The Longbeach Preservation Task Force got a surprise history lesson last spring. The newly formed group, which aimed to establish a Longboat Key Historic District in the Longbeach Village, learned that the Florida Division of Historical Resources had already designated part of the Village as historic — in April 2009.
The group has since developed a walking tour of the historic parts of the Village that is available at the Longboat Key Historical Society’s website, longboatkeyhistory.com.
For a history lesson, we decided to walk the walk — and see what we could find about the historic sites through our archives, the Task Force’s guide, Longboat Observer founder Ralph Hunter’s “From Calusas to Condominiums” and Lora Colvin Whitney’s “Hail This Feisty Village!”
So, lace up your walking shoes or get out your bicycle and make a date with 125 years of Longbeach Village history — all in just under a mile.
MAR VISTA AND MOORE’S
Start at the east end of Broadway, near Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant & Pub and Moore’s Stonecrab Restaurant, 760 Broadway. The restaurants are home to colorful histories (as well as seafood dishes).
The Rufus and Annie Jordan House on Mar Vista’s property is one of the 12 oldest structures on Longboat Key. Early Key developer Rufus Jordan built it as his personal residence in 1912. It survived a 1921 hurricane that wiped out most island development.
It became a fish camp in the 1940s and then a popular pub in the 1950s. Its present owner, Ed Chiles, bought the restaurant in 1990. But, according to the local lore, the ghost of former owner Wayne Nimmo, who used to play his bagpipes up and down Broadway, still watches over Mar Vista today.
Next door, the Moore family opened Moore’s in 1967. Current owners Alan Moore, Paul Moore and Robert Hicks worked at the restaurant during its first year, but they were lower on the management chain: They were kids washing dishes for 50 cents an hour. In the early days, it wasn’t just the food that drew customers. The restaurant had a pet dolphin named Jackie that was injured in Key West and couldn’t go back to the wild. The restaurant adopted Jackie and made a pinned off area of Sarasota Bay behind the restaurant Jackie’s home. Jackie washed out to sea during an unnamed storm in 1990, but his story is a happy one: He joined a dolphin colony in the bay.
FIRST HOME ON THE KEY
Check out the historic marker at the very east end of Broadway, notice the Sarasota skyline to the south, then walk or bike west on Broadway and see the Jordan Mar Vista house (the one that dates back to 1912), six block houses also built by Jordan, a second historic marker at 620 Broadway, the former Longbeach Hotel at 601 Broadway and several other early houses that date back to the 1920s.
The first marker commemorates the original town dock, where, beginning around 1895, the Mistletoe steamship would dock every other day on its routes between Sarasota and Tampa. Before then, the few farmers and fisherman on barrier islands had little contact with the outside world.
“The Mistletoe was a savior to those isolated farmers and fishermen on the barrier islands, bringing news, mail and contact with other humans, few of whom ever ventured to the mainland,” according to Ralph Hunter’s “From Calusas to Condominiums.”
The second marker tells the story of Longboat Key’s first home. Thomas Mann was the first known settler who actually lived on the Key. A Civil War veteran, Mann moved to Braidentown (now Bradenton) with his family in 1872, then relocated to the north end of Longboat Key in 1887 or 1888 — possibly to avoid the Yankee-hating vigilantes or the yellow fever epidemic on the mainland, according to Hunter’s book. Mann was awarded 144.47 acres in what is now the Village, south of the area of present-day Spanish Main Yacht Club, through the Homestead Act of 1862.
Mann lived on the Key in a thatched hut, the exact location of which is still unknown. Across the street from the marker is a private home at 601 Broadway. The residence is the former Longbeach Hotel, which, built by 1913, was the island’s first hotel.
Turn south (left) on Longboat Drive South and see Whitney cottages (on the right). Gordon and Lora Whitney came to Longboat Key in 1935 and built 13 cypress cottages on the Gulf and bay that they named Whitney Beach. In the 1950s, the Whitneys relocated the cottages, many to the Village, because of severe erosion on the beach. The Whitney cottages are located in the 6800 and 6900 blocks of Longboat Drive South, the 700 block of Longboat Court, the 7000 block of Lois Avenue and the 6800 block of Pine Street.
Turn left on Hibiscus Way and notice the Whitney-style cottages in front of the Longboat Key Center for the Arts, a Division of Ringling College of Art and Design. Then, stop in to check out the latest art exhibit.
The Arts Center was founded in late 1952, and this season will celebrate its 60th anniversary, making it three years older than the town of Longboat Key. In 1951, Allis Ferguson, who had recently been widowed, Gordon and Lora Whitney and George and Grace Yerkes came up with the idea of an Arts Center during a freighter trip to New Orleans. Ferguson and the Whitneys donated the land for the Arts Center. On Dec. 6, 1952, and Dec. 7, 1952, the Arts Center held a gala and opening. The entire community chipped in to open the Arts Center; they gave everything from monetary contributions to plumbing, wiring, building and plantings. Some residents even brought beer and soft drinks to construction workers at the site each day.
The current exhibits on display at the Arts Center are, “A Mighty Light Flight,” featuring the steel sculptures of Mark Humphrey and oil paintings of Dustin Juengel; and “Lighty Might Fly,” an exhibit curated by Humphey and Juengel that showcases the work of students at the Ringling College of Art and Design and New College of Florida.
Proceed east on Hibiscus Drive, go left onto Poinsettia Avenue, and right onto Linley Street. Look at the old frame houses to the left followed by two of the first block houses.
The frame houses were constructed throughout the Village during the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. The block houses were built around 1915 from local sand and mortar from forms acquired from Sears Roebuck and are located in the 600 and 700 blocks of Broadway and the 700 block of Linley Street.
JEWFISH AND SISTER KEYS
See the kayak launch site looking out over Sarasota Bay and Jewfish and Sister Keys, then, walk out onto the town dock.
Both Jewfish and Sister Keys are pretty to look at from afar, but they have interesting histories of their own.
Jewfish Key now has just more than one-dozen homes as well as a nature preserve. According to local legend, Spanish explorers buried hidden treasure on the island in the 1500s. The island was actually two islands until the 1930s, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged the Intracoastal Waterway and needed a place to put spoil. Legend has it that two investors who owned the two islands agreed to let the Army Corps deposit it to form a single island in exchange for the deed to the island and a case of whiskey.
In the early 1980s, developers proposed a development called the Shangri-Isle Club for Sister Keys that would include a landing strip for airplanes, yacht club, boat dock, condominiums and homes. After seeing the islands advertised by developers in 1989, Anna Miller, Rusty Chinnis and Virginia Sanders joined together and formed the Sister Keys Conservatory to maintain the keys as undisturbed mangrove islands. In 1992, the town purchased Sister Keys and has maintained the islands as wetland habitats.
Proceed north on Bayside Drive, which becomes Lois Avenue. Then, stop by Moore’s or Mar Vista for a meal overlooking Sarasota Bay.
You’ve seen approximately 125 years of history in just under a mile. You’re probably tired. So enjoy some fresh seafood, cool off with a beverage or two and toast to the next 125 years of Village history.