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Venice Survived Boom and Bust Times

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Mark D. Smith; former Sarasota County Archivist
Credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources

Sarasota History - Venice Survived Boom and Bust Times photo

The City of Venice celebrates its 88th anniversary this coming April. Venice has come a long way since its beginning. The Knight family first homesteaded in the area in 1869, along with other pioneer families. The community that grew up in the region of Dona Bay became known as Horse and Chaise. Others began to come into the area in the late 1880s. Among them the Higel and J.H. Lord families, who purchased land and began experimenting with citrus and honey making.

When the Palmer family arrived in 1910, Mrs. Palmer began purchasing land throughout southern Sarasota (then Manatee) County for investment and potential development. She was instrumental in getting Seaboard Railroad to extend its tracks to Venice in 1911. However, the station was not built in old Venice but in the new development one-mile south. The residents of old Venice were not pleased with this and changed their community’s name from Venice to Nokomis.

When Florida entered the great land boom in the early 1920s, Venice was close to becoming a reality. Dr. Fred Albee purchased land from the Palmer Corporation and contracted with famed city designer John Nolen to design a plan for Venice. While Albee was planning his city, another player stepped into the picture.
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, a Cleveland-based railroad union, was looking at Florida for profitable land investments. They picked the Venice area because of the large blocks of land that were available and because it had a mainland beach on the Gulf of Mexico. Albee sold his land, which comprised of much of present day downtown Venice, to the BLE in 1925. Between 1925 and 1927, the BLE purchased over 50,000 acres of land at a cost of over $4 million. 

To give the new city a look that would reflect the old world Venice, the BLE hired Walker and Gillette, a New York architectural firm, to design the BLE’s buildings and review and approve designs of new buildings in the city. With residential and commercial sections of Venice, Nolen also planned agricultural areas, east of the city. These areas included experimental farms, dairy farms, with a creamery and bottling plant and poultry plants. 

Work proceeded at a breakneck pace. By June 1927, the publication, Venice News, painted a bright picture on the progress that the BLE had made, complete with glowing testimonials from BLE officials. They proclaimed that a beach casino on the Gulf of Mexico was only a 10-minute walk from downtown and that the civic center had all types of amusement for every member of the family. Such reviews helped the State recognize the Town of Venice with formal incorporation in November 1925 and later incorporation as a city.

By the end of 1927, the land boom had ended and the BLE was close to bankruptcy. The company stopped work and Venice nearly became a ghost town. Venice would survive the coming lean years with the arrival of the Kentucky Military Institute in the 1930s, and the Venice Army Air Base during World War II.

As the City of Venice nears its 88th anniversary, it can look back with pride to its survival through boom and bust times to become the city it is today.