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The Bay Island Hotel

Articles: Sarasota History

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

Sarasota History - The Bay Island Hotel photo

 On the northern end of Siesta Key, the Bay Island Hotel was a resort hotel that was totally cut off from the mainland. It was two miles from downtown and took 20 minutes by boat to reach. For that very reason, the site was picked for the hotel.

According to the April 27, 1911 issue of the Sarasota Times, a Mr. E.M. Arbogast of Marlinton, West Virginia, while on a visit to Sarasota in 1906, became interested in island property. From a tourist standpoint, he saw the attractive possibilities of this particular part of the Key; he became a purchaser of a number of acres. These were later surveyed and laid off into lots. Arbogast organized a company and issued stock for the further development of the property.

Arbogast planned for a hotel that would cater to the tourist trade. The amount of $25,000 was subscribed and paid to the treasurer for the building and furnishings for Bay Island Hotel and for putting the grounds in shape. As an additional service, an auto service on the Sarasota side of the bay was provided to meet the trains and take passengers to the city pier. A ferry line would then transfer the guests to the hotel. The ferry line had regular hours to and from Sarasota. Launches and fishing boats were provided at all times at the hotel for use by the guests.

The hotel grounds occupied 10 acres and were ornamented with shrubbery to blend in with the natural beauty of moss-grown oaks and stately palms on the island. A 35-foot canal was cut across the key, making an island on the Gulf Bay Land Company's property, furnishing a safe anchorage for the boats and making possible a short passage either to the Gulf, the Bay or the Pass. Arbogast also built several cottages to be used in connection with the hotel.

By December 1911, the Bay Island Hotel was nearly completed. The Sarasota Times, in the December 14, 1911 issue, gave a description of the new hotel. "The hotel is three stories and has 65 rooms. It has a basement underneath, with cement floors, has a large bathroom for the gentlemen's use, and storage room for baggage. The first floor holds the offices and the dining room. Private bathrooms are provided on the second floor and every room provides views of the Bay and Gulf."

Having no access to public utilities from the City of Sarasota, the hotel provided its own. The water supply for the hotel was supplied by an artesian well 400 feet deep. Two large 30 horsepower engines provided power for operating the electric light plant, water works, and laundry. A 5,000-gallon tank furnished soft water for the laundry. An acetylene gas plant was installed and every room in the hotel had fixtures for either gas or electric light. Also, sulfur water was pumped to every floor for the baths.

Boats were made available for cruising and fishing for the guests and the ferry line made regular trips back and forth to Sarasota.

Bay Island Hotel officially opened on January 25, 1912. With rates beginning at $2.50 a day, the Bay Island Hotel was known as "The most delightfully situated residential hotel in Sarasota." Known for its Florida cuisine, the menu consisted of Sarasota oysters, stone crabs, clams, fish, and fruits and vegetables. Its popularity increased when the bridge to Siesta Key opened in 1917, providing a link to the mainland. The Bay Island Hotel served the tourist needs of Siesta Key until it closed in the early 1950s.