An expert on fur trading in 17th-century America is passionate about promoting Venice.
“When people go on vacation, they choose a place because of what makes it special,” Harry Klinkhamer, Historical Resource Manager of the City of Venice said.
He has been one of those passionate people since he took office 15 months ago, as a newcomer from the Midwest.
“Because of its aging population, there will always be fresh faces who need to learn about the city,” he said. “When people are new, it is important to learn the history and understand the place in order to feel a part of it.”
That is exactly what he has done.
What some of us took several years to learn about this John Nolen-planned city that was home to the Kentucky Military Institute and The Greatest Show on Earth for so many years, as well as being an Army Airbase during World War II, Klinkhamer has absorbed in just 15 months.
It might have come easier for him as he is an ardent historian. Klinkhamer came from Will County, Illinois, just outside of Chicago where he worked for the Will County Historical Society. The ardent historian also has worked for the American Association of State and Local History in Nashville and the Illinois State Historical Society.
His prior knowledge of Florida was limited to the Panhandle, he said.
“This part of Florida is very different,” Klinkhamer said.
So is this area’s history. He was an expert on the history of the upper Midwest, especially that of fur traders in the 1600s, and a few in the 1500s. While St. Augustine, which dates to 1565, is about as old, Venice is a mere child by comparison. It turned 91 this past May.
What surprised Klinkhamer the most about Venice?
“I did not expect how many people here are passionate about Venice. In other areas, people either take things for granted or simply don’t care.”
With the assistance of collection manager John Watson, Klinkhamer has set up an exhibit schedule that will constantly offer something new about Venice while always offering information on the key points that make Venice unique.
Seasonal exhibits such as a current one on Snook Haven are in a small room at the museum, actually the room that once was the bedroom of the museum’s largest donor, Julia Cousins Laning, whose mother managed the Triangle Inn back in the early 1930s when Laning was a youngster. (In addition to volunteering at the museum for many years, Laning donated in excess of $1 million to the museum through the Gulf Coast Foundation. Most of that donation funded the The Dale Laning and Julia Cousins Laning Archives & Research Center at 224 West Milan Ave.
The Snook Haven exhibit will remain through the summer. It will be replaced by an exhibit on Venice High School sports teams which have had a lengthy list of successes in multiple sports over the years.
Exhibits in the two rooms in front of that room are more permanent. The one in the middle room is about area fossils and similar discoveries, and the one in the forward room honors Dr. Albee, the world-famous orthopedic surgeon who purchased the land that mostly comprises today’s Venice, hired city planner John Nolen and then sold the land and plan to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers in Cleveland, Ohio. Albee walked away with close to a million dollars for the sale. He remained in the Venice area where he ran the city’s first medical center in what had been one of the city’s first three hotels. His former house in what is today known as Nokomis no longer exists.
“The Albee room is the biggest challenge,” Klinkhamer said.
Designed by a professional display company, it is not easily changed.
“Hallway photos currently feature area beaches but will change each January,” Klinkhamer said.
Venice inhabitants guide the exhibit in the museum’s main room.
“As the city’s museum, we need to direct the largest space to the big picture of Venice,” Klinkhamer said.
He has done that. With help from the Venice Art Center he found an artist who had painted scenes of Venice. Klinkhamer had those paintings enlarged to serve as backdrops for the main exhibit space. Historic artifacts within the exhibit will be exchanged regularly for protection from sunlight.
Also new, thanks to Watson, are large cut-out figures of Albee and the late Bertha Palmer, who at one time was the largest landowner in the area. The former Chicago socialite lived at what is now Historic Spanish Point. She had the Seaboard Airline Railroad move its terminus to what is today known as Venice from its former site in what then was given the name Nokomis, from the book, “Hiawatha.”
Long before the arrival of these people and even the first homesteaders in about 1868, the area was inhabited by Calusa Indians.
“I was at a conference in Kansas City and met a man there who used to live in Florida,” he said. “He creates tools like those used by the Calusas.”
Klinkhamer plans to order some of these replica tools for the museum’s exhibits regarding those early Native Americans.
Klinkhamer’s immediate goal for the first quarter of the year is to get 90 to 95 percent of the city’s archives settled into the Laning annex.
That will free up the Triangle Inn’s second floor for additional office space, a break room for the volunteers, storage for various supplies needed for the museum and a work area for Watson away from the main floor.
“When I came in there were a lot of balls in the air,” Klinkhamer said. “I plan to keep them going.”
One ball is the January 30 progressive dinner on the Cultural Campus, which comprises the Triangle Inn, Venice Community Center, the art center and the library. The $45 per person tickets are already nearly gone, he said. For reservations, call Mary Moscatelli at the Venice Art Center, 941-485-7136.
As the collection settles into the Laning annex, a few more volunteers will be needed, primarily as research assistants, Klinkhamer said.
Currently there are 22 volunteers including five docents and five research assistants. The rest take on a variety of tasks. Whenever the museum is open, two volunteers are there to assist visitors.
Klinkhamer also is there, keeping all those balls in the air.