Photos by:
Les Freed


History of Sarasota, Florida

The presence of people, possibly Paleo-Indian, along the west coast of Florida dates back to around 8,000 B.C. and there is evidence that native Americans lived along the waterfront of Sarasota and southwest Florida more than 3,000 years ago. In the 1500's, the first Spanish explorers, Ponce de Leon, Panfilo Narvaez, and Hernando De Soto landed on the Gulf Coast in search of gold and silver. In 1821, the United States acquired the territory of Florida and in 1824, the Armed Occupation Act allowed for private ownership of land along Sarasota Bay, but only for incoming settlers. The native Seminoles were not allowed to become citizens or own land and were pushed even further south. In 1855, the settlers won their war with the Seminoles but it wasn't until the 1880's that development really began.

In 1885, Sarasota was promoted in Scotland. Many families sailed to America expecting fields of vegetables, housing, and citrus groves. They found only a stump-filled Main Street and most of the colonists left. John Hamilton Gillespie, a Scottish aristocrat, lawyer and member of the Royal Company of Archers, Queen's Bodyguard for Scotland, built what is believed to be America's first golf course in Sarasota. Gillespie also built the DeSoto Hotel on Main Street for tourists and prospective investors. In 1902, he was elected as Sarasota's first mayor.

Scottish influence remains evident through the annual Sarasota Highland Games and Festival and the Riverview High Kiltie band, which wears authentic kilts and features bagpipers and Highland dancers. The Crowley Museum and Nature Center in eastern Sarasota vividly demonstrates what life was like for Sarasota's first settlers in the late 19th century.

Sarasota began attracting wealthy Americans in the 1910's as it does today. Bertha Palmer, widow of Chicago developer Potter Palmer, came to Sarasota and built extensive gardens on her waterfront winter estate, Osprey Point, which is today's Historic Spanish Point. Palmer also purchased a 30,000-acre ranch in eastern Sarasota which is now Myakka River State Park.

John Ringling, of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus fame, made a mark on the community of Sarasota in various ways. In the 1920s, he and his wife, Mable, built a magnificent Venetian-style estate on Sarasota Bay named Cà d' Zan. Then they built an art museum for their collection of works by Peter Paul Rubens and other 17th-century Italian and Flemish art. In addition, John used his circus elephants to help build the first bridge from the mainland to St. Armands Key, which he developed as a commercial and residential center.

The circus' winter quarters were moved to Sarasota in 1927, thus creating a new identity for Sarasota as a "circus town." Now Sarasota is known as the "Circus Capitol of the World" and is home to many circuses. In 1949, the gymnastics program at Sarasota High School was expanded to include circus acts and the Sarasota Sailor Circus was born. Sarasota County is the only public school system in the United States that sponsors an after school youth circus program known as the Sailor Circus and is also home to Ringling's Clown College

Sarasota became a mecca for modern architecture between 1941 and 1966 when a group of architects came together to debate the philosophies of abstract expressionism in a creative community with a cultural tradition ready to accept tenets of modernist design. The result was a remarkable body of work known as the Sarasota School of Architecture and their work is still enjoyed here today.

For a detailed history of Sarasota, please visit the Wikipedia entry for Sarasota.

Sarasota County History Center - The History Center collects, catalogs, and maintains records of the history and prehistory of Sarasota County materials included in the County historical archive, and a reference service for public research and education.
Website: http://scg.co.sarasota.fl.us/Historical_Resources/

Historic Spanish Point - See evidence of prehistoric life. Experience the lives of pioneer homesteaders. Stroll through the gracious Palmer era. Observe our natural environment.
Website: http://www.historicspanishpoint.org

Sarasota Highland Games and Festival - A fun filled day of Scottish entertainment, athletics, pipe bands, highland dancing, and foods.
www.scottishheritagesociety. org

Circus Sarasota - Founded in 1997, this performing arts educational organization; enhances, produces & propels the Circus Arts with innovative programs of the highest level. Circus Sarasota is committed to continuing the legacy and broadening the artistic contribution of the circus while raising the level and perception of the American Circus to that of other fine arts institutes.
Website: http://www.circussarasota.org

Sailor Circus - Unique in the circus world in that all circus acts are performed by students who attend classes in grades 3-12 in Sarasota County Schools. With the assistance and guidance of the staff and countless hours from volunteers, the Sarasota Sailor Circus performers thrill and entertain audiences each and every year.
Website: http://www.sailorcircus.org

Copyright © 2002-2012 - Les & Becky Freed, Realtors - All Rights Reserved.