Jeff LaHurd got a feeling for Owen Burns from thumbing through old Sarasota newspapers. He characterizes him as a stand-up guy whose word was his bond; a hard worker with a firm handshake. He’s come to know Burns pretty well — well enough, in fact, to write a book on everything Burns contributed to what was originally just a small fishing village.
In honor of the 100th year of Burns’ arrival in Sarasota, LaHurd will release the first book to be written about this legend: “Owen Burns: The Man Who Bought and Built Sarasota.”
“You can’t talk about Sarasota history without talking about him,” LaHurd says about the man who graces the book’s cover. “I think you could describe him as a Victorian gentleman. He was well-loved by his family and respected in the community. He really just did a gargantuan amount of work in Sarasota.”
Shortly after Burns arrived here in 1910, he purchased for $35,000 what would amount to 75% of the city limits of Sarasota today.
His contributory role differs from perhaps the two biggest Sarasota greats — Bertha Palmer and John Ringling. Besides agricultural elements, Palmer spotlighted Sarasota for the first time, and the city became known around the world. And Ringling contributed to the cultural aspects that residents and visitors today enjoy.
One of Burns’ biggest contributions was his dredge-and-fill work. From dredging up Golden Gate Point, St. Armands and Lido keys to building Cà D’Zan, the John Ringling Bridge, El Vernona (which later became the John Ringling Hotel) and, of course, Burns Court — Burns kept busy.
“The 1920s is my favorite part — that’s when Sarasota really came together as a go-to destination for wealthy snowbirds,” LaHurd said. “The John Ringling Isles and St. Armands were the focus of a lot of his work. This guy always kept popping up as a major player and may be the biggest developer in Sarasota’s history.”
The 88-page overview of how Burns helped shape the Sarasota community was published by the Friends of the Sarasota County History Center. In conjunction with the book, LaHurd and Deborah Dart formed an Owen Burns Celebration Committee to ensure that his contributions are recognized. The Owens Burns celebration takes place Nov. 8 through Nov. 14.
Owen Burns Week
Kick-off party and book release — 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 8, at Mattison’s City Grille, 1 N. Lemon Ave.
Vintage Photo Exhibition Reception: “Mr. Burns’ Sarasota” — 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 11, at William Hartman Gallery, 48 S. Palm Ave.
Pioneer Day in the Park — 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 13, at the Historical Society of Sarasota, 1260 12th St.
Burns Court Street Party — 3 to 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14, at Burns Court. City of Sarasota proclamation by Mayor Kelly Kirschner takes place at 4 p.m.; and a live acoustic blues performance by Jimmie Fadden takes place at 5 p.m.
For more information, visit www.owenburns.com or call 587-1952.
Contact Loren Mayo at [email protected].