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Sarasota History

Sarasota was initially settled by Europeans in the late 1840s after the last of the Seminole Indians were forced out in the wake of the Second Seminole War. In 1885, a group of Scots established a colony, but instead of the tropical paradise that Florida Mortgage and Investment Company had promised investors, they found a primitive landscape of sand and saltwater. Despite the disappointment, one of the investors, John Hamilton Gillespie, decided to develop Sarasota to more closely resemble what he’d been sold. Gillespie put in a hotel and golf course and tourists began arriving shortly thereafter. In 1902 Gillespie became mayor. Other notables contributed to the city’s development, most famously Charles and John Ringling of Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus. Charles invested heavily in land and advised others to start businesses in Sarasota. John bought land on the offshore barrier islands and built a 56-room palace for himself and his wife Mable, filling it with antiques and Old Masters paintings acquired during their frequent trips to Europe. Culture is big here and has been a major focus since the 1920s: theaters, the Sarasota Orchestra, the Asolo Repertory Theater, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota Ballet, Sarasota Opera are here; since 1998, the city has hosted Sarasota Film Festival, which attracts independent filmmakers from around the globe. During and after World War II, wealthy patrons helped fund the development of the Sarasota School of architecture, an influential architectural movement led by Ralph Twitchell, Paul Rudolph (later chairman of the architecture department at Yale), Gene Leedy and others. Their work resulted in a number of landmark Modern homes and buildings, some of which are still standing.

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