Articles: Sarasota History
“How to preserve history and share it with others?” This is a question faced by many communities. Some communities are equated with history, but for others, publicity is needed. This was the dilemma faced by the Sarasota County Historical Commission shortly after its creation in early 1958. Fortunately a solution was already in the community: Historical Markers. They have been used since the late 1800s to educate residents and visitors about many significant historical locations across the country.
The oldest historical marker in Sarasota County was installed by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1936. It is located at 1232 12th Street, at the Sara de Sota Chapter of the DAR, and documents the birth of the first white child in what is now Sarasota. Nancy Whitaker, the first child of William and Mary Wyatt Whitaker, was born approximately 300 yards west of this marker, on the shores of Sarasota Bay in an area known as Yellow Bluffs. One of the first historical markers done by the Historical Commission in 1963 was of Yellow Bluffs, the home place of the Whitakers.
The other 1963 historical marker done by the Historical Commission is the Scots Landing marker, at the corner of Main Street and Gulfstream Avenue. It was done in conjunction with the Historical Society and the Florida Board of Parks. This marker commemorates the December 1885 arrival of the steamer Governor Safford from Cedar Key with the first boat-load of transplants from Glasgow, Scotland. As Janet Snyder Matthews related in her book, Sarasota: Journey to Centennial,” They had been promised farm plots – within touch – of the three sides the City of Sarasota, and dwellings provided for three months. Unfortunately, all that greeted the new residents was a Company Store near the dock and a stumpy sand trail that led up the slope. That trail was Main Street.
Over the last 38 years, many historical markers have been placed from one end of the county to the other. Over 100 historical markers are located in the County, some placed by other groups such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the First United Methodist Church, the Daughters of the American Colonists, the Florida Garden Clubs and the Florida State Highway Department. One could easily spend two to three days driving to read all of the historical markers in just Sarasota County, where very little of recent recorded history occurred before 1850.
Most of the markers done were requests by residents who wanted a person, event or building remembered. An application is sent to the Commission, and the request is considered. If the marker is voted to be done, the research work begins. This is done by the requestor, with modifications and corrections done by the Marker Committee of the Commission. Approximately two years work goes into each marker. From the history comes the narrative, and from the narrative the final marker text is carefully chosen, to fit into a space of approximately 30” x 42” on two sides of the marker. If there is to be a photograph or map with the text, the text must be shortened to allow room for that also.
Almost all of the historical markers in the United States are made in Marietta, Ohio at Sewah Studios. Cast aluminum historical markers have been forged there since 1927 when Mr. E.M. Hawes (Sewah backwards) founded the company. Sewah makes several marker styles; the South Dakota style is used by Sarasota County, the State of Florida, and many other counties in the state. Some of the mostly-green markers stand on aluminum-banded posts, and others are attached to buildings where space is limited. Due to the rapid oxidation of the gold-leaf lettering, an off-white enamel is now used.
To learn more about Sarasota County’s history via the historical markers, please visit www.scgov.net.