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Visionaries had Eye on County's Future

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Ann Shank, former Sarasota County Historian
Source: Sarasota County Historical Resources
Photo Credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources
Credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources

Sarasota History - Visionaries had Eye on County's Future photo

Over the course of Sarasota County history, the visions of many dreamers have shaped the physical development and cultural components of our communities.

There is great variety among the selected dreamers. Two of them have been called “fathers” of their domains. Arthur Britton Edwards, who was born in Sarasota before the colonists from Scotland arrived, was referred in his later years as the “Father of Sarasota.” A cattleman in his youth, Edwards influenced the development of Sarasota in many ways, including a real estate salesman, city mayor, leader in the Chamber of Commerce, and driver of the moved to form Sarasota County.

In the middle of the 20th century, Ralph Twitchell came to be called the “father of Sarasota architecture.” The modern buildings that he and a number of other architects designed in the post-World War II period brought international recognition to this region.

Rose Wilson (pictured) of Sarasota and Josephine Cortes of Englewood were newspaper publishers who used the press as a vehicle for advocating the betterment of their respective communities. In the 1910s, Wilson took over publication of the Sarasota Times after her husband’s death and became a spokeswoman for improved public education, better roads and women’s right to vote. She covered extensively the movement to form Sarasota County from Manatee in 1920-21, and changed the name of her newspaper to the Sarasota County Times after the vote for separation passed.

Cortes came to Englewood nearly 50 years later and established that community’s first newspaper, the Englewood Herald. She then championed the establishment of public libraries in Englewood and the recognition of the community’s historical heritage.

Educators Emma E. Booker and Out-of-Door School founders Fanneal Harrison and Catherine Gavin provided special opportunities for student s to learn. At the time Booker taught in Sarasota, the segregated school system offered only elementary education for black children and provided typically second-hand teaching materials. Booker’s vision was that her students would be as well educated as their white counterparts and equipped for college education if they sought it.

Harrison and Gavin came to Sarasota on vacation and stayed to establish a “progressive” school on Siesta Key. There, the outdoor classroom contained materials for study in addition to the healthful benefits of sun, fresh air and water.

Two of the dreamers were corporations – The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and General Development Corporation. Each purchased vast acreage that was essentially undeveloped and on the land laid out two of the county’s four cities; Venice by the BLE in the 1920s and North Port in the 1950s and 1960s by GDC. Each company poured millions of dollars into the infrastructure of its new planned city, only to have financial and other problems interfere with its intended development. The visions, however, outlived their originators.