Starting in the early 1920s, there was unbelievable excitement afoot in the little town of Englewood.
Seemed like the whole outside world wanted a piece of sunshiny Florida. The selling of the state was underway. People were buying, trading or selling land as fast as they could. In just a few months of 1925, real estate transactions, locally, amounted to $1.3 million, and it was predicted that was just the beginning of an era where everyone was going to get wealthy.
Many of the early families had originally farmed and owned sizable tracts of land. They were thrilled to sell excess parcels for the sky high prices being offered.
The small farming/fishing town of Englewood was about to undergo a sophisticated transformation.
The proposed plans included a university, several upscale residential developments — including one dedicated to New York Broadway celebrities and Hollywood movie stars — a large hotel, a country club, and a casino with a huge swimming pool directly on the beach.
The Tamiami Trail was soon to come through Englewood, and it was rumored the railroad would also come through town, taking a course along the route Indiana Avenue takes today.
But suddenly the frenzy of the early 1920s came to a screeching halt.
The real estate land boom ended in 1928, the stock market crashed in 1929 and Englewood, along with many other towns in Florida, was left, literally, penniless. So were all those “Paper Millionaires,” a popular term that was coined after the crash.
In 1925, Englewood voted to incorporate itself. But suddenly it became obvious the requirements, such as providing municipal services to the town, could not be provided. The cash flow into town had ceased abruptly.
It was said at the time the only real money coming into town each month was a total of $59, which came from three retirees who received pensions.
Another vote was taken to dissolve the incorporation and in 1929 it became final. The town fathers said, “Well, we will just have to rely on Sarasota County funds to see us through the rough days ahead.” What a pipe dream that was. The county was also broke.
The Great Depression hit Englewood with all its force, things looked more than dismal. All the grandiose plans that had been generated by the Land Boom had gone up in smoke. The town was faced with the basic, harsh reality of feeding itself.
At this point in time, Stuart Anderson emerges into the foreground of Englewood history. In this day and age, he probably would be compared to a caped crusader.
Stuart had previously worked on his family’s farm. He was at one time a deputy sheriff, but Dr. Oscar Anderson, Stuart’s brother, said by the late 1920s, Stuart had gone into the seafood business, which interested him immensely.
“He was of sound judgement and a clear thinker with ‘his feet on the ground,’” his brother said.
He was just the kind of a leader Englewood needed at that moment.
Anderson brought the local fishermen together. He presented them with an idea of using the old barter system to get some business activity going in town.
Since he was highly respected and liked they listened to him and were very receptive of his idea.
He suggested they round up all usable vehicles in town that were sitting unused because no one could afford gas. They would load them with ice and pack them full of their fish catches. The fishermen would haul the fish up through the state to North Florida, the idea being to sell their fish along the way for cash, if at all possible, but if not for cash, barter for anything they thought was useful.
The fishermen liked the idea. They put it into motion quickly and were thrilled with its immediate success. They hauled their fish as far as away as Georgia and would return with small livestock, meat, vegetables, eggs, syrup. They proceeded to help feed the town.
Stuart Anderson was hailed as a hero for his savvy idea. Many people later would say he saved the town. If not for Anderson’s dedication, many would have fled the area leaving the town half deserted.
Eventually Stuart built his business, the Lemon Bay Fisheries, into one of the largest and most productive fisheries on the west coast of Florida. At its height, it produced more than one million pounds of fish yearly. A lot of people made their livelihoods there.