North Port preps for 2021 centennial events

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

Roads such as this in Venice were critical in the effort to create Sarasota County, which celebrates its centennial in 2021.

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.”