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The Kentucky Military Institute Was Well Received in Venice

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Ann A. Shank, former County historian
Photo Credit: Sarasota County History Center
Credit: Sarasota Count History Center

Sarasota History - The Kentucky Military Institute Was Well Received in Venice photo

The Kentucky Military Institute's announcement in 1932 that Venice had been selected as KMI's winter quarters was very good news for the community. With the collapse of the building boom in the late 1920s, Venice had become almost a ghost town. The grand designs of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers to create a Northern Italian-style city on the southwest Florida Gulf Coast had come to a halt. Jobs vanished, as did many of the people.

The establishment of Venice campus continued a tradition begun in 1909, when KMI moved to Eau Gallie on Florida's east coast for the winter season. Fire destroyed that campus in 1909, but the desire to take advantage of the warmer Florida climate persisted. Col. C.B. Richmond, head of the school, promoted the winter term in Venice as a boon for the students' health and an opportunity for continuing outdoor sports throughout the year.

Initially, the school leased from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers two large vacant hotels. The San Marco Hotel on Tampa Avenue became a dormitory. A pamphlet reassured parents that each room offered steam heat, bath, electric fan, box springs and mattresses. Around the corner on Nassau Street, the Venice Hotel was converted into an administration and classroom building. It also included the recreation hall, library and dining room.

The Sarasota Herald reported that 1500 people welcomed the first KMI contingent when students, faculty, and staff (including chefs and janitors) arrived by train January 5, 1933. The 175 students then marched to their new quarters. Watching student activities became a major pastime for Venice area residents during the KMI season. Dress parades, as shown in the above photo from the Venice Archives, were Sunday afternoon features.

Interscholastic sports thrived during KMI's winter term and the local press carried detailed reports of the cadets' contests. They fielded teams in baseball, basketball, tennis, golf, football, and wrestling. KMI competed with high school, prep school and junior college teams from Ft. Myers to St. Petersburg, to Lakeland, frequently defeating the local players.

By 1940, the school had grown to the point where additional space was needed. KMI purchased a nearby garage on Tampa Avenue and converted it to a gymnasium with basketball courts and wrestling and boxing arenas. Headquarters for the military department of the school were also located there. During World War II a greater emphasis was placed on military training. After the war, regular Army officers were assigned by the War Department to conduct a four-year ROTC program.

KMI ended its winter session on the Venice campus after the 1970 term. A shrinking enrollment and higher operating costs led to the decision to close the winter quarters. The three major buildings have undergone re-design for contemporary use. The gymnasium is now the Venice Little Theater; the dormitory is the Venice Center Mall and the administration and classroom building is Summerville at Venice, a retirement facility.