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Burrow's Legacy Included Oscar Scherer State Park

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Ann Shank, former Sarasota County Historian
Photo Credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources
Credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources

Sarasota History - Burrow's Legacy Included Oscar Scherer State Park photo

In 1931, Waters and Elsa Burrows left New York City with their family and built a Colonial-style red brick home in Osprey, just a short distance south of the spot on Little Sarasota Bay where Bertha Palmer had established her winter home two decades earlier.

Porches across the back of both floors of the spacious house provided plenty of space from which to enjoy views of the bay.

Leaving the life of a surgeon behind, Waters Burrows, still in his early 50s, delved into other interests. He purchased the land that later became Oscar Scherer State Park and there, along the eastern side of the Tamiami Trail in Osprey, established a vegetable garden and chicken farm.

His daughter later remembered that the chickens sometimes became dinner for the alligators that ventured onto the farm from South Creek. She also recalled that her father’s attempts to grow papaya and mangoes frequently failed, for those fruits were too susceptible to periodic freezes. A large orange grove occupied land farther inland, closer to the railroad. Considered a gentleman farmer by his neighbors, Burrows cultivated the land for about 20 years.

Burrows also invested in Sarasota business. In 1939, he formed Gulf State Motors with Louis Dixon as vice president and manager. He built the Dodge-Plymouth dealership on North Pineapple, south of where the Sarasota Opera now stands. The Art Deco/Moderne-style building included columns of glass block that accentuated the vertical lines above the entrance to the auto showroom.

The last years of the Depression and the beginning of World War II were not auspicious times for the launching of a car dealership, however. Although he held onto the building, after about four years, Burrows turned over the business to LeRoy Fenne and Ray Howard, whose Fenne-Howard Motors lasted until 1946. At that time, Montgomery-Roberts purchased the building from Burrows for a reported $75,000.

After extensive renovations the Montgomery-Roberts department store moved from the Main Street location it had occupied since the mid-1930s and became a popular downtown shopping center for nearly 30 years. (In 1998, the Sarasota Opera acquired the building for its expanding programming needs).

At her death, Elsa Maria Scherer Burrows willed 515 acres, known as the South Creek Ranch (the land Waters Burrows had farmed), to the State of Florida. The Florida Board of Parks and Historic Memorials accepted the land as a state park when the board met at the Orange Blossom Hotel in Sarasota for its April 1955 meeting.

Elsa Burrows stipulated that the land was to be used only as a public park, for public recreation and a wildlife sanctuary. There were to be no hunting or shooting of game and no drilling for oil. Fishing under state control would be permitted. Elsa Burrows also provided the name for the park: Oscar Scherer.

Oscar Scherer, her father, had come to the United States from Germany and had made the American dream come true as he achieved great success in the leather-tanning business. Providing public access to the land was a joint county-state effort, and the park opened in the summer of 1959.

Although Waters and Elsa Burrows selected an often unnoticed site on which to live and enjoy Sarasota Bay, they left buildings and a park that would be used by successive generations.