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Venice, Florida - Revisited

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: George I. "Pete" Esthus
Credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources

Sarasota History - Venice, Florida - Revisited photo

There’s an old song that goes “The old gray mare she ain’t what she used to be…” Another verse to that song could be “The city of Venice, she ain’t what she might have been.”

Back in 1914, before Sarasota County was formed, the Sarasota-Venice Co., part of the Palmer organization, published a booklet extolling the unlimited farming opportunities inherent in the Sarasota Bay-Venice area. Not only the fertility of the soil, but with the coming of the Seaboard Air Line Railway, farmers had a marketing area that included 80,000 people.

One of the glorious inducements was the ever-present, easily obtained, never-ending supply of water for irrigation available for those rare periods of a shortage of rainfall. You can obtain flowing Artesian water in the district. Once you put down a well, you have no further water bills – no engine repairs or fuel expense. Much of the soil in the Sarasota-Venice district is combination soil-adapted to both citrus and vegetables. It is the ambition of every rich man to be able to get out of harness, retire and come to live in a climate such as this. Because of the unique combination character of our soil, there is an opportunity for the man in moderate circumstances who is willing to earn his living from the soil for a few years until his grove comes into bearing.

A cash crop of tomatoes can be grown in the spring after celery and lettuce are off and the residue turned under. The 1914 spring crop of tomatoes from the Sarasota-Venice district was 59,555 crates that filled 128 rail cars from 336 acres. Efficient growers were getting a return of up to $550 per acre:
If you don’t like dirt farming, then raising chickens might interest you. Six-hundred chickens can easily support any ordinary family. Because of the local tourist trade, who like to eat, you can realize up to 35 cents per dozen eggs and capons for broiling bring up to 50 cents each.

Testamentary letters from successful, local farmers applaud the ease of profitable production of cauliflower, celery, lettuce, tomatoes, sugarcane, rice, beans, peppers, cucumbers, corn and other general farm crops.

What would farms and groves be without bees? Mr. C.M. Bierseth, manager of the Sarasota Bee Co., writes “With scientific methods, bee keeping will pay 25 percent dividends on the investment. Another phase of this industry is its importance to the fruit and vegetable growing. Bees in the citrus grove during bloom time will add 25 percent to quantity of fruit. In vegetable and berry fields they will add up to 75 percent of profit to the growers.” Mr. A.D. Albritton writes that he made $524.60 from three-quarters of an acre of strawberries.

Marketing your products can be handled efficiently by such co-ops as the Citrus Exchange, Vegetable Exchange, Strawberry Growers Association, etc., etc. for a slight fee. Finances short? Not to worry. The Palmer Organization handles all the details. Say you want to buy (from them) 10 acres at $75 per acre. Put 5% down ($37.50), then nine quarterly payments at 5% interest, then a 10-year mortgage at 6 percent. Now that’s quite a deal. They loan you the money to buy land from them, and if you should default, well then they get back the land and look for another eager aspirant of financial success and economic independence.

In 1925 the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE) issued a booklet with the provocative title “PAY DIRT.” Their dominant theme was 313 growing days per year in the Venice area. Farmers (and non-farmers) in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin were entice with such information that in Venice Farmland one acre of good soil yields a net profit eight times greater than an acre in the riches northern farm belt.

The BLE hired the Ralph Caples Advertising Company, with offices in Chicago, to further encourage people to succumb to the lures of the Venice area. Back when this was still Manatee County, the lures of Manatee were, as listed in Lillie McDuffee’s book, The Lures of Manatee, the fertility of the soil, the charm and intrigue that lay in its scenic beauty, and its ever delightful climate.The newspaper ads touted such things as an average mean temperature of 71.9°F., every farm to front on a graded road, and a 160 acre model dairy farm under construction.

The BLE also offered what today is called “turn-key” properties. Ya’ll come down, buy a working farm with a house, sit back and take your deposits to the bank.
Offering 25,000 of their 30,000 acres in 10 acre plots could have brought thousands of potential farmers into the area. Financing? That’s no problem. Visit our 80-acre demonstration farm and decide your fortune. Then stop by our offices and the BLE, which has been in the banking business for years, and we will provide a deferred payment plan on the basis of one-fourth down and four equal yearly payments plus 7% interest.

Twenty-five thousand acres at 640 acres per square mile comes out to just under 40 square miles. Or say, 2 miles north of Venice Avenue, and 2 miles south of Venice Avenue, then from the Gulf front go about 10 miles to the east – pretty good sized hunk of real estate.

In the Sarasota Herald newspaper dated February 4, 1930, former U.S. congressman Charles L. Knight, editor and publisher of the Akron, Ohio, Beacon Journal, while wintering here at the El Vernona Hotel, was quoted as saying, “Get folks interested in developing your golfing facilities here. Make this the outstanding golfing center of all Florida and you will have more money in circulation here than your back country ever will produce.”

In her booklet, Sarasota Over My Shoulder, published in 1996, author Janet Snyder Matthews muses “Looking over my shoulder at the changes wrought in only 20 years, it seems evident the true Land Boom has only begun. Pasture and grove have yielded to gated golf communities, shopping mall and megastores.”
According to the spring 1997 issue of Golfer’s Guide there are twenty golf courses in Sarasota County, nine of which are in the Venice area (in 1998).
Apparently, more people were interested in golfing than back-break’n, sod-bust’n, stoop-labor’n, dirt farm’n.