TRAILBLAZERS IN THE CREATION OF SARASOTA COUNTY
Thomas A. Albritton was a citrus grower in the Bee Ridge area. He was an original member of the Sarasota Good Roads Committee and later supported the county separation cause. After Sarasota County was formed he soon became a county commissioner. His son, Paul, replaced William Y. Perry in 1924 as the second county judge.
Ira G. Archibald was a successful Sarasota hardware merchant. His investment in a big new store near the east end of Main Street helped spur economic development in that area. He also served as president of the Sarasota Board of Trade and as a member of the Committee of 10 which negotiated a settlement on county division with the Bradentown Chamber of Commerce representatives. This resulted in the Governor and State Legislature approving the bill creating Sarasota County.
Joseph Emory Battle was president of a Sarasota boat company and a member of the Sarasota Board of Trade that later became the Chamber of Commerce. He was the chair of the first mass meeting on county separation held in June 1920. He also served on the Committee of 10 in 1921 to negotiate separation from Manatee County with the Bradentown Chamber of Commerce.
Peter “Pete” Buchan, an enterprising businessman in Englewood, served on the General Committee on County Division and helped fund the separation movement. He was on the first Board of County Commissioners and worked to establish an airport in Englewood which is named for him.
Owen Burns was a giant in early Sarasota history. A successful businessman, he founded and managed a number of companies in Sarasota. He also served as president of the Sarasota Board of Trade, reorganized the Sarasota Yacht Club, helped launch a golf club in Sarasota, and was one of the founders of the Sarasota Woman’s Club. He built the El Vernona Hotel and Apartments. Burns was closely associated with John Ringling and had a great interest in the Good Roads Movement. He also used his influence to back the county separation movement
Arthur Britton (A.B.) Edwards was a real estate investor, a business ally of the Palmer family, and a major leader in the good roads and county division campaigns. He was the first mayor of the city of Sarasota and an original member of the Sarasota Board of Trade. On June 16, 1920 he convened the first mass meeting on county division and spoke at subsequent public meetings throughout the Sarasota district urging voters to approve separation. He led or participated in every significant event leading up to county separation.
Alice Morehouse Guenther was the first president of the Sarasota Woman’s Club which promoted local improvements in Sarasota. She and Rose Phillips Wilson were nineteenth amendment supporters and the first two women who registered to vote in Sarasota. They were also the first two women named to the board of the Sarasota Board of Trade. Guenther was a close friend of Bertha Palmer for whom her husband worked. She presided over a meeting at the Woman’s Club in 1921 to hear A.B.Edwards, John Burket and William Perry give arguments for county division and E.S. Delbert’s offer to pay women’s poll taxes making it easier for them to vote for the referendum to create Sarasota County.
Harry Higel was an enterprising Sarasota businessman and the principal developer of Siesta Key. He also served as mayor of the town of Sarasota. In June of 1920 Higel had the idea to hold a mass meeting in Sarasota to initiate the county separation effort. He arranged to advertise the event in the Sarasota Times. Higel was later named to the General Committee on County Division but brutally murdered in 1921.
Clarence Edgar Hitchings was an official with the Bank of Sarasota. He became a member of the General Committee on County Division. He was previously a member of the Commercial Club which evolved into the Board of Trade before becoming the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce.
Adrian Honoré was the older brother of Bertha Palmer who wanted and needed more and better roads to develop fully his huge land holdings in the Myakka River area. He realized this could only happen through county division. Honoré orchestrated the first mass meeting. He accepted a position on the General Committee on County Division and threw the Palmer family weight behind connecting Sarasota to the cross state highway by extending the Fruitville Road to the east and then building Verna Road on land that he donated. His land holdings, together with 9,000 acres donated by the Palmer brothers, became Myakka River State Park in the 1930’s.
Arthur L. Joiner was an officer of Sarasota’s First National Bank. He was placed on the General Committee after the second mass meeting. He testified before the State Senate supporting the establishment of Sarasota County. Joiner was also selected as the first chair of the first Sarasota Board of Education.
Otis Landers was a newsman employed by the Sarasota Times, He was named by the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce (a successor to the Board of Trade) to serve as a member of the Committee of 10 to work out the agreement with Bradentown Board of Trade on county separation. After the separation was approved, he campaigned to persuade Sarasota District voters to support independence. He traveled throughout the district urging a positive vote.
Thomas Livermore was a Yale-educated citrus farmer living in the Palmers’ Bee Ridge Farms development. He was nominated by Governor Hardee to serve on the first Sarasota School Board and became chair. Livermore subsequently was appointed an officer in the Sarasota County Fair organization.
Joseph Lord was born in Maine, practiced law, grew citrus in Venice, and became one of the biggest landowners in the old Manatee County by 1910. He sold a substantial portion of his land to Bertha Palmer and became a vice president in the Palmer corporate structure. A fighter for good roads and bridges as well as for county separation, Lord was named Sarasota County’s first representative to the lower house of the legislature by Governor Cary Hardee in 1921.
Lawrence L. May was a Palmer family employee who was in charge of the Palmer Family Trust, headquarters at the time for the organization fighting for county separation. He opened the Palmer building for the first mass meeting (in June, 1920) urging county separation. He was on the General Committee for County Division and he served on the Committee of 10 to resolve separation issues. He served as one of the first County Commissioners. In 1921 he was part of the Sarasota delegation to a meeting in Punta Gorda to derail Manatee County’s ambitions to cut off Sarasota from direct access to the Tamiami Trail and the cross-state highway.
Kathleen M. McClellan and her sister, Daisetta, were the developers of McClellan Park located on the bay front south of Sarasota She was a supporter of Woman’s Suffrage and a member of the Sarasota Woman’s Club. In 1921 she organized a meeting at the club house to inform local women about county independence and the need for women to vote for the referendum on county separation on June 15, 1921.
Bertha Honoré Palmer was a wealthy and extraordinary woman from Chicago who appeared in Sarasota in 1910. She built a great 350-acre estate in Osprey called Osprey Point and made enormous investments in land in Manatee and Hillsborough counties, eventually owning some 140,000 acres. Her planned agricultural communities at Bee Ridge and Osprey reclaimed 13,000 acres of mostly wetlands into arable farmlands that she cut up into farms and sold to northerners. She attracted thousands of new settlers to these developments thus boosting the local economy, Palmer also founded a 15,000 acre cattle and hog ranch named Meadowsweet Pastures in the Myakka River area. She applied the latest scientific information to hugely increase the quality and profitability of cattle and hogs raised in the area. Palmer always supported improving existing roads and building new ones as essential to developing and selling her property. The lack of support for Sarasota District road projects from the Manatee County Commission caused her to be one of the first to argue Sarasota had to become a county in its own right. She died in 1918 before this goal was achieved.
Honoré and Potter Palmer were the Harvard-educated sons of Bertha Palmer who took control of her vast estate after her death in 1918. They initiated three significant projects in Sarasota: Hyde Park Orchards, Palmer Farms development and the Palmer Bank in downtown Sarasota. Other well-established developments were Bee Ridge Farms and Osprey Farms. To support their citrus and vegetable empire the brothers arranged for the Atlantic Coast Railway Company to build an extension from Sarasota to Palmer Farms in Fruitville and then to Arcadia. They also needed access to the growing road network like the Tamiami Trail and the cross-state highway. These road projects would make their properties more valuable. But they knew the roads would likely never be built until Sarasota became a county. Working with their uncle, Adrian Honoré, the brothers helped organize the county separation movement supplying funds, meeting space, and the assistance of Palmer corporate executives.
George Prime was a Sarasota hardware merchant who served three terms on the Sarasota Town Council. He was a passionate supporter of good roads and a major leader in the county separation movement. He worked to get the Tamiami Trail and the cross state highway built. He later became chair of the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners, where he secured public approval for a $1.5 million comprehensive road and bridge plan for the new county.
Henry Lamar Rankin was Bertha Palmer’s chief salesman for her development called Bee Ridge Farms. She directed him to work with A.B. Edwards and Harry Higel to create the Sarasota/Venice Special Roads and Bridges Bond District in 1915. He was on the Special Committee on Roads to work with the Manatee County Board of Commissioners to gain approval for the special bond district.
Frank Redd was a Sarasota attorney who joined the Sarasota Board of Trade and was then named to the General Committee on County Division. He was appointed by Governor Hardee as Sarasota County’s first Prosecuting Attorney in 1921.
Victor A. Saunders was a store owner in Osprey. He was invited by A.B. Edwards to represent Osprey in supporting the campaign for Sarasota/Venice Special Roads and Bridges Bond District. In 1921 he was invited to join the General Committee on County Division by those attending the second mass meeting.
William Milton Tuttle was a noted figure in the fight for good roads. A civil engineer, he was given the job of inspecting and supervising construction authorized by the Sarasota/Venice Special Roads and Bridges Bond District. In 1920 he became a member of the General Committee on County Division. He was a member of the Board of Trade and he was named in 1921 to the delegation to persuade the State Highway Commission to designate the planned routes of the Tamiami Trail and the cross-state highway as state roads thus frustrating Manatee County’s desire to redirect these roads away from Sarasota. The Commissioners agreed. A Sarasota thoroughfare was later named after Tuttle..
Frank Walpole was a local druggist in Sarasota with political and newspaper experience. He was active in road and bridge issues and held the Sarasota District seat on the Manatee Board of County Commissioners. When the movement for county separation began, Walpole was selected as a member of the General Committee on County Division. He was in Governor Cary Hardee’s office when the bill was signed establishing Sarasota County. The Governor gave him one of the pens used in the signing ceremony. It was Walpole who sent the telegram announcing the event to Rose Phillips Wilson at the Sarasota News. The Governor later appointed him as a member of the first Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners. He was elected chair at the first meeting of that body. It fell to Walpole to lead the effort to organize the new county government and guide it through a number of early challenges.
Augustus Marion Wilson was from Myakka and selected as one of twenty five members of the General Committee on County Division. He submitted the committee’s draft of a separation bill to the State Senate. However, he badly misjudged the opposition to separation among the business community in Bradentown. The bill was not advanced forcing Sarasota leaders to try and negotiate a settlement with their opponents. They succeeded and Wilson resubmitted the amended bill that was then passed with no negative votes. Governor Hardee named Wilson as Sarasota County’s first tax collector. In September of 1921 Wilson was part of a Sarasota delegation that persuaded the State Highway Commission not to change the routes of the Tamiami Trail and the cross-state highway (S.R. 70) to Sarasota’s disadvantage.
Rose Phillips Wilson was the owner, editor, and publisher of the Sarasota Times and a supporter of good roads and bridges. She was one of the first two women to register to vote in Sarasota after the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, and then became one of the first women appointed to the board of the Sarasota Board of Trade. In 1910 she had recognized that Bertha Palmer was going to be Sarasota’s greatest asset. Wilson had regularly promoted the Chicagoan’s business and civic projects. She reached the peak of her influence in 1921 with her strong support for county separation and her successful efforts to mobilize the newly enfranchised women voters to register and vote positively for Sarasota to become a county in June of 1921.
This list was compiled by Dr. Frank Cassell , author of Creating Sarasota County.
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By CRAIG GARRETT Staff Writer Oct 11, 2019
“It has always bothered me that history, the moments, are lost. Before you know it, today is going to be history.” –Dr. Frank Cassell, Chair, Sarasota Centennial 2021 Steering Committee
Berlin is more than 750 years old. Even St. Augustine on Florida’s east coast is ancient at 500-plus years.
So a hundred candles may seem more like a kid’s birthday in comparison. Still, you pack a lot of mile markers and people and progress into a century.
And that’s the message a historical group hopes to share as Sarasota County looks to its centennial anniversary in 2021.
The group, called Sarasota County Centennial 2021, is gathering steam for the yearlong celebration, its members visiting governments, garden clubs, neighborhoods, churches, chambers of commerce, civic associations, essentially anyone with ideas and volunteer spirit, said Frank Cassell, chair of the group’s steering committee. Cassell visited the North Port City Commission on Tuesday to seek assistance, which he received with a supportive resolution.
The North Port Culture and Advisory Board will also bring the city into the centennial celebration, something that had lacked as Sarasota County’s birthdays skipped through the years: The city of Sarasota had always loomed like a shade tree, which likely won’t happen this time — Cassell and others insisted — adding that Venice and Longboat Key also need seats at the table as organizing continues, certainly when festivities begin in 2021.
“It’s a bit of an experiment, doing this from the ground up,” said Cassell (pronounced like Castle), a retired university history professor, college administrator and the author of books on the history and people of Sarasota County.
And while North Port is young — celebrating its 60th birthday this year — it has a deep archaeological history. Warm Mineral Springs and the shuttered Little Salt Spring trace themselves back thousands of years. Along with Native Americans, explorers, settlers and others, the area’s rich history will be included in lectures, historical markers and other educational activities and outreach in the 2021 celebration.
“With so much pride from longtime residents and with so many new people moving to our area, this is a great opportunity to highlight how our beautiful area came to be,” North Port communications manager Josh Taylor said. “We look forward to our Historical and Cultural Advisory Board working with the Sarasota County Centennial group. A hundred years is certainly something to celebrate.”
Sarasota County, in fact, is among a handful of surrounding counties looking forward to becoming centenarians in 2021. That’s no coincidence, as large Florida counties divided in the 19th century, ultimately further separating from Manatee in 1921.
But Sarasota County almost never was, or certainly got delayed by posturing and business decisions. Influential Manatee County merchants in Bradentown, or Braidentown, sensing Florida’s promise of dollars from tourism and migration, tried to divert what became the new Tamiami Trail pushing south from Tampa to Miami to their town, then to aim the road east across the state and away from what was the Sarasota District or Section, then part of Manatee.
That choking move would isolate Sarasota and welcome for themselves the surge of mostly Midwesterners in Model T Fords.
Influential Sarasota families such as the Ringlings and Palmers, however, strong-armed that notion, getting the Tamiami Trail along its current route and ultimately, in March 1921, helping create Sarasota County. North Port was chartered in 1959.
Sarasota’s wealthy banding together was much like those leading America’s greatest separatist movement, Cassell said, or “operating much like the people who handled the American Revolution. It’s a very interesting story.”
As 2021 events gather momentum, Cassell and others picture lecture series, parties and parades. But more serious things such as photo surveys of neighborhoods and people, filmed interviews with longtime/important people, a speaker’s bureau, a hall-of-fame for difference-makers, ambassadors outreaching to schools and civic groups, other archived events and people, these and other things should carry forward what we are today for a 200-year anniversary, he said.
Committee leadership will also push for heavy volunteer involvement, relying on docent-types, he added, but urge neighbors to document themselves, their architecture, those who came before them, for those who come after them. “It has always bothered me that history, the moments, are lost,” Cassell said. “Before you know it, today is going to be history.”