Until mid-1921, with a population of just 5,000 plucky pioneers, what is now Sarasota County was still part of Manatee County. Disgruntled business leaders like the Palmers and Gillespies had been petitioning the state legislature for six years to allow it to split away.
“This was the frontier,” says Rob Bendus, manager of historical resources for Sarasota’s public library system. “There were hardly any roads; everything came through by boat. People complained about the same issues we deal with today: ineffective representation and ineffective use of tax dollars flowing to [what was then] south Manatee County for better roads, improved education, safety.”
In May of that year, the Legislature finally granted the group’s request, and on July 1, 1921, Sarasota County was officially formed. A grainy black-and-white photo shows a huge celebratory parade of flag-draped Model T Fords leading from the Hover Arcade, the original bayfront site of City Hall, led by the Sarasota Brass Band.
To mark the 100th anniversary of that historic moment, Sarasota County government has turned to our public library system to coordinate a series of lectures, exhibits and events—some virtual, some hopefully in person—illuminating our county’s unique history, natural environment, architecture, even our archaeology. The Centennial initiative, dubbed 100 Days for 100 Years, will kick off on March 23 at the county’s historic courthouse with a ceremony adding the circa-1927 Mediterranean Revival building at the corner of Main Street and Washington Boulevard to the local Register of Historic Places. (Designed by renowned architect Dwight Baum, it has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1984.)
“We’ll be celebrating the past, the present, and also looking to the future—what are our aspirations for the next 100 years,” says Renee DiPilato, director of Sarasota County Libraries and Historical Resources. After all, adds Bendus, that’s how history should work: to help people “learn the lessons from the past and apply them to the present and aspire to a better community for the future.”
Bendus stresses that this will be a countywide celebration, unlike the 75th anniversary events that mostly centered around the city of Sarasota. “We plan to be as inclusive and diverse as possible,” he says, “and we’re reaching out to north, south and east Sarasota to do so.” The library team is meeting regularly with representatives from more than 20 local organizations that focus on different aspects of local history.
His team also will be drawing from the historical resources department’s cache of thousands of maps, aerial photographs that document the growth of the county from 1930 onward, and manuscripts and ephemera from the estates of the Palmers, Gillespies and Ringlings. The department even has in its possession the 1900 Spalding rowing machine that Bertha Palmer used to keep fit.
A complete list of Centennial events can be found on the county’s website, scgov.net.