,” she says. "Sometimes someone played the piano or put on records and we would dance."
In a 1987 letter, Carl Davis, one of the grandchildren of the first Main Colony settlers, wrote that the clubhouse came into reality since “Sarasota was a sleepy little southern town where the only excitement was generated by Ringling Bros.”
Although the neighborhood is no longer just a Maine thing, with new builds dotting some streets, it still maintains some of that sleepy feeling.
Most homes are one-story, wood-frame affairs with large front porches and gabled roofs. Some side streets are unpaved. Many of the first homes were kit homes that came from the north, traveling by train to Tampa and then by boat to Maine Colony by way of Phillippi. Phillippi Crest Community Clubhouse co-president Anja Palombo lives in one, evidenced by the numbered ceiling beams she discovered in her home next door to the clubhouse.
The clubhouse itself has a corbelled brick chimney and an inviting porch as wide as the building itself. Over the years, the generous-sized lawn has hosted outdoor events like concerts and cookouts.
For the past year and a half, co-presidents Palombo and Jeffrey Frank have taken up the baton of maintaining the clubhouse, which has always been funded by donations from area residents. The historic social hub needs a new roof, and this Saturday marks the first Maine Colony Community Day to raise funds for the work, while also exposing the clubhouse, hidden at the end of a road, to a wider audience who appreciate its historic significance.
“We're trying to enlarge our outreach, and have more of a cultural center going and get more engagement," says Palombo, who also teaches art at Suncoast Polytechnical High School. "This building has so much potential for presentations and workshops, as opposed to a sterile classroom."
"I think it's underutilized because people don’t know about it,” says Frank, a psychotherapist who is also a historic architecture nut.
A stranger to air conditioning, the wood floor inside the Phillippi Crest Community Clubhouse has an endearing slant, and the expansive space smells like warm wood and damp Florida air. A table holds old handwritten ledgers, with the flowery cursive script of past board members and presidents. The room also has old card-playing tables and a fireplace. In a room at the back, an ancient cast iron wood burning stove still sits.
Near historic documents connected to the clubhouse, there's an original Ford Model T hubcap, uncovered on the grounds by local metal detector aficionados. (The Ford Model T was one of the first mass-produced cars, and looks more like a chariot than what we picture a car to look like today.)
In 2005, the streets comprising Maine Colony, from Ashton to Grafton Road to the north and from Swift Road to the creek, were placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Altogether, roughly 70 homes were designated as historic buildings, representing 84 percent of the 24-acre district.
"We're not looking to make tons of money with this event, but this won’t be here forever without our eyes on it," says Frank, who lives in one of the historic homes he’s respectfully remodeled.
“I'm seeing older neighborhoods get developed and it's not pretty," says Palombo. "We want to get people to appreciate the old neighborhood, especially since we're seeing teardowns of the old houses."
The first Maine Colony Community Day runs 11 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday, April 2. You can visit the clubhouse and historic neighborhood, and enjoy a wide range of family-friendly fun, with food by Spice Boys, live entertainment and hands-on experiences for children and adults. For a full list of the day’s activities, click here. Non-Phillippi Crest members are asked to donate $10 to help offset expenses and support the clubhouse.