Charles Ringling (December 2, 1863 - 1926) was one of the owners of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. He was in charge of production. His wife, Edith, participated in the business and was a member of the board of directors of the circus. Edith Ringling continued in that capacity after the death of Charles.
Charles Ringling bought large tracts of land in the Sarasota, Florida area, including the Gillespie Golf Course. He developed the Courthouse Subdivision, which extended the business center of Sarasota beyond the bay front. He donated land for a courthouse to serve as the county seat for the newly created, Sarasota County. He built the high-rise Terrace Hotel near the railroad terminus and a bank. Ringling Boulevard, which winds eastward from Tamiami Trail was named in honor of Charles Ringling because of his many civic activities in the community.
The gracious winter retreat of Edith and Charles Ringling was built on Sarasota Bay in the Shell Beach subdivision platted in 1896 by Mary Louise and Charles N. Thompson. The Thompsons, associated with another circus, were instrumental in interesting members of the Ringling family about living in Sarasota.
Their retreat was completed in 1926 and included a home for their daughter, Hester, and her children. As well as being intended for large social gatherings and performances, the compound was designed to be completely self-sufficient, including staff quaters, farming, and livestock. The bay front homes are connected by a covered walkway that creates a transition between the two architectural styles. Within months of the completion of the construction, Charles died, but Edith Ringling and their daughter continued to reside on the estate for many decades. The structures on what came to be known internationally as the Edith Ringling Estate, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of a historic district that includes the retreat of Ellen and Ralph Caples, the retreat of Mable and John Ringling, and the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, as well. The homes of Edith and Hestor often were featured in magazines and periodicals because of their architecture, landscaping, and interior design. The civic, musical, theatrical, and social activities of the women were of interest to readers also.
In the 1960s, New College of Florida purchased the estate for development as part of its campus and uses the historic buildings for administrative purposes and special events.