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Sarasota County's Horse and Buggy Days

Articles: Sarasota History

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

Sarasota History - Sarasota County's Horse and Buggy Days photo

As we face the daily challenge of heavy automobile traffic, it stretches the imagination to envision a day when a horse provided the fastest land transportation. Before Sarasota County came into existence in 1921, blacksmiths, horseshoer's, and livery stables provided the services comparable to those of today's service station and car rental agencies.

Alex Browning, one of the colonists who came from Scotland in 1885 to settle the new town of Sarasota, included in his later memoirs a variety of anecdotes that reflect the early transportation system.

Soon after the arrival of the colonists, Ham Whitaker (whose parents, William and Mary, are considered the first white settlers of present Sarasota County) built a livery stable on the corner of Main and Palm, where Sarasota News and Books is now. That is where the Manatee County sheriff would board his horse (and charge the town for the cost) when he was called in to deal with "serious trouble." It is also where Browning "hired" a horse for his first trip to (then) Braidentown with a friend, Art Jones. Along the way Jones engaged in a race with some others they met along the trail. Jones, on his Cuban pony, won.

Within a few years, the front of the livery stable was converted into a pool room. Young women would gather there in the evenings to watch the young men play, until one night when Hugh Browning shot an alligator and dragged it in front of the pool room door. In his memoirs, Alex recalled that the women "squealed" when they stepped on the dead gator and never returned to the pool room at night.

A young man's horse was as identifiable as his car is today. Browning knew that Emile Whitaker was visiting Browning's sisters whenever he saw Whitaker's horse "Jeff" outside the family home.

Sarasota's first post office was located in Charles Abby's store south of Hudson Bayou and west of Osprey road. After the colonists arrived, they pressed for the post office to be moved to Main Street. With the move, the mail no longer came to Sarasota by boat, but instead came by horse and buggy from the community of Manatee three days a week. There were no bridges, so the driver would ford creeks at the shallowest places. Even then, the water might rise above the buggy's floor and the driver would stand on the seat to keep dry.

Browning recalled some less desirable events of the horse and buggy days. "Occasionally a bunch of cowboys would get lit up on sugar cane skimmings and ride up and down the street, shooting pistols from their galloping horses, using all kinds of foul language."

The local prankster, "Old Man Bacon," engineered a more benign event. He used Jack Tatum's blacksmith shop as the source of brass filings, which he used to trick the townspeople into thinking there was gold underground. When an artesian well was being dug at Five Points, people found glittering "gold" specs in the sludge. The gold fever faded as word spread that the gold was actually brass filings that Bacon had scattered on the ground.

Dr. C.B. Wilson brought the first automobile to town in 1907. The horseless carriage gradually replaced its predecessor, but even through the Boom period of the 1920s, the local directories listed blacksmiths among the businesses that served the community.


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