Marking History

A New Historical Marker in Gillespie Park Will Honor the Founder and First Mayor of Sarasota

"It's an exciting time for the Historical Marker Program."

By Catherine Hicks/Community News Collaborative October 18, 2023

A new historical marker is set to be installed next year in Gillespie Park to honor the first mayor of Sarasota.

A new historical marker is set to be installed next year in Gillespie Park to honor the first mayor of Sarasota.

Following a gap in council meetings and resources during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Historical Marker Program is set to honor Sarasota’s first mayor and first major developer.

The marker will recognize John Hamilton Gillespie, the mayor of Sarasota when the city was first incorporated in 1902, and Owen Burns, the developer who donated the 10-acre parcel of land for the park in honor of Gillespie, who had originally sold his holdings to Burns and kickstarted Burns’ business.

John Hamilton Gillespie

John Hamilton Gillespie

Gillespie’s family is firmly rooted in the history of Sarasota, even prior to incorporation. His father, Sir John Gillespie, was the president of the company that established the Scottish colony that attempted to settle along Sarasota Bay in the late 1800s.

After his father sent him to manage affairs for the Florida Mortgage and Investment Company and revive the settlement following the failed Ormiston Colony, Gillespie spent the majority of the remainder of his life in Sarasota.

He cultivated the rural and undeveloped area into a full-fledged city, introducing golf to south Florida by establishing the town’s first golf course, installing a public water system and contributing to making Sarasota habitable by paying to build several downtown buildings.

“We’re just so excited to be getting more markers up,” says Josh Goodman, manager of the Historical Resources Division for Sarasota County. “During the pandemic, we went several years without putting any markers up. This one for Gillespie Park should be coming up sometime in the first half of 2024."

The marker will feature a short synopsis of Gillespie's history and two photos on each side, one of Gillespie and another of Burns.

 “We’ve got another one [in Cherokee Park] ready to go. It’s an exciting time for the Historical Marker program,” Goodman says.

Since its establishment in 1976, the Sarasota County Historical Marker Program has installed nearly 80 markers throughout Sarasota County. In order for a location to be considered for a marker, a local individual or organization must go through an extended application process to request consideration of the proposed location, which must have significant historical significance and have occurred 50 or more years ago.

The new marker was requested by the Gillespie Park Neighborhood Association. “We felt it was way past time to provide information about John Hamilton Gillespie and Owen Burns,” says Linda Holland, the group's president. “We felt it was really important for people to know that history and learn that history. People are generally very curious about these things, so it was long overdue.”

The custom cast-aluminum sign is being fabricated in Ohio. The unveiling celebration is set to take place early to late spring 2024.

Catherine Hicks is a reporter for the Community News Collaborative. Reach her at [email protected]

Show Comments