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Sarasota History, Florida

Sarasota, the ‘Circus Capital of the World’, has a rich history full of twists and turns. Before we go into these intriguing chapters of Sarasota history, however, we must take a look at the pre-history of the region. Like other regions of southwest Florida, Sarasota waterfront attracted human settlements because of the area’s plentiful means of subsistence. Even if we do not talk of primitive settlements like those of Paleo Indians, there is enough evidence to suggest that Native Americans had inhabited Sarasota region since or before the 1st millennium BC.

Sarasota History – 16th Century to 18th Century

Europeans first set foot in Florida region in the early 16th century – it was a Spanish mission (1513) and the team anchored at Charlotte Harbor. The Spanish kept coming back and following them the English as well as the French also gained entry into the region. For the next three centuries, these three European powers continued to rule different parts of Florida, with Sarasota chiefly seeing Spanish-rule.

Sarasota History – 19th Century

The 19th century brought in a number of changes. It all started in the year 1819 with Florida becoming an integral part of the United States. This proved a turning point in Sarasota history, as the United States government immediately put up the lands for private ownership by people of European lineage. While this move brought in new white settlers, it also led to open clashes between the new arrivals and the resident Seminole Indians, prompting the government to evict/deport the Indians. The Army was called upon by the government for this purpose and Sarasota’s Fort Armistead belongs to this period in Sarasota history.

The resistance of the Seminole Indians was fully quelled by 1842 and European settlers started arriving in the second-half of the 1840s. (By 1845, Florida had been incorporated as the 27th State of the United States of America, and Sarasota became a part of the newly-formed county in 1855when the Manatee County was created.)

This was just the beginning, but things did not quite speeded-up until the 1880s. And then, the winds of change started blowing when a part of Florida (including the Sarasota region) was promoted internationally. The Scots were among the first to be wooed through this international campaign and by 1885, many Scots had acquired land in Sarasota through the Florida Mortgage and Investment Company. Although the adverse conditions forced most of the Scottish émigrés to flee from Sarasota, few remained there to make it their home. The Scottish aristocrat, John Hamilton Gillespie, was one among them and he played a pivotal role in turning Sarasota into a modern town. Gillespie, who is credited with the honor of being the developer of America’s first golf course and also the chic DeSoto Hotel, went on to become Sarasota's first mayor in 1902.

Sarasota History – 20th Century and Beyond

The early years of the 20th century marked what can be termed, Sarasota’s transformation into a popular resort area. The name of Bertha Honore Palmer deserves special mention here, as her statement saying that Sarasota Bay region was more picturesque than the Bay of Naples helped influence public opinion in Sarasota’s favor. The arrivals of a number of wealthy Americans in Sarasota after Bertha Palmer built estates (the Osprey Point estate and a ranch named Meadowsweet Pastures in eastern Sarasota) here turned the sleepy town into a cosmopolitan city. (Among these wealthy newcomers was John Ringling, one of the proprietors of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus).

Sarasota became a prominent city of Sarasota County as a new county was carved out of the Manatee County in 1923. Thereafter, the city has seen continuous development. Present-day Sarasota has its own identity – the city is not only known as the Circus Capital of the World, it is also famous for its modernistic architecture, its education/vocational institutes as well as its beautiful keys and beaches. No wonder Sarasota is as much popular among tourists as Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa or other Florida tourist destinations.

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