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Scarborough House

Buildings: Sarasota History

Source: City of Sarasota public records
Credit: City of Sarasota
Location: 2929 Bahia Vista Street, Sarasota, FL

Sarasota History - Scarborough House photo

THE SCARBOROUGH HOUSE is a simple one and one-half story Frame Vernacular residence located at 2929 Bahia Vista Street within the city limits of Sarasota, Florida. The house was completed in 1925. Built as the homestead/farm house of a small farm established on this site, the house is a visible reminder of small farm operations that existed within the city that provided a growing Sarasota population with fresh produce and farm products during the 1920s.

AARON EMMET SCARBOROUGH

Aaron Emmet Scarborough (born December 12, 1874) built the house currently listed as 2929 Bahia Vista Street, Sarasota, Florida, in 1925. He and his wife (Susie Elizabeth Hawkins) formerly lived in O'Brien, Florida, where he managed his father's mill operation. When the mill was sold after his father's death, A.E. Scarborough packed up his family and headed Southwest where he had heard that things were beginning to "boom". Traveling with him were his wife, Susie, their daughter, Verdie, and five-year-old Thomas Lee, their nephew and ward. Two other children, Georgia Etta and Russell, were working elsewhere at that time.

Having no other accommodations their first night in Sarasota was spent on the beach. The next day they rented a house on 13th Street, and A.E. Scarborough found work as a carpenter. He was part of the crew which built the original Ringling Causeway.

After considering several locations for a permanent home, Scarborough began homesteading on Bahia Vista and constructing, with only help from his wife, the house on lot 4 of Bahia Vista Highlands. His choice of a building site was most probably arrived at by the space and freedom to farm which the area afforded, as well as the rich soil, the presence of an artesian well across the street, and its distance from Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Susie Scarborough was never very comfortable living too close to a large body of water with unpredictable tides and storms.

The house was completed and occupied by the family in 1925. Before the plumbing lines were in place, drinking, cooking and bathing water was transported from the well across the street in jugs and pails. The street itself was quite narrow, made of brick, and extended east as far as the rickety wooden bridge which spanned Phillippi Creek.

The house is one and one half stories. The downstairs had a-screened front porch, a living room, dining room, two bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, a "utility" porch and a small back porch. Upstairs contains dormitory-type sleeping accommodations, also attic storage space at the front and back. The bathroom today still features the original cast iron tub. Because the city sewer line did not extend this far into the "country", Scarborough struggled with the problems of a flooding septic tank all during his lifetime. The sewer hook-up was finally achieved in the 1950's.

Kerosene lamps were used before electric poles arrived, and these lamps continued to come in handy during frequent power outages due to thunder storms, hurricanes, etc. A wood-burning stove sat in the dining room during the colder months. Water for bathing was heated on this stove. A hot water tank was not added to the "utility" porch until the 1950s. The original kitchen sink, hand-made drain board and shelves are still in use in the kitchen where a kerosene stove was used for cooking.

An ice-box sat on the back utility porch. At first, an ice block had to be purchased from an "in town" ice house and carried home on the car bumper. Later, a regular ice route included Bahia Vista. A horse-drawn ice wagon visited the area once a week. One signaled the need for ice and the pounds desired by hanging out a black and red ice card. If no ice was needed, no card. When the "ice-man" saw the card he delivered and placed in the ice box with the aid of large tongs, the size of the block indicated; usually fifty pounds.

The only telephone for miles was located in the Stevens' family house, the nearest neighbors who had arrived in the late 1920s. Their telephone was installed in the mid 1930s. They were also the proud owners of a cow. Telephone service to the Scarborough house was added in the early 1940s.

At the rear of his property, Scarborough constructed a two-car garage with an attached workshop/storage area which he used for housing all of his carpenter's tools and farming equipment. Included in this equipment was a foot-pedaled, tool-sharpening stone wheel. Extending from the east side of the workshop was an overhang roof and benches. This space was the laundry area. If washing machines existed Susie Scarborough didn't know it. She built wood fires under huge washtubs, used a heavy wooden stick as an "agitator" and made her own soap. The laundry, after being soaked and boiled and beaten and starched and hand-wrung, was hung to dry on clothes lines which were strung above part of the house garden and flower beds.

The garden was located between the house and the laundry shed area and extended east into what is now Rhodes Avenue. To the west and back of the garage was a large chicken yard and hen house. Beyond that (north) were rows of bee hives; none of these structures exist today.

Soon after settling into the house, Scarborough turned from carpentry as his main occupation, to truck farming. He hand-plowed the acreage west of the house and sold his produce "in town" each Saturday. Susie accompanied him on "market day" to sell the eggs from the hen house.

In the mid 1930's a Mr. Bud Floyd purchased acres of land on the South side of Bahia Vista for a gladiola farm. Scarborough became the manager of this farm. Gladiolas of all different colors and varieties were neatly laid out in rows. Their blooms extended across the horizon as far as the eye could see. Floyd eventually decided to consolidate his gladiola industry on the island of Terra Ceia and Scarborough was named manager. He worked on the island during the week and drove home to Bahia Vista for the weekends. On one of his return trips, late at night, he was injured. Blinded by sudden, on-coming headlights, he and his car crashed into a ditch. After that, he resigned his position with the Terra Ceia operation and began to concentrate in earnest on growing strawberries, as his main source of income, on Bahia Vista. This cash crop was particularly aimed toward the growing tourist market and was successful.

During the depression years the house and its surroundings served the family well. Although there was no money for "luxury" items, there was always food on the table. The garden, which amply supplied the household, bore tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, turnips, peas, potatoes (sweet and white), pole beans, limas, "snapbeans", corn, onions, cucumbers, watermelons, and cantaloupe. Scarborough had planted orange, grapefruit and lemon trees and grafted his own combination which became the "sour orange" tree. There was also a guava tree, a banana tree, and sugar cane. Wild huckleberry bushes abounded in the surrounding countryside. The chicken yard supplied chicken dinners and fresh eggs and the Scarboroughs sometimes fished from Ringling Causeway or the "humpback" bridge at Siesta Key for mullet and salt water trout.

Susie Scarborough made guava jelly, orange marmalade, watermelon-rind preserves, strawberry jelly and preserves, and pickles. She canned corn, beans, peas, and tomatoes using her washtub and wood-fire method. She also grew almost every kind of flower imaginable. Her flower beds consisted of a wild profusion of roses, carnations, pinks, snapdragons, gladiolas, marigolds, nasturtiums, petunias, holly hocks, black-eyed susans, daisies, lilies, sunflowers, babies' breath, moss roses, periwinkles and gardenias. Lattices in front, back and at the sides of the house were covered with morning glories, honeysuckle, and bougainvillea. The front hedge was red flowering hibiscus and many other varieties of hibiscus surrounded the house. Large pink and white blooming oleanders lined the driveway which was constructed of ground and compressed shells. The front walk leading from the front porch door to the street was also made of this shell material.

Bahia Vista Street was widened in the 1950's and the street bricks were paved over with asphalt. The length of the front walk and driveway was shortened as a result. The red hibiscus hedge is gone, the oleanders are gone, the palmetto palms in the front yard are gone. Two large old cedar trees now stand on either side of the front door, cocas palm and a butterfly tree are growing to the west of the house and a large oak spreads at the back and east. Ferns and hibiscus still surround the house. The vegetable garden has given way to additional citrus trees.

The house itself has stood the test of time. Through several hurricanes it dripped and creaked and sometimes swayed gently somewhat like a well-built ship riding out a storm. It has served as a home and a haven for the builder, his wife, and their descendants. Because of various circumstances the number of occupants throughout the years has varied. The Scarborough's eldest daughter, Georgia Etta, became a permanent resident of the house in the late 1920s upon acquiring a teaching position in the area. In Sarasota County she taught first at Bee Ridge School, then Southside Elementary, and ended her teaching career at Sarasota High School where her extracurricular expertise was coaching debate and interpretative readings for Sarasota High School's National Forensic League. For years of dedicated service she was named to the National Forensic League Hall of Fame by the National Board.

The Scarborough's second daughter, Verdie Mayree, along with her two children, Suzette and Mayree, became residents-of, the house in the mid 1930s due to the dissolution of Verdie's marriage. She worked as bookkeeper/typist for the Sarasota County Chamber of Commerce before being named Office Manager, a position in which she promoted the growth of Sarasota for over thirty years. She was also the Secretary for the Sarasota Angler's Club.

The Scarborough's son, Russell, lived in the house intermittently over the years. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II and was stationed in England. He married and settled in Beaumont, Texas. Upon his wife's death, and when he began to experience health problems, he returned to Sarasota to live in the house and was a resident here when he died in the late 1970's.

The Scarborough's ward, Thomas Lee Scarborough, lived in the house during his growing-up years. After graduating Sarasota High School and working at Bradenton Beach, he joined the U.S. Navy and served in the Pacific during World War II. He returned to the house only occasionally as he remained with the Navy for twenty years, married, and had three sons. He died in Jacksonville, Florida in the early 1980's.

Aaron Emmet Scarborough died quite suddenly in the house which he had built of a cerebral hemorrhage on the afternoon of July 4, 1944. His wife, Susie Elizabeth lived on in the house until her death on September 14, 1962. Their youngest daughter, Verdie Mayree Jennings (nee Scarborough) died, while a resident of the house, on September 27, 1971. Her daughters, Suzette and Mayree attended Sarasota schools and lived in the house until their marriages (1949 and 1955). Georgia Etta Scarborough, the eldest daughter of A.E. and Susie Scarborough continued to live in the house until her death on February 1, 1986.

Another widening of Bahia Vista took place in 1987. The Scarborough residence was moved back on the property to prevent street construction from destroying the front porch. In that same year, Sue Blue (nee Suzette Jennings, grandaughter of A.E. Scarborough) requested and received a listing in the Florida Master Site File and documentation of the structure's historical significance. She became the sole owner in August of 1990 and rented the house to various tenants until the fall of 1994 when the house became her restoration project as well as her residence. In December of 1996 at a Historical Society of Sarasota County holiday party, that took place in her home, Ms. Blue accepted a plaque from Mayor Gene Pillot, which confirmed 2929 Bahia Vista's listing in the City of Sarasota's Local Register of Historic Places.

The house survives.

By: Sue J. Blue

The Scarborough House was locally designated by the City of Sarasota in 1996.