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Plants & History
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens


The Historic Spanish Point campus protects and interprets the largest existing Native American village site between Charlotte Harbor and Crystal River.  Over 4,500 years ago, the first Floridians settled around a fresh water spring and harvested tremendous quantities of shellfish from the adjacent shallow waterways.  Stacking the shells of scallops, clams, oysters, whelks, and conches, these early people adapted the landscape while creating massive mounds upon which they could live and prosper.  Over time, the mound took on a circular shape around the life-giving spring, and grew to a height of 20 feet above sea level.

A few thousand years later, a new mound was constructed, extending straight out into the bay.  This formed the peninsula – or point – that gives the campus its name.  Discovering the site centuries after the departure of the Native Americans, Spanish fishermen based in Cuba established camps on the old shell mounds.  One of these fishermen told the pioneering Webb family about the site, and after searching the coastline they found the place, built a homestead and named it Spanish Point.

Upon his arrival at Spanish Point, pioneer John Webb began corresponding with the Smithsonian Institute, and in 1871, he reported the discovery of human remains found while plowing his garden. Within a few years, the site was attracting archaeologists, paleontologists, and conchologists who stayed at what became Webb’s Winter Resort.  These scientists were amazed at Webb’s discoveries and used the resort as a home base for their own scientific explorations of southwest Florida.  In 1884, Webb opened a post office at the point and named it Osprey, for the ever-present fish hawk.

In 1910, Mrs. Bertha Honore Palmer purchased the site for her Florida home, and called it The Oaks.  She preserved the ancient shell mounds and created a connected set of gardens throughout the site.  Her gardens took advantage of the wonderful views and cool breezes made possible by the elevated shell mounds created by the Native Americans thousands of years before.  At a time when most people were selling their shell mounds for road building material, Mrs. Palmer embraced their value and protected them for future generations.

In the late 1950’s Bertha Palmer’s grandson Gordon Palmer invited archaeologists Ripley and Adelaide Bullen to archaeological conduct research at The Oaks.  Their research revealed numerous discoveries including some of the oldest known Native American pottery. Radio carbon dating revealed that the village had been occupied for more than 3,000 years, beginning more than 4,500 years ago.  Three decades later, the Palmer family donated the site to preserve and share it with future generations.