Statuary in a Sarasota City Park

There is mention of a Spanish settlement named Zara Zote in the area of Sarasota from the early 1700's but the first American settlement in what is now Sarasota was at Fort Amistead. It was built on a property managed by an African slave named Louis Pacheco.

It was at Fort Amistead that the Seminole chiefs gathered to talk about their impending exile to Oklahoma in 1842. When the Army gathered up as many Seminoles as they could find and shipped them across the Gulf of Mexico that year, they deported Louis Pacheco to Oklahoma, too. Then they abandoned the fort because of a series of severe epidemics.

Sarasota Bay was fished regularly by Cuban and American fishermen but the first permanent settlers didn't arrive until the late 1840's.

Sarasota has a history of housing development boom-and-bust periods dating from the late 1800's. Among those early developers was John Ringling, a circus magnate in the early 1900's. John Ringling was the first of the family to see Sarasota's potential and, over time, the rest of the Ringling Brothers moved to the area and by 1919, Sarasota was the winter home of the Ringling Brothers Circus. The Ringlings were big land investors and had several large residential developments underway when the Florida land-boom started to collapse in 1926 (well before but definitely leading into the big 1929 stock market collapse). The cycle didn't switch back to growth until the 1950's when Sarasota's population took off again.

It's 2010 now, and the bust cycle has struck Sarasota again. I was living in Colorado until very recently and in Colorado, we didn't really feel the economic hit until 2008. But the mortgage crisis/financial collapse began in Florida during the summer of 2006. That was the same year Sarasota was ranked as the "Meanest City in America" by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.