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Leonard Reid Family House

Buildings: Sarasota History

Source: City of Sarasota public records
Credit: Sarasota History Alive
Location: 1435 7th Street, Sarasota, FL

Sarasota History - Leonard Reid Family House photo

The Reid House is a single family Frame Vernacular residence that was completed in 1926. The house is historically significant for its association with Leonard Reid, who was a highly respected early Sarasota African-American pioneer who played an important role in the establishment and settlement of Sarasota's earliest African-American community, Overtown, its religious organization, and in various fraternal organizations in the city.

The house also has historical significance through it association with Reid's two daughters, Ethel Reid Hayes and Viola Reid. Both woman were educated as young women in Sarasota and went on to obtain higher educations. Subsequently, they played an important role in the lives of Sarasota children for virtually all of their adult lives by teaching and supervising children in Sarasota schools and in the Helen Payne Nursery, a pioneer preschool program in Sarasota for African-American children. Both Ethel and Viola were active in their community and both lived in the house with little interruption from the time the house was completed in 1926 until Mrs. Hayes death in 1991 and up to the time Viola Reid was forced to sell the property due to failing health in 1995. The entire Reid family was recognized and respected throughout their community and Sarasota.

Additional historic significance rests in the structure's historic architecture. The house has been minimally altered and has continually provided an excellent example of the simple Frame Vernacular residential structures that at one time existed in great numbers in the historic Overtown neighborhood. Many of these early homes of black residents have been demolished because of deterioration, while another large number have been demolished for the purpose of redevelopment activities between Coconut Avenue and U.S. 41.

HISTORIC CONTEXT OVERTOWN

Lewis and Irene Colson were instrumental in starting Sarasota's first Black community in which the subject property is located. The community that became known as Overtown was bounded roughly on the north and south by today's Tenth and Fifth Streets and on the west and east by U.S. 41 and Orange Avenue. The hub of the community was at the corner of Central Avenue and today's Sixth Street.

By the mid 1920s, Overtown was a thriving residential and business district. It grew as businessmen, fishermen, physicians, contractors, carpenters, laborers, drivers, masons, blacksmiths, laundry workers and railroad workers made the area their home. Along today's Central Avenue were pressing clubs and lunch rooms, a movie theater, meat and fish markets, grocery and general merchandise stores, and a variety of other businesses that provided goods and services to the community. Residential architecture varied in size, but most houses were modest, one-story wood-frame structures incorporating front porches. In 1925, the Sarasota Grammar School was built on Thirteenth Street (today's Seventh Street), east of Central Avenue.

From the time of the community's founding, the Black residents living and working there played a vital role in the development of both the City and the County of Sarasota.

LEONARD REID

Leonard Reid, with his wife Eddye, was an original owner of the house, played a significant role in the development of Sarasota's African-American community's growth and settlement from the time of his arrival in 1900 until his death in 1952.

Leonard Reid was born Leonard Sproles, in Greenwood, South Carolina on August 24, 1881. He later took the last name of his stepfather. He grew up in Savannah, Georgia where he attended Savannah Normal School which educated future teachers.

In 1900, when he was 19, Reid headed for Cuba. According to a 1983 interview with his daughter, Ethel Reid Hayes, he stopped in Sarasota on his way for more fish to stock a planned fish market. He met some Sarasota people and spent an evening with them at a party. Upon returning to the dock to continue his trip to Cuba, he had missed the boat. Another version of Reid coming to Sarasota states that he came to Sarasota in January, 1900 with a Greek fisherman to start a fish market to provide dried fish to Cuban traders. Reid and his partner arrived too late to set up business. An ice plant had opened in Tampa and steamers had begun arriving in Sarasota three times a week to take fresh fish on board.

With little connection to Sarasota, he briefly went to work for a fish merchant. Sarasota being a small town, he came to be introduced to Colonel Hamilton Gillespie; Sarasota's most prominent citizen, the Town's first mayor, and its most important early developer and promoter. Soon after Gillespie first came to Sarasota, he became the local manager of the Scottish investment company, Florida Mortgage and Investment Company that owned all of the land that would become Sarasota at the time Gillespie arrived. The company had persuaded a number of Scottish colonists to come to Sarasota in 1885 with great promises. The colonists were disillusioned by Sarasota's rugged life and within a short time, and most of them left for other areas. Undaunted, Gillespie stayed and maintained a life long financial and personal interest in Sarasota making it his home for the rest of life. During that time, he remained committed to seeing Sarasota prosper and grow.

After and introduction to Gillespie and conveying himself as a man of good character to him, Leonard Reid was taken into the Colonel's home. Within a short time, he became Gillespie's man servant, butler, coachman, constant companion, and close confidante. Colonel and Mrs. Gillespie encouraged and supported Reid in continuing his education. In turn, he excelled and became his class valedictorian. As time passed, Gillespie placed great trust in Reid, even as far as leaving the Colonel's home in Reid' care when he returned to Scotland to attend the funeral of his father, Scottish Nobleman Sir John Gillespie.

While still in the Gillespie home and under their care and employment, Reid met a young woman of color, Eddye (Addyes) Coleman. She had been raised and educated by Gillespie's first wife, Mary, and had been living in the Gillespie home for a number of years. Eddye's mother was related to Lewis Colson who had come to Sarasota in about 1880. Subsequently, her family came to Sarasota sometime before 1886 from Perry, Florida in a horse and carriage. Eddye's mother died when she was 7 years old. Her father had previously passed away and in some manner she came under the care of Mrs. Gillespie. In a February, 1983 article in The Sarasota County Historian, Neal Chapline Swalm, a Leonard Reid acquaintance during Swalm's childhood in the early 1900s, states that "Addie"'s mother "had been left with six small children to raise and no means to support them and had placed her in Mrs. Gillespie's care".

In 1901, with the blessing of Colonel Gillespie, Leonard Reid and Eddye Coleman were married. Both he and his wife continued to work for the Gillespie's after they were first married. Their first child Ray Field was born in 1902 in the Gillespie home. They then moved to a small rental house on Central Avenue. They eventually had four children, all of whom received an education.

About the time of Reid's marriage in 1901, according to Reid in later years, Reid and Gillespie walked through an area of palmettos near downtown sketching a golf course on a map. Colonel Gillespie was an avid golfer based upon his Scottish origins. With Reid at his side, he set out to lay out what has been referred to as one of the first golf courses in the Florida, and perhaps the United States. Reid assisted Gillespie in laying out the nine hole course east of the central business district allowing Reid to be referred to as nation's first greens keeper and caddy. Within a few weeks of beginning to lay out the course, 50 men were clearing the land for fairways. Several years later, in 1916, Reid also assisted prominent landowner and Sarasota citizen Owen Burns in setting up the tees while Gillespie was away during World War I.

In 1904, Reid had conversations with Gillespie about investing $400 in savings in opening a grocery store to go into business for himself. Instead, Gillespie encouraged Reid to invest his money in land. Two years later, in 1906, Reid purchased four lots from Gillespie. The property was at the corner of Coconut and Florida Avenue, from where the house was moved.

While remaining under Gillespie's employment, often Reed was allowed to take on other jobs for other people when needed elsewhere. Apparently, with a love and understanding of children, he was often called upon by parents to watch their children. Parents noticed Reid's good influences such as his dignity, manners, and patience, for days afterward. Reid was also called upon by a number of local women to assist in preparing and assisting with dinner parties, teas, or dances.

Leonard Reid continued his close association with Colonel Gillespie until Gillespie's death in 1923. It was alleged, that after Gillespie's death, Reid related the story that when he and Eddye had married Gillespie knew that they would want a home of their own, but said "not too far away, for I canna do without ye" perhaps based upon Gillespie being childless. Reid allegedly responded that he would not.

In 1925, two years after Gillespie's death, Reid began to build on the parcel of property at the southwest corner of Coconut and 6th Street that he had purchased almost twenty years earlier from the Colonel. Reid oversaw the construction of the subject residential structure and some outbuildings. The house originally had three outbuildings; on the north, a small frame storage shed; a larger frame shed or small barn on the southwest; and a frame garage to the west.

After the demise of Colonel Gillespie and the loss of his employment, Reid went to work for C.N. Payne and worked for various people as a gardener and groundskeeper." The 1927-1928 Sarasota City Directory shows the Reid's living in the house and notes that Leonard Reid was working as the janitor of the American National Bank of Sarasota which opened in 1926. Over the years, Reid purchased additional land in Sarasota.

Leonard Reid was a religious man. According to his daughter, Ethel Reid Hayes, her father based his religion around the Masonic Order and read each night from Masonic books. He helped organize the Masonic Lodge #314 in Sarasota where he eventually rose to a 33rd degree Mason and served for many years as the Worshipful Master. He also was instrumental in the organization of other fraternal organizations in which he enjoyed membership, including the Odd Fellows, the Household of Ruth #3538 in which he served as secretary, and the Knights of Pythias.

He and his wife were founding members and officers who played a prominent role in establishing Sarasota's second oldest African American church, Payne Chapel, the AME Methodist Church, founded in 1906. Their first church building was a one room frame building and was built on land that Gillespie had donated at the northwest corner of today's 5th and Central. The frame church was destroyed in a hurricane in 1926. Subsequently, a new three-story masonry church building was completed in 1927. The building served as the only large meeting place available for large groups of members from the Sarasota African-American community. Substantially rehabilitated several years after a major fire, the church still stands restored on the exterior at 5th Street and Central Avenue.

Reid was a family man and strong advocate of the importance of education. He obtained books and established a library in his own home for children and required visiting children as he had his own when they were younger, to read each night. Reid hired a piano teacher from Tampa to teach piano in his home every Wednesday. He also took pleasure in gathering together young men and offering them guidance.

Less than a week before his death, an article in the Sarasota newspaper, The Breeze, published biographical information on a number of Sarasota's surviving earliest settlers. Reid is alphabetically listed and appears to be the only African American mentioned.

Leonard Reid died in his home on Coconut Avenue of a heart attack on November 19, 1952, one week after being featured as one of the pioneer citizens honored for Sarasota's 50th birthday celebration. Following his death, an article appearing in the Sarasota Herald Tribune on November 20, 1952, it referred to him as:

(The) "Pioneer Negro Citizen of Sarasota", and one of the old timers honored during Sarasota's 50th anniversary celebration.

As evidence of Leonard Reid as one of Sarasota's pioneer settlers, as well as for his many contributions to the Sarasota community, Leonard Reid Avenue was named for him. The street is one block east of U.S. 301, north of Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Neal Chapline Swalm who knew Leonard Reid in his youth, and encountered him again in Sarasota shortly before Reid's death, wrote in an article in The Sarasota County Historian in February, 1983, over thirty years after Reid's death: "Such love, trust and admiration for Leonard by everyone was never misplaced and was to have a lasting effect on the lives of all who came in contact with him".

CHILDREN OF EDDYE & LEONARD REID

Leonard and Eddye (or Addye) Reid had four children, two sons and two daughters. Oldest child, their son Ray, became a commercial fisherman. Second son, James Leonard, became a musician and eventually made his home in California.

Daughter Ethel chose teaching as her career. She attended Florida A. & M. University for four years. In 1931, she acquired her teacher's certificate. She began her career at Booker School in Sarasota and later became Principal at J.R. Dixon, location unknown. Ethel also excelled at music, the piano, and at crocheting. She taught summer school during World War II and eventually married Roosevelt Hayes, a Navy man, and briefly moved to California. She returned to Florida and, in 1951, obtained her masters degree from her alma mater, Florida A & M. She then returned to teaching in Sarasota County schools for many years. After retiring, from the Sarasota County school system, Ethel became the director of Helen P. Payne Day Nursery.

The Reid's other daughter, Viola, also attended Florida A & M and went on to work as a substitute teacher in Sarasota County, as a teacher at the Newtown Day Nursery from 1953-1970, and supervisor at Helen R. Payne Day Nursery where she also served as assistant director. Other than when they were in school and briefly after their marriages, both Ethel and Viola lived in the house all of their lives. During that time, they played an important role in the further the development of the African-American community.

Eddye Reid survived her husband by eighteen years and passed away in the house on Coconut Avenue in 1970. Following her death, her daughters Ethel and Viola continued to live in the house. Ethel died on January 6, 1991. Ownership passed to Leonard Reid's sole surviving child, Viola. In 1995, Viola, in her 80s, unable to live independently any longer, sold the property and moved to a nursing home. At that time, for the first time in 70 years, since the house was constructed, ownership of the house passed outside of the family.

The Leonard Reid Family House was locally designated by the City of Sarasota in 1999.