Sarasota is a city located in Sarasota County on the south western coast of the US state of Florida. It is south of the Tampa Bay Area and north of Fort Myers. Its current official limits include Sarasota Bay and several barrier islands between the bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Click here to search for homes in this area.
Sarasota first became a “modern” town in the 1880s when the town was promoted in Scotland by the Florida Mortgage and Investment Company in 1885. It was a breath of fresh air, promising an abundance of fertile land, plentiful citrus groves, and affordable housing. Scottish families looking for a new start boarded steamer ships and set sail for Sarasota. One of the first settlers was John Hamilton Gillespie, a Scottish aristocrat, lawyer, and member of the Queen’s Bodyguard for Scotland. It was this man who is believed to have built America’s first golf course, right here in Sarasota. Quite the entrepreneur, Mr. Gillespie also built the upscale DeSoto Hotel on Main Street for tourists and prospective investors. In 1902 Mr. Gillespie was elected as Sarasota’s first mayor.
As early as the 1910s, Sarasota began attracting some of America’s wealthiest people, who, with their own style, helped to define the county of Sarasota. Today’s Historic Spanish Point was once the posh waterfront winter estate and gardens of Bertha Palmer, widow of Chicago developer Potter Palmer. That’s not all—what is now Myakka River State Park was once Palmer’s 30,000-acre ranch in eastern Sarasota, called Meadowsweet Pastures.
Sarasota – the Circus Town
John Ringling, of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, made his mark on the community with much more flair. Not only did he and his wife Mable build a magnificent Venetian-style mansion on Sarasota Bay, named Cà d’Zan (house of John), but they went a few steps further in positioning Sarasota as “Florida’s Cultural Coast.” John and Mable needed a place to house their ever-growing collection of works by Peter Paul Reubens and other masters of 17th-century Italian and Flemish art. This artwork can be seen today at the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art, one of America’s most famous art museums. Ringling’s influence didn’t stop there. As a developer and dreamer, Ringling used his circus elephants to help build the first bridge from the mainland to St. Armands Key, which he developed as a commercial and residential center. In 1927, the circus’ winter quarters were moved to Sarasota—branding the area as a “circus town.”
In 1925 John Nolen, a professional planner, was hired to develop a plan for the downtown of the city. He laid out the streets to follow the arch of the bay front with a grid beyond, that extended north to what is now Tenth Street and south to Mound. This followed more closely the way the city was developing at the time. The new plan accentuated that city hall on the bay front, was the nexus of the city. Broadway, the road that connected the downtown bay front with the northern parts of the city along the bay had become part of the new Tamiami Trail that was being created. The trail was a portion of US 41 that connected Tampa to Miami (hence the contracted name) in 1928. Sarasota became a mecca for modern architecture between 1941 and 1966 when a group of architects came together to debate the philosophies of abstract expressionism in a creative community with a cultural tradition ready to accept tenets of modernist design. The result was a remarkable body of work known as the Sarasota School of Architecture and their work is still enjoyed here today.
Today the keys that are included in the boundary of Sarasota are Lido Key, St. Armands Key, Otter Key, Coon Key, Bird Key and portions of Siesta Key. Previously, Siesta Key was named Sarasota Key. At one time, it and all of Longboat Key were considered part of Sarasota and confusing contemporaneous references may be found discussing them. Sarasota has a population of 52,488 and a total area of 25.9 sq. miles. In 1986 it became designated as a certified local government. It is among the communities included in a two-county federally-mandated Metropolitan Planning Organization that includes all of Sarasota and Manatee counties.