Buildings: Sarasota History
The Ashton home is significant due to its association with Walter S. Ashton, an important Sarasota grower, and it is also associated with Count Gourmajenko, a winter resident in Sarasota for 8 years. It is also noted as an example of an eclectic home which borrows from a number of sources including Colonial, Greek and Italian Renaissance which while common across the U. S. was less common in Florida where the eclectic Mediterranean Revival style was the norm for boom time construction.
ASHTON HOME HISTORIC CONTEXT
Following the Civil War, the Sarasota Bay area grew dramatically with the influx of settlers. At the time, cash crops and cattle-raising were very successful, and publicity in northern newspapers began to lure more and more newcomers to the area. At first most of the settlement occurred in the area south of Hudson Bayou and was called "Sara Sota"; populated largely by farmers, ranchers, and fishermen. This area boasted a Post Office, general stores and docks which serviced fishing, commerce and the beginnings of the tourist industry.
At this time boats were the most practical form of transportation and linked the area with the outside world. During the 1880's the Town of Sarasota was formed north of Hudson Bayou around the newly plated Main Street. While this area experienced major growth and investment during the mid 1880's, after the initial boom, growth came to Sarasota at a very slow pace. By the turn of the century, Sarasota was a small town on what could almost be termed Florida's "frontier".
In 1902, the same year that Sarasota incorporated as a town, the United States and West Indies Railroad and Steamship Company built the first bridge across the Manatee River and the line extended its track to Sarasota. The first hard surface road between the two towns was completed in 1912. With this transportation system, the entire southwest coast of Florida was able to expand and develop. Not only could agricultural products be shipped to northern markets, but promotional ventures brought trains filled with people to the area, some from as far away as Minnesota, so they could purchase land and invest in Florida's future.
It was during this time that Sarasota acquired some of its most influential residents, including Mrs. Potter (Bertha) Palmer, a wealthy widow from Chicago, who could perhaps be described as single-handedly having the greatest impact on Sarasota's growth. The Palmers were soon followed by others from Chicago within the same socio-economic class, including Sarah and Stanley Field (of Chicago's Marshall Field family, Cook County Republican Chair Homer Galpin and Hat Tycoon Edison Kieth. Members of the "Chicago Colony" were also instrumental in the development of many of Sarasota's infrastructural, civic, and cultural establishments.
In 1916, the small town of Sarasota reincorporated itself as a city and began eyeing expansion both to the north and to the south. The area north of the City boundary at Tenth Street had become a popular residential area with fine homes, hotels and successful farms. Its annexation was seen as a way to increase the city's tax base. In an effort to fend off the unwanted annexation into the city of Sarasota, the residents north of the City formed their own government and incorporated as the Town of Indian Beach.
The Town of Indian Beach experienced steady growth up until the beginning of the Florida Land Boom, 1921 - 1926. During this period Indian Beach experienced tremendous changes, better and more roads were built, along with homes and sub-division being built along the Bay. These subdivisions included the Bay Haven Subdivision and the Sapphire Shores Subdivision. Further stimulating growth in the area was the construction of the new North Side Elementary School (now Bay Haven) to provide for the educational needs of the new and future residents of the area.
In late 1925, the town of Indian Beach was annexed, despite objections from some of its residents, by the city of Sarasota. This action coincided with the Florida Land Crash which saw growth come to a complete standstill. Today, one can find many homes in the area built during the 1920's surrounded by homes that could best be described as 1950's and 60's in fill.
Walter S. Ashton, 1924-1936
The subject structure was built in 1926 by the family of Walter S. Ashton, a locally prominent citrus man and land owner in Bee Ridge. They lived in the house for 10 years, until 1936.
Ashton was formerly a resident of St. Louis before moving to the Bee Ridge area in 1914. Ashton purchased a large tract of land from the Sarasota Venice Company on which he grew citrus including oranges and grapefruit. In a Sarasota Times article (January 20, 1916), Developments In Bee Ridge, Walter Ashton's efforts were highlighted. The Times said,
"One of the largest plantings is that of Mr. Walter L. Ashton, a leading citizen of St. Louis, who found by the experience of several Chicago owners of Bee Ridge groves that they can be successfully conducted at long range. Mr. Ashton's varied and important business interests will probably tie him to St. Louis for several years, but that will not prevent the erection before long of a fine family home on the Ridge property bought a little over a year ago. Mr. Ashton's son and family will probably be its permanent occupants, with winter visits as part of the program. Twenty acres will be adorned with one of Florida's most attractive 'ornamental' citrus trees. Every lover of nature will admit that a well-kept grove of oranges and grapefruit, especially in blossoming and fruiting seasons is as lovely a sight as any non useful trees could be. Mr. Ashton will devote half and half between oranges and grapefruit, with probably small plantings later of other fruits."
The Ashton's became a prominent family in Bee Ridge and by 1917 had a road named after them which still is called Ashton Road. In 1925 Mrs. Ashton is credited with giving the Bee Ridge Women's Club lot 22 of the Bee Ridge Plat. By 1921 the Ashton's had moved into downtown Sarasota, residing on Park Avenue (now, Cocoanut Avenue) overlooking the Sarasota Bay.
In 1924 the Ashton's purchased the subject property from Sidney and Katherine Perry.
Count Alexis Michailovich Gourmajenko - 1936-1943
From 1936 until 1942, the subject house was occupied during the winter by Count Gourmajenko and his wife Blanche. Count Gourmajenko was a native of Russia who during World War I was an officer in the Cuirassier Blue of the Imperial Guards. He was cited three times for bravery and received two decorations. During the war, he received injuries and suffered from them throughout the remainder of his life.
After the Russian Revolution, he lived in France until coming to the United States in 1930. In 1936 the Gourmajenko's purchased the subject home from the widow of Walter Ashton. Count Gourmajenko died on September 3rd, 1942 at his summer home in Charlotte North Carolina; his widow sold the home in 1943.
Mrs. Susan T. Whitehead - 1943-1948
In February of 1943, Susan Whitehead purchased the subject house from Blanche Gourmajenko. Miss Whitehead moved to Sarasota from Burlington, NC and was active in the local social scene. She held memberships in the Indian Beach Circle, the Sarasota Garden Club. She was a former state president of the Daughters of the American Revolution in North Carolina and belonged to the Colonial Dames Organization and attended the Episcopal Church, as well as memberships in many other prestigious social organizations in the New England area. Miss Whitehead died in July of 1948 at the Sarasota Hospital at the age of 65. She left her home to her two nephews Frederick and Lewis Thurston who sold the home in 1950 to the Rosins.
The Ashton House was locally designated by the City of Sarasota in 1993.