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Hurricane hit Sarasota in 1921

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Ann A. Shank, former County Historian
Photo Credit: Sarasota County History Center
Credit: Sarasota County History Center

Sarasota History - Hurricane hit Sarasota in 1921 photo

In 1921 hurricanes were not named, but the one in October of that year left a lasting impression on those who experienced it. Beginning with rain on Saturday, October the 22nd, the storm left the Sarasota bayfront a shambles by Tuesday. As shown in this photo, the storm lifted the Seaboard Airline Rail tracks from the dock serving several fish houses and dropped them over the sea wall onto Gulf Stream Avenue not far from City Hall at the foot of Main Street.

Dixon Fish House survived, but John Savarese was not so lucky. His wholesale fish house at the end of the railroad dock is visible only as a pile of rubble. The Foreman Fish Co. wholesale house at Cedar Point (now Golden Gate Point) and the Florida-Georgia Fish Co.'s house were destroyed. Fish nets and boats were lost or damaged. The municipal pier was partly destroyed.

The following Thursday the weekly Sarasota Times summarized the storm's impact and estimated the property losses at under $150,000. John Ringling's boat Zumbrota had broken loose from its anchorage at Cedar Point but suffered only slight damage. The city's records were saved by the clerk of court, who moved them "uptown" to Mayor Edwards' office. The clerk's office in City Hall, however, suffered considerable water damage. The chairman of public works ordered electricity cut off at the power plant Tuesday morning; it was restored Wednesday afternoon. Telephones were usable after a two-day outage.

Following Mayor Edwards' call to all residents to help clean up debris, the Sarasota Times commented that it "had its effect and the traces of the damage done are fast being removed." The Times seemed concerned that news of the storm damage would adversely affect Florida's image and stated, "It will take Florida but a short time to recover from the losses and the wonderful spirit that prevails in every locality refuses to be even discouraged."

The lasting effect of the hurricane was the change to the bayfront it triggered. Prior to the storm there had been talk of making the bayfront more attractive, which meant moving the fish houses. With most of the fish houses destroyed by the storm, the city moved to acquire the basin at the end of (now) 10th Street. Calvin N. Payne, nationally known oil man from Pennsylvania and winter resident in Sarasota, dredged the basin, built bulkheads and docks. After voters approved a bond issue in February 1923, the city purchased the terminal and named it after its developer.

To prevent future hurricane damage, the new Municipal Pier was made of concrete. The City Council determined that no longer would the pier be used for warehouses, fish houses or machine shops, but for recreational purposes.


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