The city of Sarasota may now have a large number of flashy high rises and the lion’s share of Southwest Florida tourists during snowbird season, but long, long ago, it was founded by hardy Scottish pioneers.
They braved the insects (with no mosquito control), Florida weather (with no air conditioning) and lack of, well, everything, and made this area their home. A fantastic place to learn about Sarasota’s storied history is at the Historical Society of Sarasota, which has a property on 12th Street, between U.S. 41 and Cocoanut Street.
On the site is the thrice moved Bidwell house, built in 1892 and housing the Society’s museum, and the Crocker Memorial Church, which was built in 1901. The Society, led by Site Manager Linda Garcia, also hosts special events, like tours of the museum and historical tours from both the water and the streets of downtown Sarasota.
From October to April, the Historical Society has a narrated trolley tour, and I was fortunate enough to be the last person aboard one of Barron Morin’s Sarasota Trolleys for last week’s Saturday excursion.
While Morin slowly drove the trolley around town, Sue Blue sat up in front facing the 30 riders and narrated our tour. Sue, herself, is a part of Sarasota history, having grown up there and now living in the Bahia Vista Street home that her grandfather built.
As we rolled past historic buildings like the Municipal Auditorium, which was the USO during World War II, and the 1934 Kress’s 5 & 10 store, Sue told us about the history of the sites and stories about the people who would have been there during that time.
There were also several stops, so Sue could fully get into a particular story. At one particular point, she regaled everyone with the tale of how Sarasota got its name. Her story went like this: Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto came here in the 1500s with his family, which included his lovely daughter Sara. A brave Seminole warrior fell in love with the young Sara, who soon became very ill in the disease-infested new land.
Poor Sara passed away, and her loving warrior found a way to show his ultimate respect and love for her—he, his Chieftain and their whole tribe put Sara’s body in a dugout canoe and then rowed all their canoes out to the middle of what is now Sarasota Bay, where they promptly began chopping at the bottoms of the canoes with their axes. The canoes sank to the bottom of the bay, and all of the members of the tribe with them, and that is where they still are today.
As Sue Blue told that story for more than five minutes, there was not a single sound from anyone on our trolley, until Sue said, “And if you believe that…”