When Tiffany and Ronnie Fernandez started Venice Florida Tours four years ago, they never imagined how much they'd fall in love with Venice's history, and sharing that history with tourists and locals. As members of Venice Heritage Inc., a charitable organization in which Ronnie serves as president, the couple helps to preserve Venice's historical landmarks like the Lord-Higel House, the Triangle Inn and the Venice Museum and Archives, and educates the public about how Venice was developed.
"We began these tours to help get ingrained in the community," says Tiffany. "We meet new people, tourists and locals, who learn to appreciate a whole side of Venice they never knew."
Tours begin at Michael Biehl Park, located next to Venice Theatre, and head through downtown, where Fernandez points out existing historic structures and what has replaced some of them. The Daiquiri Deck on Venice Avenue, for example, used to be a bank building.
Another stop, Venice's first hotel, the Hotel Venice, has a long history. After its closure in 1929, it became the winter quarters of the Kentucky Military Institute, the oldest private military preparatory school in the United States, until its closure in 1971. The building joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, and now houses the Summit at Venice assisted living facility. Its detailed architecture, complete with stately arched entryways and courtyard fountains, makes it a highlight of the tour.
Other interesting facts you'll hear along the tour:
1. Venice was founded in 1927 by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, with many of the downtown buildings constructed between 1926 and 1927.
2. Fernandez says the city's original location was not in present-day Venice. The name moved to its current location as the city began developing.
3. Prominent Sarasotan Bertha Palmer purchased 60,000 acres of land and developed it under her Sarasota-Venice Company. Part of her agreement in buying the land was extending the Seaboard Air Line Railway to Venice, so transportation could be easily accessed.
4. The Venice City Plan was developed by John Nolen, a famous 1920s city planner, giving the town its organized infrastructure and quaint feel.
5. World War II fighter pilots were trained at the Venice Army Air Base, a now inactive U.S. Army Forces base. The base closed in 1945 and now serves as the Venice Municipal Airport.
"We have had people on these tours who have lived in Venice all their lives, but never knew details about the town," says Fernandez. "People are always happy to have learned so much."
Venice Florida Tours are by reservation only. Tours are limited to a maximum of 10 people, range from an hour to 90 minutes on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and can be booked through the company's Facebook page. Cost is $20 per person; a $2 discount is provided to groups larger than 8 people. Click here to request a tour.