About Sarasota, Florida
Sarasota’s first real estate developer, J.H. Gillespie, arrived in Sarasota in 1886 to assist the failing ‘Ormiston Colony’—a colony of approximately 60 Scottish families sent to settle 50,000 acres of land acquired by the Florida Mortgage and Investment Company (FMIC), which was partially owned by Gillespie’s father. Though FMIC promised a tropical paradise, settlers were dismayed to find an unruly, inhospitable Florida wilderness. Sir John Gillespie Sr. sent his son to manage the colony as the disillusioned Scots began to disband, just a few short months after their arrival.
Under J.H. Gillespie’s leadership, Sarasota cleared the land to build its first roads, and eventually established the first railroad service. Gillespie also created 40 acres of experimental farmland and a wharf on Sarasota Bay, which established a vital commercial livelihood for the emerging fishing village of Sarasota in the early 1890s. In 1902, the town of Sarasota was incorporated, and J.H. Gillespie was named its first mayor.
Gillespie is not only the ‘Father of Sarasota’ but the visionary founder of the tourism and leisure industry that thrives today. His legacy can be found at the modern core of downtown Sarasota, known as ‘Five Points,’ where he constructed Sarasota’s first hotel, the DeSoto Hotel, in 1887. J.H. Gillespie’s greatest legacy, perhaps, is his introduction of the sport of golf to Florida. In 1904, Gillespie built the first golf course in the state; just the second golf course in the United States. Today there are over 50 courses in the Sarasota area.
When Chicago banker Owen Burns arrived in Sarasota in 1910—attracted largely by J.H. Gillespie’s successful efforts to brand the fledgling city as a winter holiday for the wealthy elite—he immediately purchased a massive 75 percent of the land from Gillespie for $35,000 and settled in to make Sarasota his permanent home. Burns helped to organize the Sarasota Board of Trade—which would later become the Chamber of Commerce, established the first locally-owned bank—the Citizens Bank, and is responsible for creating the city as it’s known today.
Pioneering real estate developers J.H. Gillespie and Owen Burns are primarily responsible for creating Sarasota’s civic infrastructure but circus mogul John Ringling receives credit for the artistic vibrancy that characterizes modern Sarasota. Charles and John Ringling, the brothers behind the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus, began purchasing land in Sarasota in 1911, and beginning in 1912, John and his wife Mable made Sarasota their winter home. Ringling moved the circus’ winter headquarters from Bridgeport, Connecticut to Sarasota in 1927, establishing the city’s lasting title as Florida’s ‘Circus City.’ Today, John Ringling’s permanent art collection in the estate galleries serves as the State Art Museum of Florida, and the Ringlings’ elaborate 1920s Mediterranean revival-style mansion, Ca’ d’Zan (‘House of John’), resides on the Ringling estate.
Sarasota is a strong city with a rich and diverse history, beautiful natural scenery, and an abundance of culture, arts, and entertainment. With under 58,000 residents—and just over 820,00 in the greater Sarasota metropolitan area, life is easy to enjoy all year long with this city’s breathtaking sunsets, museums, operas, ballets, plays, golf, tennis and water sports