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J. B. Turner House

Buildings: Sarasota History

Source: City of Sarasota public records
Credit: Sarasota History Alive
Location: 1225 Fruitville Road, Sarasota, FL

Sarasota History - J. B. Turner House photo

The J.B. Turner home located at 1225 Fruitville Road, is significant for its architectural merits as well its historical contribution to the development of early Sarasota.

Being one of the few remaining buildings prior to 1924, the structure is unaltered and in good condition. The use of rusticated stone blocks was once a common building technique, although all but a handful of block buildings have vanished from Sarasota's built environment. There are also relatively few examples of the Colonial Revival in Sarasota, this being an excellent example.

HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE

The subject residence was built in 1912 by mason George W. Barker and was purchased by merchant J.B. Turner. George W. Barker was born in Maine in 1848 and was stone cutter and a mason by trade. As well as constructing several houses in Sarasota, Barker was involved in local politics. In 1908 Barker ran unsuccessfully for the position of Trustee for Sarasota's first bond issue. Later, in 1909, Barker was elected Alderman with 71 votes. Harry Higel, who finished second, won a seat with only 55 votes. Barker resigned after only four months in office to build a house in Tarpon Springs where he would move three years later.

Barker began construction of the Turner home in April of 1912. The home was to be Barker's own, but by November of 1912, Barker decided to move to Tarpon Springs. The November 7, 1912 Sarasota Times listed the home for sale. By July 3, 1913, Barker had moved to Tarpon Springs, established a cement plant, and started constructing homes there. The sale of his Sarasota home to merchant J.B. Turner took place on January 11, 1913, and he moved in with his wife, Caroline, and three children; J. Claude, Agrees and Gertrude.

J.B. Turner was born on May 31, 1860 in Brooksfield, Georgia. Upon moving to Sarasota in 1899, Turner became involved in local government, and is most remembered for being one of Sarasota's prominent merchants.

At the age of 18 (Turner) had his own store. Shortly after he moved to Kathleen, Fl. (from Brooksfield) where he started in the mercantile business. Turner visited Sarasota in 1898 and at that time he made plans to relocate there.
Turner returned to Kathleen, liquidated his assets, cancelled all debts due to him, and then moved to Sarasota. An article from the July 10, 1933 Sarasota Times gives a description of the early years of Turner's main business operation.

"In May 1899, S.H. Highsmith, of Brunson, Fla., and J.B. Turner, of Kathleen, Fla., closed a deal with H.L. Higel, taking over his mercantile business, and under the name of Highsmith & Turner, opened a general merchandise store in the Frank Higel Building, now occupied by Walker's market. After six months, Geo.B. Prime, of Bradentown purchased an interest, and the three partners bought the lot on Main from H.L. Higel, moved the old building back and built a two story one in front. Here the firm of Highsmith, Turner &.Prime, added to their business, furniture in the second story. Six months of pioneer life made Mr. Prime seek pastures new and sold his interest to E.T. Blakely.

For a few years the firm of Highsmith, Turner & Co., did a thriving business, carrying the largest stock of merchandise in the county, and building a couple of warehouses for their grain and feed; and then seeing the need of a drug store, put in a good stock of drugs, which after six months they sold to the Sarasota Drug Co., who continued at the same stand. Wishing to branch out and add a millinery, a building was put up on the other side. The dry goods, shoes and notions were transferred and millinery parlors opened.

About six years ago, the firm of Highsmith, Turner & Co., bought out Mr. Blakely. Afterwards, Mr. Prime again purchased an interest, the firm dividing, Mr. Turner taking over the dry goods' department, and Highsmith & Prime retaining furniture, feed, etc. After the division, Turner continued with dry goods as well as experimented with new businesses."

On November 5, 1910, J.B. Turner received...a handsome touring car of the Interstate make. (The first locally-owned car was brought to Sarasota just one year before in November of 1909 by Dr. C.B. Wilson. Seeing an upcoming need for the storage of automobiles, Turner built the first parking lot in Sarasota ( a covered one at that! ). The lot was located behind Turner s store on Main St. covering an area 35' x 100'.

An article from the October 13, 1910 Sarasota Times announced, "J. Claude Turner, the son of Mr. J.B. Turner, has branched out into business for himself, and in one of the best store buildings in town, in the Burns Block, has opened up a Gents' Furnishing business, where he will be pleased to have his friends call on him."

The father and son did not compete for very long. By March of 1914, the two had adjoining stores and were advertising together. J.B. Turner Co. carried dry goods, ready to wear millinery (brought to Sarasota by Ms. Boston of St. Louis), and Ladies Shows; and J. Claude carried men's and boy's clothing, hats, caps, shoes and furnishings.

In January of 1915 the business was reorganized again and named The Turner Co. with J. Claude and J.B. Turner's son-in-law, J.B. Battle, as partners. J.B. Turner remained available to help out in the family business. Turner's Inc. was bought out in 1936 by Mark Harmon.

Shortly after his move to Sarasota, J.B. Turner quickly earned the respect of the local citizenry, and in 1902, with the incorporation of Sarasota, J.B. Turner was elected to the first Town Council. It is worthy to note that the third meeting of the Town Council was held in Turner's first home which was on South Pineapple Ave. (This home was later moved to the corner of First St. and Orange Ave.)

Turner served as Alderman until 1904. In 1908, Turner was again active in Town Government, pushing for Sarasota's first bond issue. With the approval of the issue, Turner was elected to the board of Trustees overseeing the bonds. The $25,000.00 in bonds financed the paving of Main St. from Gulfstream to the town limit (present School Ave.) with lime rock.

By 1915, J.B. Turner had phased himself out of running the dry goods business, left politics, and concentrated on gardening and cultivating several lots adjacent to his home on Ninth St. (present day Fruitville Road). Turner's daughter Agnes and son-in-law J.B. Battle, built their own home in 1924, right across the street from Turner's home. Turner lived in his home on Ninth until his death on December 5, 1929. His obituary in the December sixth Sarasota Herald told that he "...died while walking in his garden beside the flowers he loved so well..." "He was a kindly man, warm hearted as generous, a lover of nature, of flowers and birds and animals. His gardens at his home place on Ninth St. were always objects of great interest and beauty to winter visitor..."

After his death, Turner's home remained in the family's ownership as rental property.

Currently, the property is being considered for an upscale hotel/condo/and restaurant. It is commendable that the developers plan to save the home and finance the move to another location yet to be determined.

The J. B. Turner house was locally designated by the City of Sarasota in 1986.