Friday, February 24, 2012

Strolling downtown Venice - Part 3

In the first posting in this series of three, I told you I would write a little Venice history in this third edition.  A little over twenty years I was part of a group who started the Venice Area Historical Society, then called the Venice Historic and Preservation League.  I was the first treasurer and held that post for three years.  I also chaired the first Tour of Historic Homes, an event they no longer hold.  History was my very favorite subject in school, especially American history.  I think a lot of us think of the Sarasota County area as having very little history, which is quite untrue.  The one thing we do have very little of, is historic buildings, yet Venice has three historic districts on the National Register. 

As I prepare to write this, I realize that I can't really write any kind of real information about the history of Venice in such a small space.  What I can do, is tell you what I like about the the historical part of Venice.  First of all, I love the John Nolen plan for the city.  I am sure you are familiar with John Nolen, who was world-renown for city planning.  Dr. Fred Albee bought almost 3000 acres from Mrs. Potter Palmer in 1925 and he hired John Nolen t design a city on this land.  Dr. Albee then sold his land to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and they asked John Nolen to complete his plan for the city on the Gulf.

Venice is laid out beautifully with lots of green park space, broad streets, and a Northern Italian design theme.  If you look at a map of Venice, you still basically see John Nolen's street grid plan with several curvilinear streets, and I think that is what makes Venice so charming. 

Venice Avenue in the 1920s as seen in a photo from the Venice City Archives
The Depression came to town in the 1930s and the BLE lost its holdings, much of the land going back to Dr. Albee.  In 1932, the Kentucky Military Institute rented the Venice Hotel and the San Marco Hotel as a winter school for its cadets.  Dr. Albee bought the Park View Hotel and established the Florida Medical Center and developed it into a successful teaching hospital.  In 1942 the Venice Army Airbase was established by the US Government as training grounds.  Those three things were critical to getting Venice back on its feet and to becoming the city it is today.

Of course, there is much early history starting in the 1870s with Richard Roberts settling in the area, and continuing in 1882 with Frank Higel and his family.  The railroad was completed to Venice in 1911, at the behest of Mrs. Palmer who purchased 60,000 acres for development.  I won't even touch the whole history of the Indians in are area, which was long before Mr. Roberts and Mr. Higel.

If you would like to know more, the Venice Archives and Area Historical Collection are available at the Triangle Inn, which is located behind the library and the Community Center.  I also had my memory refreshed by a book I have, Districts and Structures on the National Register.

I hope you have enjoyed these posts about Venice, and if you are not familiar with this area, I do hope you will come and explore.  It has been a lovely place to raise our family and to settle for the last 30 years.  It is quiet, unassuming, and simply divine. 

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