New Pass Bridge was part of the 'Greatest Circle Drive'
Articles: Sarasota History
When the citizens of Sarasota County voted in 1927 for a bond issue to build a New Pass Bridge and connecting roadways, the Sarasota Herald urged a unanimous vote, to demonstrate that Sarasota was committed to community development. In the style of the day, a front-page article listing the benefits of passage highlighted the "completion of the greatest circle drive in America (Sarasota to St. Armands, Lido, Longboat, Anna Maria, Bradenton and back to Sarasota) ... all the while within sight of the beautiful bay or the Gulf of Mexico, majestic in its beauty."
Passage of the bond issue was also considered a demonstration of Sarasota County's appreciation for John Ringling and support for his efforts to make Sarasota "the best and most beautiful spot on earth." It was expected that with construction of the bridge, Ringling would complete the stalled construction of his Ritz Canton Hotel and develop his other Longboat Key properties.
The bond issue passed 607-20.
Two years later on Easter Sunday, March 31, 1929, the public crossed the bridge for the first time. The $275,000 two-lane bridge was 874 feet long and 20 feet wide with a sidewalk on each side.
The Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners hired "Capt." James J. Crowley to tend the bridge for $100 a month. Although the Commissioners soon authorized a well to be drilled for the tender's use, it was another year before a bid was selected to install the water system needed to connect the well to the house.
This mid-1930s photo is from the collection of J.J. Crowley's son, Jasper. At that time, it appears the bridge was much more popular as a fishing place than as part of "the greatest circle drive in America." Another projected benefit of the bridge never materialized.
While not the newest pass in Sarasota County, New Pass is young in the geological scheme of things. It was the creation of an 1848 hurricane, a storm which caused severe damage to the southwest coast of Florida. Officers at Fort Brooke, near the present city of Tampa, recorded a 14-foot-high tide, a low barometric pressure of 28.18 inches and the destruction of or severe damage to all the fort's buildings. William Whitaker, settler at Yellow Bluffs (west of Sarasota's 12th Street) in the 1840s, told of looking for his fishing nets after the storm. He found that the sandy beach on which he had spread them was gone; a new pass had been cut through the island. He called it "New Pass."
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Abundant fishing has attracted people to the Sarasota County area for millennia. Prehistoric shell middens abound with bone and shell remains from food harvested from the coastal waters. Spanish-speaking fishermen from Cuba camped along the coast during the fishing season a century before Florida became part of the United States.