February is American History Month!

Teaching American History Grant Cohort Members, Ca’ d’Zan Mansion

Teaching American History Grant Cohort Members, Ca’ d’Zan Mansion

I am a history teacher, a lover of American History, and also member of the Florida Virtual School Teaching American History Grant. During the past four years, my grant cohort colleagues and I have visited historical places in the United States. Our studies began in colonial times in Williamsburg and St. Augustine; included slavery and the Civil War, for which we visited Antietam and Gettysburg; and continued with the progressive era where we stayed in Florida and visited Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Sarasota. In honor of this month, I wanted to share some great historical places in Florida, perfect for kids and adults! 

Our first stop is the really incredible Ringling Museum (also called the Ca’ d’Zan Mansion) in Sarasota. Ringling, as in the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, tells the incredible story of how a circus performer became a successful entrepreneur and progressive thinker in the early 1900s. John and Mable Ringling had a modern home for the time, equipped with a refrigerator. I found this fascinating, as we tend to forget about modern conveniences in our lives. How many times a day do we go to the fridge? Their home was full of art, textiles, and grandiosity. For more information, visit www.ringling.org.

Our second historical stop takes us to Tampa, where I was in awe of the lavish hotel created by Henry Plant. What a gorgeous building!!! Mr. Plant created the “Tampa Bay Hotel” (now the University of Tampa) in the early 1900s. People used to travel by train car (and the train literally stopped at the front doors of the hotel). The Tampa Bay Hotel closed after Plant died and his second wife and son no longer wished to care for the property. The hotel, in Mr. Plant’s lifetime, cost millions of dollars to open and operate; his family sold the hotel to the City of Tampa for $120,000 – what a deal! The University was permitted to use the hotel as long as they created a museum, open to the public. While on a tour of the museum, I was in awe of a story our guide shared. He reported that a museum employee was looking on eBay when he found a key, which indicated it was from Henry Plant’s Tampa Bay Hotel. He purchased this key for $15. The museum did some research and found that the key belonged to room 110. When they went to where room 110 was located, some 120 years prior, the key fit into the lock and worked! Please see the image. How funny, 21st Century technology connecting us to history! For more information, visit www.plantmuseum.com.

Tampa Bay Hotel Room Key (Photo Credit: Michelle Licata)

Tampa Bay Hotel Room Key (Photo Source: Michelle Licata)

Our last Florida historical spot is the Kingsley Plantation. For those of you ever near or around Jacksonville, the Kingsley Plantation is worth a visit! You’ll see the home where Anna Kingsley, the former slave and wife to Zephaniah Kingsley lived. She owned the property and owned slaves. Anna is an example of how African Americans shaped our country’s history. Although she left no personal descriptions of her life, when you visit, you are immersed into the life she and many other slaves lived. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/timu/historyculture/kp.htm.

Michelle Licata, FLVS 2013 Teacher of the Year, is a National Board Certified Teacher. She chose to teach social studies because she enjoys exploring past and present “real life” issues that really matter to her students.

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