Videos: Sarasota History
On May 12, 1941, the cornerstone was laid for Sarasota's first public library building. It was the second major structure to be built in the WPA developed Bayfront Park between what are now Sixth and 10th streets, west of North Tamiami Trail.
The library itself had begun nearly 40 years earlier. Under the auspices of the Town Improvement Society, the fledgling library was housed in space donated first by the town's mayor, John Hamilton Gillespie, and later by developer Owen Burns. A few years after the society disbanded, the Woman's Club took on the management of the library and moved it to their new building on Cocoanut and Palm, which is now the Florida Studio Theater.
In the early 1930s, the library was moved to the unused old high school on Main Street: Because this was an unsatisfactory location, the junior Chamber of Commerce adopted the project of building a new library. John and Ida Chidsey responded to the Jaycees' request for funds and pledged to pay for the structure if the Jaycees would furnish it.
Martin Studio of Architecture designed the Chidsey Library. Thomas Reed Martin had come to Sarasota in 1911 to design a winter home in Osprey for Bertha Palmer. He stayed on, contributing much to the Mediterranean Revival architecture in Sarasota during the 1920s.
The Jaycees sponsored a formal dedication ceremony for the $25,000 library November 13, 1941. An audience of 100 packed the Municipal Auditorium for the event. In his dedication address, the Rev. Francis Trowbridge Cooke, pastor of the First Congregational Church in Bristol, Connecticut, the Chidsey's summer home, testified to the community mindedness of the Chidsey's in Bristol as well as Sarasota. The Sarasota High School band played, and Frank Martin presented to Mr. Chidsey a photo album he had put together showing the day-to-day progress on the building. Mayor E.A. Smith officially accepted the building from the Chidsey's and the furnishings from the Jaycees.
As the library's needs outgrew the Chidsey building's space, the Selby Library was built which today houses the G-Wiz building for young people who are interested in science. The Selby Library was relocated to a new building downtown next to Five Points. Today the Chidsey Library building contains a museum for the Sarasota County History Center and space devoted to the Sarasota County Visitors and Convention Bureau.