Sarasota is located at (27.337273, -82.535318).
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 67.2 km² (25.9 mi²). 38.6 km² (14.9 mi²) of it is land and 28.6 km² (11.0 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 42.58% water.
Sarasota is a city on the central west coast of Florida, USA. Sarasota Bay and several barrier islands (or "keys") facing the Gulf of Mexico are within its city limits. The coast of the Sarasota area is mostly known for its pristine beaches, most famous being Siesta Key and Longboat Key. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 52,715. As of 2004, the population recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau is 54,349 . The city is part of the Sarasota-Bradenton-Venice, Florida Metropolitan Statistical Area, and is the county seat for Sarasota County.
Sarasota is one of America's most desirable places to live, work and raise a family. The clean air, sparkling white sand beaches and sunny climate have made it world famous as a center for the good life. In fact, Forbes has named Sarasota one of the best places for business and careers, and Money magazine recognized it as the nation's best small city, one of the best places to retire, and one of the cities with the best health care systems.
Additionally, Sarasota's vibrant recreational and cultural scene offers activities for every taste and budget. It is a diverse area with big city amenities and small town ease of living. Business owners and employees enjoy not only the good life but a thriving business climate. Our top-rated schools and motivated workforce also contribute to why Sarasota is home to some of the most successful and productive companies in the country.
Fifteen thousand years ago, when humans first settled in Florida, the Gulf of Mexico was one hundred miles to the west. The accompanying graphic depicts the ancient shoreline in light blue. In this time period, hunting and gathering was the primary means of subsistence. This could only take place in areas where water sources existed for hunter and prey alike. Deep springs and catchment basins, such as Warm Mineral Springs, were close enough to the Sarasota area to provide camp sites but not enough for permanent settlements. A more welcoming climate advanced southward in Florida as the Pleistocene glaciers began to melt and sea levels began rising the 350 feet necessary to provide the current shoreline.
Archaeological research in Sarasota documents more than ten thousand years of seasonal occupation by native peoples. For five thousand years while the current sea level existed, harvesting the bounty of Sarasota Bay was the primary source of protein. Europeans began to explore the area in the early 1500s. The first recorded contact was in 1513, when a Spanish expedition landed at Charlotte Harbor, just to the south. When the natives encountered the Spaniards, they insulted them in Spanish before a preemptive attack. Apparently, some of their members had enough contact previously with the Spaniards to learn the language and—not to trust them.
Early history of the area - to Bertha Palmer
Sarasota Bay is the region's greatest natural asset. Bertha Palmer (the region's largest landholder, rancher, and developer at the turn of the twentieth century) touted it as beautiful as the bay of Naples when she established Sarasota as a fashionable location for winter retreats and tourists. At that time, sports fishing was a great draw and it continued to attract visitors until over-fishing depleted the amazing fish, such as giant gar and tarpon, living in the bay.
One of the earliest pioneer locations preserved in the Sarasota Bay area, is Historic Spanish Point, where Bertha Palmer made her winter residence on land originally homesteaded by the Webb family at what they called, "Spanish Point". She retained most of their structures and greatly expanded the settlement. The pioneer site has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Historic Spanish Point and is open to the public for a fee. Tours of the 30-acre site explore the natural history and human occupation of through archaeology, historic preservation, and reenactment of some typical pioneer activities of a homestead family along Sarasota Bay.
In 1867 the Webb family met a Spanish trader in Key West who told them about a high bluff of land on Sarasota Bay that would be a good location for a new homestead. Upon settling, they named the homestead "Spanish Point" in honor of the trader. Massive shell mounds, called middens, indicate that the land had been settled frequently during the entire prehistoric human occupation of the bay area. A burial mound is also present, where excavations discovered a ceremonially interred alligator. The Webbs had to travel quite a distance for their mail and after almost twenty years, in 1884, John Webb finally petitioned for a separate postal address for Spanish Point. They chose Osprey as their postal address, since federal regulations required the use of only one word for the new address. A separate town eventually grew around that postal address.
Women have played a significant role in the development of Sarasota, or at least, contrary to many communities, the history of Sarasota has documented their roles very publicly. Bertha Palmer was not so unusual here, the McClellan sisters were the developers of the subdivision, McClellan Park, that bears their name. It is one of the most significant and successful neighborhoods south of downtown. Many other examples may be found by exploring the county records at the Sarasota History Center.
1920s boom time begins with a county designation
In 1921 Sarasota County was carved out of Manatee County, which then extended south from the natural southern boundary of Tampa Bay. The new county distinguished the booming Sarasota Bay area and its keys, that had been identified clearly on maps since the early 1700s—then spelled Zarazote—and extended inland. Sarasota, incorporated as a city in 1913, was designated as the seat of the new county that would bear the same name.
Although the city limits were reduced to facilitate the new boundary, residents of unincorporated areas continued to identify themselves as Sarasotans, as mentioned in the introduction. Within Sarasota County, other communities incorporated and grew into distinctive towns and cities. Some communities, such as Overtown, Indian Beach, Bay Haven, Bee Ridge, and Fruitville—all but faded from the memory of most, as metropolitan areas grew beyond them. Overtown expanded to include what is now designated as the historic Rosemary District and Newtown.
Sarasota's most notable attraction is the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the state art museum for Florida designed by John H. Phillips and completed in 1929. It is located on the expansive bay side estate where Cà d'Zan, the winter home of Mable and John Ringling designed by Dwight James Baum, was built by Owen Burns in 1925. A portion of Cà d'Zan is shown in the lead photograph for this article. Owen Burns was a large land holder in Sarasota and one of its most significant developers because of his diverse skills, promotion of the community, encouragement of investments through banking, and civic concerns. Cà d'Zan was restored in 2002 under the direction of Francis J. Bill Puig during his tenure as curator of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. Several decades after the historic buildings, a separate museum devoted to the Ringling Brothers Circus also was founded on the estate. The circus museum has been greatly expanded, opening a new building in 2006. All are open to the public for a fee and museum figures indicate that 500,000 people tour the site each year.
The Mable and John Ringling estate was developed upon property that had been part of the Shell Beach subdivision platted by Mary Louise and Charles N. Thompson in 1895. The Thompson home was the first residence on the property. Mable and John spent their winter stays in that house from 1911. Along with being a land developer, Thompson was a manager with another circus, who had interested several members of the Ringling family in Sarasota as a winter retreat as well as for investments in land.
First, the Alf T. Ringling family settled in the Whitfield Estates area with extensive land holdings. The families of Charles and John followed, living farther to the south. Soon, children and members of the extended family increased the presence of the Ringling family in Sarasota. Ringling Brothers Circus established its winter home in Sarasota during 1919 following the death of Alf T., Charles Ringling assuming many of his duties. Charles Thompson had joined the staff of the Ringling Brothers circus when it began to purchase smaller or failing ones, to operate them separately. In 1919 these holdings were consolidated into one huge circus—billed as "the greatest show on Earth". There were now only two of the original five founding brothers alive, but members of their families continued to participate in the business or serve on the board of directors. Performers and staff members began to settle in Sarasota and the legacy of the Ringling Circus would be interwoven, forever, with the community.
Sarasota was ready for the boom that began following the end of World War One. It now had people flooding into it—for jobs, for investment, and for the chic social milieu burgeoning in discovery of new destinations and lifestyles.
Shell Beach Jewels on Sarasota Bay
Later, on adjacent parcels of Shell Beach where Ellen and Ralph Caples built their winter retreat, Mable and John Ringling built their compound that would soon include the museum, and Edith and Charles Ringling built a compound that included a home for their daughter, Hester Ringling Landcaster Sandford. The next large Shell Beach parcel, immediately to the north, passed between Ellen Caples, Mable and John Ringling and a few others several times without development until 1947 as the Uplands. Some other historic names associated with that parcel are, Bertha Potter Palmer, her sons Lockwood and Honore, and A. B. Edwards, whose names are featured as familiar street names. The tract abutting that parcel was replatted in 1925 as Seagate, where Gwendolyn and Powel Crosley built their winter retreat in 1929. All of these historic homes and the museum have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The now-historic neighborhood of Indian Beach Sapphire Shores grew immediately to the south of the area where these grand homes were built on the bay. Sapphire Shores provided homes to the professionals and retirees who wished to be, or were, closely associated with these wealthiest residents of the community. Indian Beach, which had been a separate community at one time, even contained pioneer homes that persisted among the fashionable new homes built in the boom era of the 1920s.
Charles Ringling as Developer
Charles Ringling invested in land, developed property and founded a bank; he also participated in Sarasota's civic life. He donated land for the newly-formed county to build its government offices and courthouse. Ringling Boulevard is named for him. That winding road led east from Tamiami Trail toward the winter circus headquarters and crosses Washington Boulevard where Charles Ringling built the Sarasota Terrace Hotel, a high-rise in the Chicago style of architecture, opposite the site he would donate for the county seat. The hotel and the courthouse are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Charles Ringling devoted a great deal of time advising others about beginning new businesses in order to help Sarasota advance.
Charles died in 1926, just after the gracious home Edith and he built, was completed. For decades Edith Ringling remained there and continued her role in the circus and her cultural activities in the community, as did Hester and her sons, who were very active in the theatrical and musical venues in Sarasota. What came to be known internationally as the Edith Ringling Estate is now the home of New College of Florida.
John Ringling in Partnership with Owen Burns
John Ringling invested heavily in the barrier islands, known as keys, which separate the shallow bay from the Gulf of Mexico. He worked in partnership with Owen Burns to develop the keys through a corporation named, Ringling Isles Estates. To facilitate development of these holdings a bridge was built to the islands by his partner, Owen Burns, and eventually donated to the city for the government to maintain. They named that route, John Ringling Boulevard. Dredge and fill created even more dry land to develop. Winter residents, called snowbirds, flocked to purchase the seasonal homes marketed to the well to do.
Leading Edge of the Crash
The roaring twenties ended early for Sarasota. Florida was the first area in the United States affected by the financial problems that eventually lead to the Great Depression. 1926 was the beginning of that collapse of speculation in Florida, much earlier than most parts of the country. John Ringling initially profited from the problems of others. After having put his partner, Owen Burns, into bankruptcy by raiding the treasury of their corporation for use on another project that was failing, he purchased the landmark, El Vernona Hotel, at a fraction of its worth from Burns, who had named it after his wife.
Eventually however, John Ringling too, lost most of his fortune. Shortly after the June 1929 death of his wife, Mable, his reversal began. He purchased several other circuses with hopes of combining them with the existing circus and selling shares on the stock exchange, just before the market crashed. He continued to invest in expensive artwork, but grand projects, such as a Ritz hotel on one of the barrier islands, were left unfinished.
Plans for an art school as an adjunct to the museum were abandoned, although he lent his name to another art school being established by others in Sarasota. The board of the circus removed John Ringling and placed another director, Samuel Gumpertz, in charge of that corporation. By the time of his death in 1936, John Ringling also was close to bankruptcy. His estate was saved only because he had willed it and his art collection to the state and, that his nephew, John Ringling North, struggled for years to keep that legacy intact.