Sarasota's History Center Museum makes the past come alive

SARASOTA, Fla. -- How did Sarasota get to be the unique city that it is? Linda Carson takes us back to the beginning to show us how it all started.

She visited a place where you can step back in time, get to know the people who made Sarasota the place it is today, see what their hopes and dreams, were and what made them tick.

Sarasota County's History Center Museum makes them seem as real as the folks you pass on the street today. It brings the past alive before your eyes with pictures and stories of the people who made it all happen.

Starting with the frontier days. William Whitaker was the first white settler in Sarasota. He and his wife Mary Jane had 11 children. "It says she spun yarn, tanned deer skin, shot a gun, herded cattle...they had to be self-sufficient,” says Sarasota County history specialist Jeff LaHurd.

And during the Civil War, she faced down a Yankee soldier who threatened to burn her house. "She looked him right in the eye and she said ‘I just want to look into the eyes of someone who can burn a lady’s house down.’ And he didn't burn it down."

In the 1880's, Sarasota was like the wild west. "They had a vigilante group here, and they killed him two days after Christmas in 1884."

Sarasota was isolated in those days. The only way to get here was by steamer. But in 1903 the railroad arrived, and through it all, tourism was always a major focus. "Even as early as the 1880’s when Gukkuesou arrived, he brought golf to Sarasota because he thought that would be an inducement to bring people down."

The city lured tourists with advertisements of bathing in the gulf, boating, fishing, and great entertainment.

There were booms and busts, and natural disasters. "And this is the downtown bayfront during the hurricane of 1921. And it caused a lot of damage," says LaHurd.

But the city quickly rebuilt better than before.

The Sarasota History Center is located at 701 North Tamiami Trail in the historic Chidsey Library Building, which opened in 1941. The museum is open Monday through Saturday, 10-5. Admission is free.