The Future Was Female

Sisters Katherine and Daisy McClellan Built a Modern Neighborhood Back in 1916

To mark Amendment 19's 100th anniversary of giving women the right to vote, we're telling the stories of influential local women.

By Kay Kipling July 13, 2020

McClellan Park

Katherine and Daisy McClellan founded McClellan Park

It was not all that usual for women to be land developers in the early 20th century, but sisters Katherine and Daisietta McClellan, the founders of McClellan Park in Sarasota, had some insight into the field thanks to their father, Dr. Ezra McClellan, who had himself developed property in the Saranac Lake, New York region before them.

It seems the McClellan family had relocated to that Adirondacks area for health reasons, with Daisietta, or Daisy, suffering at one time from tuberculosis. Perhaps that also made visits to Sarasota starting in around 1910 a good idea for the sisters.

At any rate, the pair pooled their resources to acquire 56 acres of property at the southern end of Orange Avenue and began to develop their new neighborhood back in 1915-16. In those days, Sarasota was a city of about 4,000 residents, and the McClellans thought the time was ripe to provide a modern new community—marketed as a “garden spot”—with paved sidewalks, shade trees, flowering shrubs and lots with bay views. Telephones and electricity were standard.

The property’s Calusa Indian history, which included a mound or midden on the grounds, led Katherine to use Seminole words when naming the park’s streets and its yacht basin. A pecky cypress clubhouse—the setting for lunches, teas and weekend dances—eventually became the beloved McClellan Park School, which operated under various owners starting in 1932 for 70 years.

But for the enterprising McClellans, their neighborhood launch was not a success. Lots, initially priced from $800 to $2,500, had sunk to the range of $450 to $900 just a year or so later. Eventually, the property was sold to another developer, and the sisters took time off to travel before returning to Sarasota and opening a tearoom.

Not a great deal is known about Daisy, but Katherine appears to have been quite a pioneer in another way: She was a professional photographer who became the official photographer for Smith College, her alma mater, snapping portraits of such dignitaries as writer Henry James and Helen Keller in addition to her scenic images. (Interesting, strange side note: In Saranac Lake, she also played a role in hiding the bodies of several men killed during abolitionist John Brown’s Harper’s ferry attack. Read it here.)

Today, McClellan Park is a sought-after residential neighborhood with a mix of Craftsman bungalows, Spanish and Mediterranean designs and Tudor Revivals, and homes can sell for anything from $500,000 to over $3 million. It’s still a piece of Sarasota history.

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