"The Father of Sarasota," John Hamilton Gillespie, was born in 1852 in Edinburgh, Scotland. He arrived here in 1886 to assist the failing Florida Mortgage and Investment Company, a development company partially owned by his father in Edinburgh. The company had enticed a group of Scottish colonists to Sarasota in 1885 to help settle its 50,000-acre holdings, which included most of the land constituting the present City of Sarasota. The settlers arrived to find most of the company's promises unfulfilled. Gillespie was dispatched to improve the situation. Many disillusioned colonists left, however, and the company entered liquidation proceedings. Gillespie remained in Sarasota after the court appointed him to manage the assets of the company there. He organized the clearing of three miles of Main Street, the building of a substantial wharf on the waterfront, and the beginning of a 40-acre experimental farm. In 1902, he was elected the first mayor of Sarasota when the town was incorporated and held this office for six terms. He also served his community as Justice of Peace four years and Notary Public ten years. He was affectionately known as "Colonel" in this community.
University educated, Gillespie was admitted to the highest legal body in Scotland. Having become a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1896, he joined the American and Florida Bar Associations. He served as president of the local Bar Association. He was influential in building an Episcopal church in Sarasota. He served as chaplain to Sarasota Bay Post #30 of the American Legion. As a Mason, he reached the Order of Knight Templar, was affiliated with the Independent Order of the Odd Fellows and became a charter member of the Kiwanis Club.
Gillespie volunteered in World War I for duty in Scotland. Because of this service to Scotland, he lost his United States citizenship. An act of Congress restored it after the war.
Gillespie is credited with introducing Florida to the game of golf. In 1904 he built a nine-hole golf course east of the present Links Avenue. Over the years, he was commissioned to design and build six other Florida courses and one in Havana, Cuba. He was one of Florida's championship golfers and an authority on the sport.
"Colonel " Gillespie died on the golf course near his home September 7, 1923. He is buried in Rosemary Cemetery.
Dedicated in 1995 by the Sarasota County Historical Commission
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