The earliest evidence of human activity on what is now the Elling Eide Center property can be found in shell middens along the bay. A shell midden is an archaeological feature that preserves the debris of human activity, in this case where resources from the bay were processed by Native Americans who inhabited the region. There are two archaeological sites that have been identified on the property, “Indianola,” a shell midden recorded in 1976 along the bayfront to the west of the Everett Barney Lagoon, and the “Indianola Scatter Site,” which was recorded in 2010. Excavations of these sites suggest that the most likely use of the land by early inhabitants was repeated, short-term use by small groups during the Weeden Island Period (ca. 200-900 CE), as the edible resources, were limited and seasonal. The “Ralston Mound,” a burial mound likely dating to circa 600-800 CE, has also been recorded just north of the property on the Sarasota County-owned Bayonne Preserve.
Native people continued to live in the area around Sarasota until the Seminole Wars (1816-1858) and the Armed Occupation Act of 1842 effectively removed them from Sarasota and its environs and opened the area to private ownership. However, if nearby archaeological sites are any guide, the area around what is now the Elling Eide Center property may have been abandoned as early as 1100 CE, and there is no record of European contact thereafter the first Spanish explorers arrived in the region in the early sixteenth century.
Development of the wider Sarasota area accelerated in the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1851, William H. Whitaker became the first permanent settler of European descent in the area. He was followed by notable figures like John Webb, who named his settlement Spanish Point, now a museum just three miles south of the Eide Center in Osprey. They were in turn followed by many others who would shape the history and culture of Sarasota, including John W. Gillespie, Mrs. Potter Palmer, and Mable and John Ringling.
Everett Hosmer Barney was the first person to own in any continuous way what now constitutes the Elling Eide Center’s property. Toward the end of the American Civil War (1861-1865), Barney and partner John Berry invented the widely popular clip-on ice and roller skates and formed a company, Barney and Berry. In 1902, Barney purchased land owned by Bullard and Bissell along Little Sarasota Bay and named the estate “Bayou Villa.” He commissioned a winter home, a one-and-a-half story wood frame vernacular house that was distinguished by its prominent brick chimneys, wraparound porch, and steeply pitched gable roofs.
Barney raised alligators for their hides in what is now named the “Everett Barney Lagoon.” A wire fence lined the perimeter to prevent the alligators from escaping. Workers gathered alligator eggs and placed them in an outbuilding north of the Barney Residence until they hatched. The baby alligators, estimated to number in the thousands, were then released into a 30-foot wide spring-fed pool.
Everett Barney died in 1916 and his estate was sold to Helen Brooks Smith in late 1920. In the 1920s, Florida was in the middle of a land boom and Smith sought to develop the expansive grounds into a residential community she named “Indianola.” Smith served food and sold gasoline, fruits, fish, and oysters from “The Club House,” the rechristened name of the Barney estate. However, no more than a dozen parties bought land in Indianola and as the land boom came to an end, Smith decided to sell the property.
Smith sold Indianola to the Longmire Company in 1925, but two years later it was under the control of the Indianola Development Company then led by president E.A. Donovan and secretary Walter H. Donovan. In 1930, Holt W. Page bought the remains of Indianola Park. By then, the former residence of Everett Barney had burned down.
On May 11, 1935, Oliver Luther Mitchell bought Page’s approximately 100-acre property for $12,317.67. Mitchell, a widowed Chicago medical doctor, moved south seeking relief from the severe asthma attacks he suffered during cold, northern winters. He traveled throughout Florida with his son, Oliver Luther Mitchell Jr., before selecting Indianola.
In March 1936, Mitchell bought a circa 1895 house in Bradenton from Marvell J. Gainey for $1,500 and paid Robert T. Garrett $602.80 to float it on a barge to his tract. The Mitchell residence was placed on the footprint where the Barney residence once stood.
In fall 1936, Dr. Mitchell’s daughter, Dr. Grace Bush Eide, a medical doctor who had also studied law, moved to
the property with her husband, Dr. Iver Eide, and their son, Elling Oliver Eide.
Two agricultural operations are evident from 1948 aerial photographs of the property: a citrus grove located to the southeast between the water tower and pump house, and a stable. Mitchell’s larger grove to the north is also visible.
Elling would later describe life at Indianola as “bohemian.” He often fished and collected oysters, scallops, and clams from Little Sarasota Bay and his family had animals such as a horse, chickens, roosters, peacocks, opossums, gopher tortoises, dogs, and cats, including one with five legs named “Royal Flush.”
Dr. Oliver Luther Mitchell, Sr. died in 1958, and the estate was inherited by his children, his son Dr. Oliver Luther Mitchell Jr., and daughter, Dr. Grace Eide who continued to live on the property with her husband, Dr. Iver Eide.
Elling attended Southside Elementary School, Sarasota Junior High, and Sarasota High School. He graduated from high school in 1953 and matriculated at Harvard University on a scholarship. Eide graduated summa cum laude from Harvard with a degree in Far Eastern Languages in 1957. He then joined the United States Marine Corps and was stationed throughout Asia before he returned to Harvard in 1965 as a Junior Fellow. He was an assistant professor of Chinese at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign from 1970 to 1971 when he took a leave of absence to return to his estate to care for the family and the property. Upon his return, he planted hundreds of exotic fruiting and flowering plants. Elling also had deep expertise in horticulture and he planted hundreds of plants and trees from around the world. Many of these were rare and unusual and produced either showy flowers or edible fruits.
Elling's First Library
Elling’s first library was a little brown house with the informal name displayed in Chinese characters, 縹囊齋 (piaonang zhai), near the front door. The name translates into English as “Blue Bag Study.” This was a reference to scholars in the early medieval (200-600 CE) and Tang periods (618-907 CE) who carried books in blue silk bags. Translated by our librarian, Hannah Liu, piao 縹 means light blue or cyan, nang 囊 means bag, and zhai 齋 here means studio or study. Although piaonang 缥囊 means “a book bag made of light cyan (or blue) silk,” it may also refer to the books and scrolls themselves. This small study still stands near the research library.
It was Elling’s vision to begin work on a large home and facility to house his vast personal collection of texts and artwork. In 2005, Elling sold a portion of the estate for almost 30 million dollars to fund this project. In 2008, Elling began work with local architect Guy Peterson to plan the construction. Sadly, he would never witness its completion as on January 2, 2012, Elling O. Eide passed away. The Elling Eide Center Research Library is Elling O. Eide’s vision realized.