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Sarasota County History

Despite being located on one of the prettiest bays in America and having weather that any Northerner would envy, Sarasota County scarcely grew in all its early years.

The name may derive from a Spanish term, "sarao sota," meaning, "a place of dancing."

In 1842, William Whittaker homesteaded in the area known as Yellow Bluffs / Sarasota. He planted orange trees. Some other settlers followed him, but numerous indian attacks kept many settlers away.

In 1884, 60 Scottish families arrived to set up a colony. Two years later a golf course was built and, with golf and fishing, the town of Sarasota was in the tourism business.

But transportation was unavailable. Sailing ships and steamboats connected the tiny town with the outside world. An early and crude railroad connected Sarasota to Bradenton, to the north. Passengers would ride on flat cars carrying freight, until the railroad employees broke up the track during a wage dispute.

In 1902, a serious railroad reached Sarasota, connecting it to Tampa and to the outside world for the first time. It took another 7 years for the arrival of electricity and a paved road to Bradenton. The railroad brought many visitors and a few settlers to Sarasota. One of the settlers was John Ringling, head of a circus family. Ringling bought property all around Sarasota and moved his circus' winter home here. Despite being one of the wealthiest men in the country, Ringling just didn't manage his finances well. Upon his death, the State of Florida acquired his mansion, his art museum, his circus museum and an adjacent college, as part of an estate settlement.

In 1911, Mrs. Potter Palmer, a wealthy Chicago society matron, bought 26,000 acres of land, mostly for citrus and vegetable farming. She enthused Real Estate developers for years with her quote "Here is heaven at last. It reminds me of the Bay of Naples".

In 1921, Sarasota County devided itself from Manatee County, with the city of Sarasota designated the county seat. In the Florida land boom of 1924-1927, the population doubled, tourist hotels and recreation facilities sprouted up, a causway was built across the bay and the offshore islands started to be developed.

Getting in on the boom, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, capitalizing on their own jobs, bought 30,000 acres around a whistle stop south of Sarasota, built hotels, a bank, a theater, and an entire business district, and created Venice.

Sarasota County today has trendy shops in Venice and on St. Armand's Key, luxurious retirement homes, a bustling rehabilitated Main Street shopping and business district in Sarasota, acre upon acre of orange groves in the interior, and a growing base of environmentallly sensitive commerce. It's what most people think of when they think of Florida.

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