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Sarasota has had Share of Peaks and Valleys

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Mark D. Smith, former County Archivist
Photo Credit: Sarasota County History Center

Sarasota History - Sarasota has had Share of Peaks and Valleys photo

In the 1880s and early 1890s, Sarasota was primarily a small fishing village. Any outside travel was done on horseback or by schooner to Tampa Bay. Tourism was hardly flourishing in Sarasota before the turn of the century. The main hotel, the De Soto, was empty and boarded up most of the time. Sarasota's fortune began to change in 1895 when the steamer Mistletoe (pictured) began service to Sarasota from Tampa. This provided a reliable means of transportation to the outside world. By the end of 1899, Sarasota was beginning to emerge from its rundown image and investors began coming into the area.

The coming of the railroad in 1902 provided Sarasota with another link to the outside world. However, even with the railroad and the town's incorporation in 1903, the town struggled with a new phone system, unpaved roads, no fire department and no water and sewage system. 1908 and 1909 were lean years for Sarasota. Boosters tried to convince potential buyers of what great investment opportunities cold be had in Sarasota by publishing a booklet with a list of real estate bargains. Two examples included a one-story stone building on Main Street, with lot, for $2,400 and a six-room house on 8 ½ acres with a large barn and tools, one-half mile from town for only $1,500.

One major event that changed the course of Sarasota took place in 1910. Real estate ads proclaiming how wonderful the land of Sarasota was had been placed in several northern newspapers. On ad was read in the Chicago newspaper by Mrs. Potter Palmer, an internationally known society woman. Mrs. Palmer came to Sarasota in 1910 and began investing in the area. She bought a winter home near Osprey and had numerous business ventures throughout the county. With her influence, many other wealthy and influential people came to Sarasota.

The 1920s brought the Florida Land Boom and great prosperity to Sarasota. After breaking away from Manatee County in July 1921, Sarasota County began to promote itself as a tourist destination. The October 1921 hurricane, which severely damaged the bay front fishing industry, gave the city the chance to rid itself of the unsightly docks and fish houses, long considered a hindrance to tourism. Land values were rising and money was being invested in the area. This Week in Sarasota, shown in the above photograph, was a weekly paper that showed homes of prominent people, sports activities like fishing and golf, business opportunities in agriculture and citrus, and people working and living in Sarasota County, "where life is worth living and smiling summer never dies." However, by the late 1920s, the land boom was over and the money and businesses began to dry up in Sarasota County.

Although the 1930s brought lean times to Sarasota County, the community continued promoting itself to the rest of the nation. With federally assisted building projects such as the Municipal Auditorium in 1937 and the Lido Beach Casino in 1939-1940, Sarasota was increasing its recreational facilities. World War II brought Army air bases to Sarasota and Venice and thousands of people into the area. After the war, Sarasota County entered into a new era of prosperity and growth, which has largely continued to the present.

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